By Phil Anastasia
Like most other teams, Camden Catholic might be a work in progress at this early stage of the season.
But the Irish showed some serious potential Saturday in a 61-40 victory over Philadelphia Catholic League team Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast at the Hermit Alumni Christmas Classic at St. Augustine Prep.
"We've been starting slow but the guys have been fighting hard and hanging in there," said Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford, whose team improved to 2-1 including a Friday loss to Philadelphia Catholic League power La Salle.
Camden Catholic got strong games from junior forwards Courtney Cubbage (16 points) and Brendan Crawford (14 points), the coach's cousin, as well as senior guard Rob Brosh (13 points).
"Courtney has probably been our best player so far because he plays so hard," Crawford said of the 6-foot-1 Cubbage, who also grabbed six rebounds and lifted three steals.
Camden Catholic, the No. 7 team in The Inquirer rankings, has a pair of seasoned senior guards in Brosh and Tom Organ (7 points) and an athletic slasher in Cubbage. Junior swingman Jimmy Robinson could work into the regular rotation as well.
But Matt Crawford said that it's junior big men Crawford and Demola Onifade (pictured, at Team Speed AAU practice) who could take this team "to the next level."
The 6-foot-9 Onifade, a Nigerian citizen who lives in the Nazareth House on the Camden Catholic campus, was a disruptive force at the defensive end for the second game in a row. He scored just six points (same as he did against La Salle) but blocked six shots (he had roughly the same amount, if not more, against La Salle).
"He's farther along than we thought he would be," Crawford said of Onifade, who missed the season opener with a shoulder injury. "He's a great kid. He's a hard worker. He's very, very smart.
"He's doing things in defense and rebounding that not a lot of kids in South Jersey can do. Hr's starting to intimidate people with his ability to block shots."
Onifade looks like one of those players who will be better in January than in December, and better in February than in January. He's still raw offensively -- although he made a nice turnaround, 10-foot jumper on Saturday -- but he can run and jump like a much shorter athlete.
If he contines to improve -- and if can stay healthy, that's pretty much a given -- Camden Catholic will be a tough team to beat later this season.
That's because the Irish have some strong other elements -- experienced senior guards, a big man with good hands in 6-7 Brendan Crawford, an all-court player in Cubbage -- that should mesh well with a defensively dominant, 6-foot-9 athlete who runs the floor like he's 6-foot-2.
In a loaded Olympic National with Paul VI, Bishop Eustace and Camden (and in a super-loaded NP South A with PVI, BE, Holy Spirit, the Prep, CBA and two-time champion St. Joe Metuchen), Camden Catholic could be right in the mix in its first season under Matt Crawford, who replaced his father, Jim, as the Irish head coach.
"These kids work hard and they listen," Matt Crawford said. "They're trying to get better."
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