The Birmingham Brother Rice basketball team lost in last year’s Class A district championship game to North Farmington after placing second in the tough Catholic League Central Division.
Even though Rice was denied any type of championship hardware despite a 15-6 record, veteran head coach Ed Shaffer said last winter’s squad — which included 11 seniors — was one of his favorites.
“I’ve had some teams that have won championships and last year’s didn’t. But it was one of the best groups that I have ever coached,” Shaffer said prior to Tuesday’s season-opening home victory over Ferndale. “They were just a blast to be around. It was a group I just had to keep together and we all walked off the court knowing we had a great year.
“But that was a mostly senior team and the downside of that is that we have only two returning players this year,” he added. “We are puppies.”
Youth and inexperience aside, Shaffer believes this year’s edition of Warriors basketball will battle as hard as ever. He likes the competitiveness they’ve displayed so far — a workman-like 52-41 win over Ferndale was a nice confidence-builder — and their willingness to work.
Brother Rice basketball, insists Shaffer, will not be in rebuilding mode this year.
“In the big picture, people would probably call it a rebuilding year, but I don’t really think of it that way,” Shaffer said. “We’ve got a sophomore class which is really good, comparable to last year’s senior class, which was one of the best I’ve ever had.
“I think this is an opportunity to give these kids varsity experience right now and get their feet wet, because down the line, I think they are going to be really, really good. But I also owe it to the seniors and the juniors to be as competitive as we can be this year.
“The sophomores are talented enough to push the juniors and seniors,” he added. “I think we will struggle at times, because we don’t match up well with teams like (state-ranked) U-D, but I also think we will be more competitive than people think.”
Two returning players
Brother Rice’s lone two returning players are seniors Gianni Wile and Varcelus Seaton.
Wile, a 6-foot-2 forward, has been named team captain and is the perfect player to take that role, according to Shaffer.
“Gianni is a great leader who is completely devoted to the program,” Shaffer said. “He loves the school, loves the game, loves the program. He’s the right guy to lead a young group and show them how to approach the game day to day.”
Seaton is a skilled guard who figures to be among the team’s leading scorers.
“He’s really worked on his shot a ton this year, just like Gianni,” Shaffer said about Seaton. “I think they’ll both be able to shoot it very well.”
Juniors Nick Massey (5-11 guard) and Matthew Bain (6-1 forward) and sophomore Michael Laurencelle (6-3 forward/center) were Rice’s other starters against Ferndale. Massey and Bain played JV ball last year, while Laurencelle was part of the freshman team.
Sophomores Jack Moran (5-10 guard), Cal Ruprich (6-5 forward/center), Billy Nelson (6-0 forward/guard) and Quinten Anderson (6-3 forward/center) were among Rice’s top players off the bench. Junior Ryan Wofford (6-5) and sophomore guard Matthew Torey, a transfer from Cardinal Mooney who will not be eligible until mid-January, are others who figure to get playing time.
“I think we’ll be feisty and we’ll be pretty good at getting after the ball,” Shaffer said. “I like to put pressure on the ball and I think we’ll be pretty good at that.
“Our bigs are going to be better than I thought we’d be. I didn’t think we’d have much of an inside game. They’re young, but sophomores Michael Laurencelle, Cal Ruprich and Quinten Anderson are all pretty good around the basket. Wofford is really long and moves pretty well and he’s got great gifts, but he’s just figuring out how to play.
“Our guards will have to figure out things quickly, because they are jumping right into the fire,” he added. “We may take our lumps, but we have such a good group and they will figure out how to play.”
In the meantime, Shaffer will preach patience with a young team he feels is on the cusp of greatness.
“The camaraderie on the team is really good so far and they work really hard every day,” Shaffer said. “I was spoiled last year, because I had a veteran team that I took a lot of things for granted and these young guys have never been there.
“I’m going to have to be really patient and they’re going to have to be really patient with where we want to go,” he added. “But we are on the right path three weeks into the season. I like what we have and I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”