Last Monday, Jan. 28th, the John Paul II Catholic boys basketball team beat Leon 59-49. The two teams, separated by only four points with 1:26 left, struggled on offense but compensated with such physical defenses that spectators could have believed the teams were facing elimination. For the JPII Panthers, who enjoyed a 67-44 win against Leon in their first meeting, this down-to-the-wire game did much to convince an already successful team to push their play even further.
After a slow first quarter, JPII trailed 11-13. The start differed from the offensive pace the Panther’s are familiar with, averaging over 60 points per game. Of JPII’s 26 games this season, the Panthers have only scored less than 60 points on seven occasions.
But the lack of scoring had a root: a tough Leon Lion’s defense and referees who let physical plays continue. Because of this, the game got chippy. On separate occasions, referees issued warnings to JPII’s Allan Jeanne-Rose (#10) and Leon head coach Sean Crowe.
After the game, Panther head coach Titus Nixon said, “This team has a way of pulling through even when we don’t have our best nights. Tonight wasn’t our best night shooting. Leon did a really good job of being physical with us. When we play our best, our team is unbelievable; our play tonight had a lot to do with how well Leon played. It was a physical game both ways, but this is how playoff basketball goes.”
JPII shooting guard Allan Jean-Rose said, “We played bad tonight. We had to fix some things and finish the game, even though we got off to a bad start.” Jean-Rose, a native of France, said the biggest adjustment to playing basketball in the U.S. has been more physical play and better fundamentals.
When asked about what his team can learn from a tough game like this, JPII guard, Tyrelle McElwain (#13) said, “We will be fine,” but “we need to be disciplined and take the game possession by possession.” McElwain, a solid shooter from beyond the arc, said confidently, “This team can do anything together.”
Patrick Copenhaver (#3) who had a critical block late in the fourth quarter said that the best qualities of JPII’s team are the “unselfishness, talent, and brotherhood.”
When asked about his motivation to coach, Coach Nixon said, “I love basketball. It was everything growing up. As I got older, I wanted to affect the youth in a positive way, and coaching seemed like the most natural fit.”
McElwain’s comments to TR indicate that no matter how far JPII goes in the playoffs Coach Nixon is making good on his desire to be a positive influence. McElwain said, “I’ve learned a lot from Coach Nixon. He’s taught me to be coachable. At Godby, I wasn’t coachable.” When asked about the difference JPII Catholic has made, McElwain said, “JPII has helped me make it to college. I’ve learned disciplined. Coach Ty is disciplined, he’s a good coach, and he really loves us.”
Enjoying his fifth year at JPII, Nixon said, “JPII is definitely a family environment. It’s amazing how so many different people from all kinds of backgrounds can find a home in the Catholic education here. People truly feel like family when they come here, and basketball is an extension of that.”
Since their win against Leon, the Panthers have produced convincing wins against Florida High (65-43) and Florida A&M (87-51). Looking ahead JPII has a good chance of making a run in the 3A playoffs. Currently, the Panthers are undefeated in their district, which includes Pensacola Christian Academy, Florida A&M, Rocky Bayou Christian, and North Florida Christian; and MaxPreps.com ranks them third in the State of FL for the 3A Conference, behind Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah) and Orlando Christian Prep (Orlando).