ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not every year the No. 1 high school basketball team in the country plays in your home state, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exactly what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got right now with St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J. As such, I went to see them play Union at Kean University on Tuesday night, my first Celtics game in a couple of years but surely not my last this season.
As if seeing the highest-ranked team in America wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough incentive, I also wanted to check out point guard Kyrie Irving, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s headed for Duke (my alma mater) next season. In addition, St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s has forward Michael Gilchrist, arguably the best player in the country as a junior, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rumored to be headed for Kentucky or Villanova. Gilchrist and Irving are the big names, but Western Kentucky commit Derrick GordonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defense was tenacious and solid.
Unfortunately, I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get a very long look at Gilchrist. I got to Kean midway through the first quarter, and just a few minutes after I showed up, he collided with a Union player under the basket on a baseline drive and went down in a heap, clutching his knee. He couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put weight on it and had to be helped out of the arena by teammates before halftime.
I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see exactly what happened to his leg, and I obviously didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the benefit of instant replay, but the whole fall just looked awkward. Luckily, Gilchrist apparently said on his Facebook page that what he actually has is a sprained knee, which would make sense if he banged knees with another player, and that he would miss just a week or two, which you obviously take if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and Gilchrist. If true, compare that to something related to a ligament, and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re talking months/years instead of weeks.
I realize Gilchrist is just a junior, but an injury like an ACL tear is something that can set him back for years to come. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not that UK or Nova Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or any school in its right mind Ã¢â‚¬â€œ would pull their offer. But by the time he gets back to speed, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be about halfway through his senior year of high school, and it could set his growth as a player back a great deal. Not to mention, on a personal level, Gilchrist would probably be quite disappointed not to be able to continue working toward a No. 1 ranking and making memories with his friends. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I was so concerned, and why IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m ecstatic if his injury truly is minor.
After Gilchrist left, it looked like Irving grew determined to take a little more of the onus on himself. From what the St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s faithful told me, the team was jet-lagged after a trip to California and Irving was recovering from an illness, so they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t look their sharpest. The quote I heard several times from people close to the program was that Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kyrie wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Kyrie out thereÃ¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which makes sense, as he entered averaging 27 points per game, but didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really seem to fully get in the rhythm of the game.
But even on what was universally accepted as an off night Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in which he scored 18 points during a 62-46 victory Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Irving still flashed some impressive handle and a silky jump shot, and you see where the comparisons to NJ and Duke legend Jason Williams come in. When he smelled blood on a fast break, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d attack the basket with precision. Combine that with his shooting acumen and you can easily visualize a player that will fit in perfectly in the Duke backcourt with slashing wing Nolan Smith and sniper Seth Curry.
Another advantage Irving has is a strong support system. The fans of the program, whether alumni or just area residents, are passionate and invested in the playersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ current and future success. I was especially impressed with IrvingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father, coach Kevin Boyle and athletic director Red Migliore, all of whom seem like excellent role models.
All things considered, though the team I saw wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as overwhelming you would think a No. 1 nationally ranked team should look, their talent level is evident in that they still cruised to a big lead without it being apparent they were doing that. I look forward to seeing them fire on all cylinders in future games, and thankfully, those games will apparently include Mike Gilchrist.