By: Wake Hoops

2022-23: 13-15 (7-3), 1st in CAP-6, 2nd Round of Playoffs (L to Broughton 56-58)

Key Losses

Connor Higginbotham – 13p, 3r, 2a, 1s, 34 3pm – Graduated
Alex Fann'y – 10p, 5r, 1a, 1s, 46 3pm – Graduated – Playing at Washington & Lee
Carlos Leon-Teran – 3p, 2r – Graduated
Blake Raphael – 3p, 2r, 1a – Graduated – Playing Football at NC State
Xavier DeBerry – 11p, 7r, 2a, 2s (2021-22) – Graduated

Key Returners

Aiden Smalls – So – 16p, 5r, 5a, 2s – Wake Hoops Freshman of the Year
Cash McSweeney – Jr – 13p, 9r, 1a, 1s, 1b – Wake Hoops Breakout POY
Ronny Turner – Sr – 3p, 3r, 1a, 1s
Chet Yardley – Sr – 2p, 3r, 1a
Jacob Wayand – Sr – 2p, 2r

Key Newcomers

Brycen DuBose – So – JV
Will Migdal – So – JV

Projected Rotation

Starters: Aiden Smalls, Ronny Turner, Jacob Wayand, Chet Yardley, Cash McSweeney
Bench: Damon Phillips, Brendan Downs, Will Migdal, Brycen DuBose

Deep Dive

The Crusaders return 54% of their points and FGAs from a year ago and 66% of their stocks (steals + blocks). They return three starters, multiple unproven bench pieces, and multiple vital pieces from their 20-2 JV team. They also bring in a deep and intriguing freshmen class, with multiple pieces that can immediately contribute to the varsity level. They came on strong down the stretch, recovering from a 2-7 start to win the CAP-6 regular season title and a playoff game. The Crusaders typically play a difficult non-conference schedule, with just one non-con game in the last two seasons coming against a team that missed the playoffs. They also schedule a handful of NCISAA opponents each season, something that should uniquely prepare them for the consistently rugged CAP-6.

Gibbons will be able to do a lot of creative stuff within their offense this year, centered around the inside-out pairing of Aiden Smalls and Cash McSweeney. Expect to see a lot of action that works to get Smalls downhill into a space that forces defensive rotations. This roster is equipped to play out of those rotations with many shooters and quality decision-makers lining the perimeter. McSweeney found great success last season operating off the ball but his growth over the last calendar year (specifically as an on-ball cog) will inevitably add new wrinkles within their offensive system.

Speaking of McSweeney, his growth as an outside shooter, face-up threat, and overall comfort level with the ball in his hands is nothing short of impressive. He's a viable spot-up option that can get to the rim when opponents close out too hard. He has a variety of moves he can get to out of the elbow or the block and knows how to impact offensive possessions without being catered to. He is the premier forward in the CAP-6 and will be an absolute matchup nightmare in conference play.

His counterpart, Aiden Smalls, is coming off a season in which he won the Wake Hoops Freshman of the Year award. His ability to get downhill and force defensive overloads is unprecedented for someone his age. He's already a solid decision-maker but another jump in that area will make this Gibbons offense one of the most prolific in the area. He finishes around the rim at a high level, defends the ball well, and has a level of dynamism to his game that is rarely matched. The duo of Smalls and McSweeney is arguably the best in the triangle on paper and has the chance to take this Crusaders team very far come February.

Next to their high-level pairing, there will be a plethora of reliable, veteran pieces in the form of seniors Ronny Turner, Chet Yardley, Jacob Wayand, and Brendan Downes. Turner stands out as the third option for this team. He's able to play either guard spot, has vastly improved as a shooter, and impacts winning on seemingly every possession. He really came on strong towards the end of summer and has carried that momentum through the fall so far. He will provide much needed relief for Smalls and McSweeney on the offensive end while being able to guard the opposing top option on a nightly basis. Yardley will provide a level of versatility on both ends of the floor that will slot in well alongside the trio of Smalls, Turner, and McSweeney. Wayand and Downes will both be asked to play important roles as either the 5th starter or off the bench. Wayand is similar to Yardley in his ability to guard multiple positions and his low-maintenance style of play. At 6'6', Downes will be the primary backup to McSweeney and will play quality minutes off the bench. His ability to defend, rebound, and shoot opens the door for lineups that include both him and McSweeney, something that could cause real matchup problems for certain teams.

Around their stars and veterans, the Crusaders will turn to junior Damon Phillips and sophomores Will Migdal and Brycen DuBose. Phillips played a marginal role last year as a sophomore but will be relied on this year as a lethal shooting threat. He's lethal off the catch, running off actions, and off the bounce, something that will see him on the court in important moments throughout the season. Migdal will be one of the most reliable backup guards in the triangle this year. He guards the ball as well as you could ask, not gambling for steals and keeping his man contained. He makes good decisions with the ball and rarely turns it over. He's a reliable shooter that has flashed some off the dribble stuff, something I'm sure we'll see more of as his role expands over the next two seasons. Lastly, DuBose will provide good depth at the forward spot, able to battle down low on both ends thanks to his strength, toughness, and motor. He's shown some flashes of a mature face up game that, like Migdal, will surely shine as his role expands later in his career.

A footnote to monitor this season will be their incredibly deep freshman (2027) class. Between guys like Griffin Cockerham, Ty Lange, Walker Montague, Whit Gaddy, and Ben Whitney there's a handful of guys who can contribute on the varsity level this season. Given the already deep varsity rotation, it's unlikely that we'll see much of them, especially early on. But, as fatigue, injuries, and other circumstances inevitably come along later in the season, don't be surprised to see some of these guys meaningfully impact the varsity game.

Cardinal Gibbons has been building something special for the first two seasons of the Coach Nolan era, winning the CAP-6 tournament in 2022 and the regular season in 2023 while their JV team went 35-9 in that same time period. They've consistently scheduled hard in the non-con, with this year being no exception. Entering his third year, Coach Nolan will have the personnel, depth, and experience to pace the CAP-6 and make his deepest playoff run yet.