By Kaleb Carter
Only a few minutes into the Taft Eagles’ 63-32 win at Mather on Wednesday in CPL-White North action, 6-2 senior guard Mick Dempsey got cooking.
Offensively, Dempsey got to the rim repeatedly, drawing the Mather defense’s attention time and again, only to whip passes to the block or perimeter. On the other end he locked down the Rangers’ guards on the perimeter, putting on a clinic as Taft improved to 8-2 and 3-0 in the Chicago Public League White-North.
Eagles coach Andre Harris, in his first year as head coach after six years as Oak Park-River Forest boys sophomore coach, knows how critical Dempsey is to what the Eagles can do.
“He (Mick) gets us rolling,” Harris said. “If he’s attacking the rim, drawing defenders and able to kick, he opens up his shot, and his shot is pretty nice. We’re blessed to have him on our side. If he gets going, he gets the rest of those guys going.”
Dempsey, one of a number of talented St. Joseph players who scattered after the school shut down last spring, has taken to running the show for the Eagles.
“I’m just trying to be a leader, a ball-handler, distributor,” Dempsey said. “I can score if I have to, but I’m just trying to make sure we get the win.”
He had 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half. In one span in the second quarter, Dempsey accounted for eight points over three possessions, scoring at the rim, hitting a three-pointer and assisting on an Adrian Pelszynski trey.
Pelszynski scored 10 second-quarter points, including stepping out to knock down a pair of three-pointers. Pelszynski’s added all-around game, especially in the absence of big starting forward Joseph Rodriguez — Harris said Rodriguez would be back in action soon — was another thing that had the coach thinking the Eagles are clicking on all cylinders.
Clear out, Dempsey making it look easy. Next possession he makes a 3. Then he assists to Adrian Pelszynski for a Trey to make it 34-10. All on consecutive possessions. pic.twitter.com/HdwexzrhCC— Kaleb Carter (@Kaleb_M_Carter) December 16, 2021
“We’re seeing everything we need now,” Harris said of Pelszynski. “He’s starting to crash the glass on both sides, he’s extending the defense with the long ball. He can finish at the rim, he can handle the ball … bring the ball up.”
Gideon Adewole, a 6-3 wing, used his long frame and lean muscle to create shots, including an effective mid-range jumper. Adewole scored 10 Wednesday.
“We believe Gideon can be our best player, but it has to come from him,” Harris said. “We need him to be a little more aggressive. Which is fine, he’s a little passive trying to get his teammates involved, but if he puts his foot on the gas pedal from the tip, this team can be scary.”
Gideon Adewole from deep. Taft cruising, 24-9 in the second. pic.twitter.com/amt3858527— Kaleb Carter (@Kaleb_M_Carter) December 16, 2021
Senior guard Zouhir Dahmaz gave the Eagles good production and energy off the bench, and the Eagles have enough shooting skill and size from others further down the roster to be optimistic about going deeper into the bench as the season goes along.
Even down Rodriguez, the Eagles fared decently well down low and showed they can be adaptable, an important feature playing without Rodriguez, a consistent double-double type player.
“I feel really good, we’re 8-2,” Dempsey said. “We almost beat Naperville Central and we played Lane Tech close, so we’re just going to keep improving. I think we can be really good.”
The Rangers, now 3-8 and 2-1 in the White North, got 11 points from senior guard Joseph Perez, and 8 from athletic 6-4 senior forward Emmanuel Nwatu. Jonah Irving, a 6-4 senior forward, also contributed with six rebounds.