Hoops Invite Vol. II Preview Story - Saint John's Seminary
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Invite forecast: new champ, same grind

January 5, 2024

Invite forecast: new champ, same grind


Saint John’s Seminary

Don’t let the shine fool you.

Peering at photos of the gold trophy that sits protected behind glass at Our Lady of the Angels’ parish center in Hanover, Mass., it’s hard not to fixate on the glitz, the glamour, the glory, that came with securing the first-ever title and bragging rights at the inaugural Saint John’s Seminary Hoops Invitational last January. But to see just the shine is dangerous, for it fails to show the Invite’s signature grind: the grueling on-court battles, the mental/spiritual adjustments between worship … and workout … worship … and workout, and tackling every obstacle — big and small — the day hurls at you.

“It’s an arena for the human experience,” SJS co-captain Deacon Marcelo Ferrari said, “a reflection of life's struggles and victories, mirroring the profound journey symbolized by the Cross. The court becomes a crucible where sacrifice and suffering meld with the determination to triumph.”

Added fellow captain Joe Jasinski: “It’s a one-day desert experience. There are points in the day when the body or mind just grows tired … but enduring those moments makes the Invite what it is.”

With the Invite’s second installment set for Saturday, at least two things are certain: firstly, a new champion, with last year’s victors shying away from title defense; and secondly, an even more geared-up grind as the Invite field expands from eight to a dozen squads, all eying gold and praying for the required grit to get it.

Let’s take a look at this year’s lineup:

OUR LADY OF THE NATIVITY — With the installment of South Shore hoops legend Gavin Larnard as the parish’s Life Teen coordinator, Nativity’s roster already has a ballhandler … plus four other Larnard brothers, hoping the fraternity (at least biological) leads to success in Nativity’s SJS Invite debut.

IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY — Coming off a statement win over SJS in December, IHM arrives flying high and with familiarity after last year’s appearance. Buzz is building around Malkamu Creaghan’s hops (Note to self: Check on BC’s dunk policy) and Paul Jeon’s handles, as IHM eyes its first semifinals appearance.

SAINT BRENDAN’S— Call them the Desert Fathers. Well, in demeanor if not age. While arguably the youngest roster in last year’s Invite (and most likely this year’s, too), the Rhode Island reps remained present the whole day last January— as did the majority of their fans — making them an instant staple at the event. And with each year, the youthful St. B’s golden era draws ever closer…

SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI — Every memorable tourney has gotta have one: a dark horse on whom no one’s got a scouting report. Enter scene: Saint Francis. Not much is known of the entrants from Braintree other than the fact that they’ve found themselves in the Group of Death alongside Saint Thomas, Saint Brigid and the Cardiac Clerics. Will Saint Francis contribute to the chaos? It’s anyone’s guess.

SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE — Millis Madness is back again, baby. Perhaps no team has more on-court chemistry, and with the “No-Doubting” Thomases having put in supplemental Saturday morning reps at the Montrose gym in recent weeks, an upgrade from bronze to something brighter is quite possible. Added incentive: Fr. Sinisa’s promise of a ticker-tape victory parade down Exchange Street if Millis takes the title.

SAINT BRIGID — The “Fr. Peter Schirripa Project” has begun. One of two Southie squads in this year’s bracket, the Boys of Saint Brigid are downright stacked. From cerebral scorer Paul Ramsey (who dropped 43 points in one League Morning Star game this season) to interior bash brothers Paul Schissel and Mike Conlin, expect an instant impact from the East Broadway bunch.

CARDIAC CLERICS — First there was the Cardiac ’Pack of ’83. Then came Cardiac Kemba in ’11. Now, it’s the Clerics’ turn. With a slim roster, which stars recent SJS alums Frs. Peter Schirripa, Paul Born, and Nate Sanders, along with the 6-foot-1,000 Fr. Michael Zimmerman, this experiment could go one of two ways: a blood-pressure-spiking run to remember … or an exhaustion-induced flatlining. Can the hallowed grace of holy orders extend to the hardwood?

GATE OF HEAVEN — With gold on the mind, Gatey will lean on its Golden boy: former Catholic Univ. hooper Sam Golden, to be exact. Plus, the math-teacher-turned-bucket-technician has an Honors-level class of players around him, like “Chuckin’ Bombs” Charlie Mather and Chandler “The Worm” Crane. But Saturday brings a sudden final exam (OK, enough with the school puns…).

RESURRECTION — Rez came within a three-point double-overtime loss of advancing to the semis last year … a fact not lost on Coach Eric Lowther’s group. Look for the SeaSiders to come out swinging, with general manager Fr. Matt Norwood circling Connor MacLeod as a potential sparkplug on Rez’s slightly revamped roster. Added incentive? The prospect of a semifinal date with neighboring Scituate and Gavin Larnard, who served on Hingham’s Life Teen back in the day.

SAINT MARY OF THE ASSUMPTION — No general manager has been more proactive than Joe Bukuras, the hot-shot visionary who’s got the Dedham fanbase in a frenzy. Bukuras called for players in the parish’s young adult group’s WhatsApp and had his roster configured in a week, even nabbing key free agents Andrew Costantino and Brian Murray. And if the Assumption squad can somehow channel the intensity of its coach, Fr. Dominic, opponents may hang it up by halftime.

TRIVIUM — Hailing from roughly the same hoops hotbed as IHM, the Invite’s Lancester-based lads have a hardwood history unmatched by any other in the field. The group, featuring hybrid scorer Michael Josephs and his two brothers, downtown deadeye Aidan Schmitt, and a cast of Eagle alums, has gathered weekly for pickup games for close to 15 years (playing originally at St. Benedict Abbey just up the road from IHM). While in its Invite infancy, Trivium could write its history’s greatest chapter yet.

SAINT JOHN’S SEMINARY — Call it a documentary hangover … but between injuries and illnesses, the Eagles still seek a return to normalcy after a month or so of disrepair. But on home turf and still hungry after last year’s semifinal setback, the Eagles hope to turn the tide early in ’24.

Nearly 365 days have passed since the inaugural Invite and now, Vol. II is set for release. Saturday, there will be new stories written, new can’t-miss talents having emerged, and a new champion crowned. But one thing will remain the same: Trudging through the desert will remain an all-too-familiar grind.

So as one enters the fourth-floor courts at the RecPlex, and the eyes gaze over to the table with three glistening trophies sitting there tantalizingly, be careful.

Don’t let the shine fool you.