At a small school like McGann-Mercy, fielding a basketball team with a deep bench can be challenging. Mercy coach Mike Clauberg said the last time he could count on 10 or 11 players to provide consistent minutes was 2004.
This year, the Monarchs feature the kind of depth that Clauberg hopes will provide a key advantage for Mercy. While the Monarchs lost several seniors from last year’s team, they return their top two players plus a core of talented role players.
The Monarchs have gotten off to a strong start, winning two of their first three games. And the one loss came against a Class AA school in Lindenhurst.
The Monarchs’ success this season will center on the play of junior forward Nykel Reese and junior guard Asaiah Wilson.
When the Monarchs began last season, few teams might have known about the duo, who were both in their first year with the Monarchs. It didn’t take long for teams to catch on.
This year, they’re poised for even bigger things.
Reese, a 6-foot-1 forward who plays more like he’s 6-7, is a talented all-around player who contributes in a bevy of ways. He can score and is a tenacious rebounder and dominant defensive presence.
“If he doesn’t get 10 blocks in a game, it’s like he didn’t do a good job,” Clauberg said.
In Mercy’s victory over Smithtown Christian Dec. 4, Reese scored 25 points with 28 rebounds. Clauberg said Reese finished last year as one of the top rebounders in the county.
Defensively, he has a keen ability to block shots while protecting his body to avoid contact and picking up fouls.
Wilson gives the Monarchs another scoring threat from the outside. He scored 21 points in the win over Smithtown Christian while draining four 3-pointers.
Clauberg said the biggest improvement for both players is the experience they have now.
“They’re making better decisions,” he said. “And taking on more of a leadership role.”
The Monarchs will turn to a freshman at point guard this season in Greg Gehring. Clauberg said Gehring is a natural point guard, a kind of player the team hasn’t had in a long time.
Senior captain Brian Willet returns after serving as a sixth-man/spot starter last year as a guard. Clauberg said Willet has been the most improved player after putting in a lot of work during the offseason.
“He might surprise some people this season,” Clauberg said.
Senior Ray Ellis gives the Monarchs another big body down low.
Sophomore Kurt Ryder will provide defense off the bench. He’s a slasher, Clauberg said, who also has a good jump shot.
Sophomore Reggie Archer, coming off a strong season as the running back for the football team, is another spark plug on defense.
“He almost plays basketball like a football player,” Clauberg said. “He finds the holes in his drives.”
Devan Stark and Merrick Rogan give the Monarchs more depth on the bench. Stark, at 6-3, provides a post presence and can also shoot from the outside. Rogan, at 6-4, is a hardworking player, Clauberg said, who should help more as the season progresses.
The Monarchs are back in League VII this year where they’ll play a mix of Class B and C schools. The Monarchs were bumped up to Class B last season for the first time since the ’80s but are back in Class C this season.
It’s a challenging league schedule, but one that can prepare the Monarchs well for the playoffs.