Niagara Gazette — What a difference a year makes.
It's admittedly an overused and generic phrase, but one that rings true for the Niagara Catholic boys basketball team.
Despite fielding a relatively-small roster made up almost entirely of familiar faces, the 2013-14 Patriots couldn't look more different from last season's talented but inexperienced group.
This year's team impresses at first glance, organized and purposed compared to its predecessor. Head coach Eric Fields said a year's worth of work has been the difference.
"This team put in a lot more time with each other in the offseason than we have in the past," Fields said. "We played in two summer leagues, the (University at Buffalo) team camp, a fall league. We only lost three games all summer long and played some quality teams.
"The players have been gelling together. They seem to be heading in the same direction. They enjoy playing with each other and for the school. They're really feeling good and having a good time with each other."
Senior shooting guard Jonathan Jackson leads the way after being named second team All-Area by the Gazette as a junior. He's the Patriots best offensive attacker, according to Fields, with the ability to score in transition or drive to the rim, where he has a knack for finishing after contact. This year, he's complimented that with a 3-point shot that Fields said he's worked on all offseason.
"He's our leader, hands down," Fields said. "He came in as a freshman and dedicated himself to the program. ... It's been a great four years, and I think we'll finally be able to see his full game. He's played out of position until now."
Jackson had been playing point guard for most of his career but slides over with the addition of freshman Qeyion Williams, who started for the Niagara Falls junior varsity team as an eighth grader before enrolling at Niagara Catholic. While he looks like a freshman, he plays like he has much more experience.