The Cristo Rey series is a collection of seven pieces written about the Cristo Rey Jesuit Baltimore boy’s basketball program through the lens of their coach Eddie Healy. Cristo Rey Jesuit Baltimore serves students who from low income families in Baltimore City. Every player has endured some hardship in their life, be it victim of violence, emotional trauma, broken family structure or any other afflictions that stunt the growth of many in poverty. This series is the story of unknown kids, on an unknown team from an unknown high school, finding a way to become the team and people they have the potential to be.
Unlike my first season at Cristo Rey, I was able to get a full offseason of practice in with the team. The ability to install our core schemes for the upcoming season well in advance of our official November start date was going to make a major difference on the 2016-17 season. However, as of July, I still hadn’t really nailed down what kind of team I wanted to build.
One night in July, I went out to one of my high school coaches John Bauersfeld’s house to talk about the upcoming season. As we talked about my team’s personnel and makeup (all small, athletic guards), he made the suggestion that we should trap everywhere on defense to kick start our fast break offense. This made even more sense once I thought about how small our court was and that we could use that to create an even greater home advantage with constant pressure. Coach even offered to come down to one of our practices and install the man-to-man traps he uses with his Calvert Hall team now. In shock that Coach (a 3-time Baltimore Catholic league coach of the year, who also has 3 kids) offered his time to come down and take over one of my practices, I quickly accepted the offer and we made plans for him to come down in the fall.
Just before Halloween, coach Bauersfeld made it down to one of our fall workouts. Over a one-hour period, he put in three variations of his half court man trap defenses. As he introduced the first trap, he looked towards senior forward Tim Peterson and asked, “When you come from the back side to take away this passing lane, what are you looking to get?” Tim answered with what seemed obvious, “A steal.” Coach Bauersfeld shook his head and emphatically responded, “You’re getting a dunk!” Everyone else in the gym, knowing there was no player over 6’1” and that we had never seen anyone dunk in practice, shrugged off the comment. Little did we know what the season had in store.
This style of play we would be unleashing on the MIAA C conference in the upcoming season was uncommon for our league and would be a nuisance for opponents to deal with all game if we executed. With that in mind, we continued to practice the traps each week up until our first league game in January but I only used them in three games we played in Philadelphia just in case other teams were scouting us or swapped film with our local opponents. We ran two of the traps from the get-go in our league opener at Concordia Prep, a school that had beaten us out for a playoff spot the previous season. Though they were caught off-guard, we only lead by three at halftime. However, the constant trapping clearly wore on them and we outscored them by 15 points in the 3rd and the game was never close again.
We kept winning, in large part due to the constant swarm of pressure and trapping. One day amidst our 7-1 start to league play, a thought popped in my head – “Chester St. Chaos.” It was the perfect brand name for our style of play, using the school’s address and a little alliteration. I knew I had a golden phrase but waited to unveil it at the right time. In the 2nd quarter of a tight game at home vs. Park, I called a timeout and said with a grin, “OK guys, let’s run 23 and trap from the back side. It’s time to give these guys a little Chester…Street…Chaos.” The boys all reacted like I had just dropped a hilarious line from one of their favorite rappers – you could just see they’d been infused with some swagger by that phrase. Moments later, Tim Peterson came from the backside and easily snagged a pass that would lead to an easy layup. As he approached the hoop, I had already counted the two points in my head and was about to make the next switch of defenses. But then all of the sudden – BOOM – Tim dunked the ball! I’d never been more caught off guard as a coach– I actually jumped in amazement like a fan in the stands. It was bedlam in that gym. The funny thing is, I have never seen Tim dunk before that or since but he proved coach Bauersfeld to be a very wise man.
All in all, our “Chester St. Chaos” defense forced our league opponents to average 23.9 turnovers per game against us, with an average of 13.4 coming off of steals. It wasn’t always pretty and it lead to some high scoring games, but there is no way we would have finished in 2nd place and with the best conference record in school history without employing that style of play. It’s funny to think that in my best season as a coach, I had my team use a style of play that I would not have liked playing or been good at as a player. However, I couldn’t have had more fun unleashing Chester…Street…Chaos.