READING, Pa. — When Gil St. Bernard (N.J.) coach Mark Mitola says his team has been “battle tested” over the past few months it’s quite the double entrendre.
When his Knights hit the gym in the offseason, half the time it’s without star player Tyus Battle. The national recruit might make the second day of a tournament or miss regular open gym practice time.
“When he’s not around we’re a slower team, but we move the ball exceptionally well,” said guard Ian Demarest. “But when Tyus is around we have to adapt. We’re a faster team and we have someone, when we need a big bucket, give it to Tyus.”
Such is the life of the topped-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2016. Such is the struggle of his teammates.
“We tell the kids: Tyus has to do his thing, so let’s work hard over the summer and in the gym so when we put him back in the mix, we’re even better,” Mitola said.
Battle missed out a tournament with his AAU team to play with the Knights at Hoop Group’s Elite Team Camp this weekend. He brought hoards of college scouts with him, from Villanova’s Jay Wright to Michigan’s John Beilein.
Behind Battle’s 22 points — all coming without a 3-pointer — against Roman Catholic (Pa.) the Knights are in the National division’s championship game Sunday afternoon.
“My jump shot wasn’t working so I had to take it to the basket even more and make the refs call fouls,” he said. “I guess it worked.”
Battle scored eight points off free throws including three and ones, leading an 11-point second-half comeback. When Demarest hit a triple plus the foul, Battle assisted on the play.
“He always makes big shots in big moments,” Battle said. “It changed the momentum of the game. All my teammates really stepped up on defense and made open shots.”
Mitola said having Battle with the rest of the team over the summer gives the rest of the team a confidence boost that allows it to make tournament runs like this.
“It shows what kind of kid he is,” Mitola said. “He’s unselfish enough to know how hard his teammates work and how special we can be with him here.”
“We all battle for each other,” said Demarest. “Tyus is a very humble player. He’s maybe the best player in the country for his age, but he’s just one of the guys around school and when we play, he looks for us. Our job is just when he penetrates and kicks, we gotta knock down shots.”
The Knights spread the floor during their second half surge in an effort to let Battle attack the rim. Once perimeter shots started falling, that sprung open lanes for the 6-foot-6 swingman inside.
“We wanted to spread the offense to open up some up some lanes for him,” Mitola said. “We have to find spots to expose some opportunities for us.”
Battle said it’s encouraging to see his teammates improve even when he’s separated from them. Through his busy schedule, games like the semifinal win over Roman Catholic make spending more time with Gil St. Bernard that much more rewarding.
“I love these guys,” he said. “I love this school and community. It’s always great coming back to be with them.”