By MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Catholic boys basketball team, runners-up in last year's Monsignor Martin Athletic Association Small School division, looks set to repeat that success this season, albeit with a largely different roster.
Gone are five seniors from last year's team, including Joe Lowery, now playing for a prep school in Florida.
Despite that, this year's team is not starved for talent.
Leading the way this season will be junior guard Jonathan Jackson, a player with speed to burn who's electric in the open court.
"Jonathan is growing into a strong role, more of a leadership role," coach Eric Fields said. "He's been lucky the past few years — he's had seniors around since he was a freshman. Now the team is young, and he's bringing a lot of leadership and it shows in his play.
"We've got a guy in his third year of varsity basketball in the program, and he hasn't done anything but improved since Day One."
Joining Jackson in as part of a very good junior class will be forward Andrew Adamson and guard Brian Thomas. Adamson is a well-rounded player who's still relatively new to organized basketball, while Thomas is one of the team's top ball handlers, as well as its best shooter.
"This is only Andrew's second year with us," Fields said. "He was a little inexperienced last year, but over the offseason there was a tremendous amount of improvement, especially in his rebounding and shooting. He knows what we need and what we're looking for as a player, and you can see that improvement. I can see him continuing to get better year-to-year."
Joining the juniors so far this season in the starting lineup, which Fields says is subject to change, have been sophomores Jake Socha and Craig Paige.
Like Adamson, both are talented players still adjusting to the organized game. Paige brings speed to the guard position, while Socha and his 6-foot-6 frame has manned the middle for the Patriots so far this season.
"These two young men have done well all offseason," Fields said. "Jake is coming off a little bit of an injury from his AAU team, which has hurt is growth, but you know he's just going to continue to grow and get better. I think he's going to be a great player by his senior year. He has a lot of tools and doesn't really realize what he can do out there yet.
"Craig has kind of been thrown into the fire this year. He's been one of our primary ball handlers. He's not really a point guard, but as time goes on, he'll get into the swing of things. We play in a very tough league, and he's going to have tough nights, but he's up to the challenge."
The Patriots have a very small roster, listing only eight players on some nights. Fields said they haven't closed the door on more players who might come out for the team late, but for now, he goes into each game with a trio of seniors on the bench in Alex Nearhood, William Whisker and Justin O'Connor.
"I take my hats off to my seniors, I really do," he said. "They're not basketball players. They like the game, but it's not their main forte. They understand what it means to be a role player, and they understand what it means to work 100 percent. They're dependable, reliable and know the system, and I never worry about using them."
So far, the Patriots are off to a 2-2 start after recent losses to Depew and Cheektowaga. They'll play next in their season tip-off tournament on Dec. 22-23.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.