The Catholic Schools Winter Classic will take place this Saturday, headlined by a matchup between the top two teams in Northern California. Top ranked Salesian and No. 2 Mitty will face off at Cal State East Bay.
Both teams are coming off of wins in the past weekend at the Drew Gooden Invitational Showcase. Salesian topped Serra (Gardena) in a 60-47 victory while the Monarchs defeated Lincoln (San Diego) 71-60.
Salesian head coach Bill Mellis was extremely proud of his team. "That was by far the best performance we've had so far this year," said Mellis. "I thought we played real well against a really good team."
Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy was also happy with his squad, but still thought there was room for improvement. "I think we played well at times versus Lincoln but we need to be more consistent," said Kennedy. "We shared the ball well with 18 assists for the game and Matt McAndrews led the way with nine. Brandon Farrell is getting back to full strength and provided a lift off the bench for us. We got numerous contributions from many players and we need that to continue if we are going to be successful."
Salesian had a good all around showing with three Division I signees. Jabari Bird, a Cal-bound shooting guard, headlines the squad with his smooth jump shot and athletic ability. The backcourt of Markel Leonard (Cal Poly SLO) and Mario Dunn (Montana) also provide a threat to the Monarchs.
"In regards to Leonard and Dunn, I think contain is the key word," Kennedy added. "We need to contain their dribble penetration and also get out to their shooters. We are going to use multiple defenders on them to give them different looks and hopefully make it difficult for them to operate. The first key will be to contain them on the fast break and take away their gaps. After that, we'll need to be solid and keep them out of the paint. Biggest key though will be if we can rebound and limit them to one shot a possession."
Another player to watch for Salesian is Jermaine Edmonds. The senior had a good performance in the Lincoln game with 12 points, eight assists, four steals, and three rebounds.
"You may call it a breakout game, but for us, he's been doing that in practice all year long," Mellis added. "Jermaine is probably one of our most important players since he plays a complete game. He's one of the most complete players we've ever had. He brings stability to our lineup."
Mitty is paced by senior forward Aaron Gordon, a five-star prospect with insane athleticism. He scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds off the bench in a win over Lincoln. Gordon only played in limited time due to an ankle injury he suffered against Fort Bend Travis on Thursday, although he should be fine by Saturday.
On containing Gordon, Mellis chuckled, "I have no idea. It's not going to be one person, it's going to take our entire defensive scheme to contain him. We realize Aaron is going to score, but for us it's trying to make sure that other guys don't go for double digits. They have good shooters, so we're going to have to help on Aaron but also close out on shooters if he kicks it out."
Gordon will be expected to carry the scoring load, but the Monarchs have other options offensively.
"Most teams will key in on Aaron Gordon and other players are going to need to step up and make plays like they did against Lincoln including Connor Peterson, Brandon Abajelo, Tyler Gray and Ian Aguilar," said Kennedy. "We need to improve our transition D which led to a few easy scores for Lincoln. Salesian does a great job pushing the ball so we need to improve in this area to be successful this Saturday."
The Monarchs have strong guard play of their own. Juniors McAndrews and Peterson comprise the backcourt and can be quite effective when they are playing within their roles. Seniors Abajelo and Gray are threats from the perimeter.
"I expect them to come out and play hard from the tip until the end of the game," said Leonard. "This game is just another game in the preseason. We treat all of these games we play with the same intensity and effort. No game is bigger than another."
Leonard also added, "It will be important to win because this can be a confidence booster for my team."
"It's going to be a grind," said Gordon. "It's the top two teams in NorCal, so it's a pride game."
Earlier in the day, three other NCP ranked teams will be in action. Serra will face St. Joseph's of Notre Dame prior to the Mitty-Salesian matchup, and Riordan will play the host team, Moreau Catholic, in the second game.
Doors open at 11 AM with the first game at noon.
12 Noon Central Catholic vs. St. Elizabeth
1:30 PM Moreau Catholic vs. Archbishop Riordan
3 PM St. Mary's (Stockton) vs. St. Francis (Mountain View)
4:30 PM St. Patrick's-St. Vincent vs. Sacred Heart Prep
6 PM St. Joseph Notre Dame vs. Junipero Serra
7:30 PM Salesian vs. Archbishop Mitty