RICHLAND, N.J. - Paul Rodio knows all about the positives and negatives of giving freshmen significant playing minutes. During his 31 years at St. Augustine Prep, there isn't much the legendary coach doesn't know.
But he is still learning.
Case in point: freshman Isaiah Morton.
"Isaiah was with us most of the summer," Rodio said yesterday after his team thumped Villanova Prep from Ojai, Calif., 77-24, in a first-round game of the Augustinian Tournament at St. Augustine. "And what I learned is that he is one of those kids that if you don't let them do what they can do, you kind of take their game away.
"When I first got Isaiah, he was here and I was here [Rodio was holding his hands about as wide as Jon Runyan's shoulders]. We kind of met somewhere in-between."
Wherever the two met, it's becoming a wonderful place. In just more than 15 minutes of play yesterday, the 5-6 Morton collected 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, four assists, two steals and a rebound. He was joined in double figures by Charlie Monaghan (10), and Brandon Pascucci, who had a team-high 14, including four treys.
Oh, yeah, Monaghan and Pascucci are also freshmen.
You can't help but look at these three and be amazed at how advanced their games are at such a young age. And then you start thinking about what the future might look like for Rodio's Hermits and it becomes almost frightening.
"Yeah, the Class of 2011," Monaghan laughed. "We talk about that only a little, about what kind of success we might have. But we're only thinking about now and what we can do to help this team win now."
Their games are so different that they complement each other and their teammates well.
Morton is the epitome of today's point guard. He gets the ball to the right person just about all the time, and if that can be done with a little flair, well, he's not shy about doing that.
The 6-1 Monaghan is the mop-up guy. When there's a long rebound, it's usually his. He'll get his junk points around the basket, and if you leave him open inside of 15 feet, he'll bury you. He's one of those "does nothing great but everything very well" players.
Pascucci, at 6-feet, is the marksman. His shot is fluid and dead-on. His range goes way, way, back, and every time the ball leaves his hands, it looks as if it's going in.
But don't be mistaken. The high-school game or lifestyle isn't coming all that easy for the freshmen. St. Augustine is known as one of the best academic schools in the area, hidden in the middle of nowhere, which makes for long, long days trying to combine school and basketball.
"I live in West Deptford, so on a typical school day I'm getting up at 5:45 to catch the bus to school," said Monaghan. "After school, we practice at around 4 and we go for about 2 hours. So usually I don't get home until around 7. It's a pretty long day, but you get it done by doing homework and catching up on sleep on the bus."
"I live down in Cape May," said Pascucci. "I transferred here from Wildwood Catholic. So that's a pretty good ride for me, too. The days are long, but it's worth it. This is a great school."
For Morton, who now lives in nearby Vineland, the days are a little shorter.
"Last year, I came down here and watched them play a lot," he said. "I always liked the school and liked the way they played basketball. It always seemed like the players and the whole school was like a big family. And I wanted to be a part of that."
He has become a big part of it, averaging a team-leading 13 points for the Hermits (3-1).
"They play well together, they know each other," Rodio said. "But more important than that is they are very good kids and good students. They're gym rats and they are going to play a lot of basketball for this program. As a coach, you can't ask for more than that." *