The goals are lofty – and as Jason Delaney sees it, the path to the goals is clear.
Cathedral High School boys basketball is a state contender again in 2022-2023. And if the Irish are to reach their goal, they must continue improving.
Every month. Every week. Every day.
“When we get to the state tournament, we can’t be the team we are in January,” said Delaney, in his seventh season as Irish boys basketball coach.
The Irish, Indiana Class 4A state champions in 2021-2022, returned a strong core in 2022-2023 – and in a season in which the Irish have played in more high-profile situations than ever before in program history, Delaney said they have remained focused.
“That's a testament to what we've done the last couple years of playing in big games, on big stages,” Delaney saud. “It just becomes what we do.”
The Irish, 8-2 through January 9, at the time were No. 2 in the Associated Press Indiana Class 4A rankings and in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Class 4A rankings. Their losses at the time were to Class 4A No. 1 Ben Davis and nationally-ranked Chicago Simeon.
“Ben Davis got us,” Delaney said in January. “They returned everything from last year and now they're a year older. They were us a year ago – hungry and determined. For our young guys, that was a great experience – and for us as a program, you see what you have to improve on.
“When you get the attention and you're the defending champs, other teams are trying to knock you off. That's the hunger and determination we have to get back to.”
Added Delaney, “It used to be you lose a game, I'd get all caught up in that. Last year really taught me to take each game and learn from it. We responded and when we got to the tournament, the whole season got us ready for that. It was more about the journey to get you ready for the destination.
“I think that mindset has carried over as well.”
Key to the 2022-2023 Irish:
*Senior Xavier Booker. A consensus Top 5 national prospect and a Michigan State signee, Booker (6-feet-10) has averaged 13.9 points with 9.7 rebounds through 10 games. “He's the highlight,” Delaney said. “He’s the key guy everyone knows. He walks in extremely humble every day. He just blends in. And that's why we work: We have guys like that, who are talented yet really good character guys.” Added Delaney, “Xavier has expanded his game. There have been games where he hasn't scored a bunch, but somebody else goes off. Book's done a great job of making sure he's contributing in different ways, no matter if it's scoring or not.”
*Senior Jaron Tibbs (19.6 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game). “He is on a whole different level this year,” Delaney said. “He's a Division I basketball player that's going to go play college football. He has shown that that time and time again this year, just the way he plays.”
*Senior forward Jake Davis (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg). “He’s the ultimate team guy,” Delaney said of Davis.
*Senior Sincere Germany (8.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg). “He’s waited his turn and now he has stepped up big time for us this year in the starter role,” Delaney said. “He's had a really good senior year so far. That's what we expect guys: When it's your time, you have to contribute.”
*Sophomore point guard Lebron Gough (5.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 assists per game). “He's got big shoes to fill,” Delaney said of a Cathedral recent point guard position that includes Jarron Coleman (Ball State), Armaan Franklin (Indiana/Virginia) and Tayshawn Comer (Eastern Kentucky). “You have to pave your own way, but he has done a really good job.”
Also key for the Irish: Senior/transfer guard Kamari Slaughter (9.3 ppg, 3.- rpg), sophomore guard Deric Cannady (3.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg), sophomore Brady Koehler (5.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), junior point guard Anthony Fields (1.6, 2.1), sophomore Albren Johnson (2.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and junior Zach Meeks (4.0 rpg, 2.0 ppg).
Delaney said there were two questions entering 2022-2023: How the Irish would handle key leaders from the state championship team graduating, and how they would deal with success.
He said the answers came quickly.
“From the very first six a.m. workout, you saw the culture now has been established,” Delaney said. “Our culture will win. We have built a culture now to where there's expectations not just by the coaches, but by the players. There's an expectation of how we do things, how we play, how we go about doing everything. It lives on with these players.
“There are a lot of times we as coaches don't have to say anything because they will hold themselves and each other accountable. You start to see that championship DNA in their blood.”
And while Delaney said the Irish unquestionably are enjoying a season of national prominence and notoriety, he also said the season already is “bittersweet.”
“This is kind of the end of an era with the senior class,” Delaney said. “They are the kind of the bridge between the old and new. You're trying to enjoy every moment you can with them, because you had four years really good years and this year is kind of the culmination of everything.
“Long story short: It's really enjoyable. You're trying to take it all in because these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and you're still trying to complete a goal that you have for this program, and that's winning another state title with this group.
“Hopefully throughout this process, you're enjoying it, it, you're getting to play in some really neat things, but by the time you get to the tournament you have to be hungry. We have to become hunters. We have to go after people as much as they're coming after us.”