Former Liberty and Rampart boys’ basketball coach Jim Masterson is in his fourth season at the helm at St. Mary’s. It is safe to say that the 2021 version of his Pirates’ team has nearly perfected the fast break and transition offense made famous more than 30 years ago by Paul Westhead and Loyola Marymount University.
In a Class 3A Tri-Peaks League game against Banning Lewis Academy on Feb. 9, Masterson’s hoopsters sprinted to a 102-45 victory to improve to 5-0 and maintain their status as one of the state’s top teams in the classification. It was the third time this season St. Mary’s topped the century mark.
Two days later, the Pirates downed Lamar, 93-50. Through their first six games, the Pirates are averaging a whopping 97 points per contest while allowing just 50.
“Our motto is, ‘First to 100 wins,’ ” said St. Mary’s junior guard Sam Howery, who leads the team in points (28.8 per game) and assists (11.0 per game) among many categories.
The Pirates got stronger as the game went on against Banning Lewis. After putting up a modest 20 points in the first 8-minute quarter, they scored 29 in the second and 34 in the third to take a commanding lead. The fourth quarter was played with a running clock due to CHSSA mercy rule that specifies the clock runs once a team has a 35-point lead to begin the final quarter.
St. Mary’s senior Luke Stockelman, a resident of Peregrine, had a game-high 26 points against Banning Lewis. Most of them came off St. Mary’s takeaways.
“I’m at the top of the press so I end up with the ball at the end of the fast break,” he said. “After four years of running this offense we all have a pretty good idea of where we need to be on the court.”
If the mercy rule did not exist, St. Mary’s likely would have topped 100 points in every game this season. St. Mary’s led Woodland Park 66-15 at halftime.
“We held them to 97 for the game,” Woodland Park coach John Paul Geniesse said with a grin after his team’s 54-point loss on Feb. 5.
Geniesse has been coaching against Masterson teams for more than a decade and believes this current St. Mary’s group is running the Westhead offense to near perfection.
“St. Mary’s is really disciplined and they score really well,” Geniesse said. “When we played them it was a little bit of shell-shock for us. We got hit early by their fullcourt press and trap and didn’t respond well.
“St Mary’s is easily one of the two best 3A teams in the state, right up there with Lutheran.”
Masterson’s love of the Westhead offense goes back to his days as a high school and college coach in Southern California in the 1980s and 1990s. When he moved to Colorado Springs in the summer of 2000 to take the top job at Liberty, Masterson implemented his offense, but did not have nearly the same success he’s enjoying today.
Masterson took over the Harrison program in 2009. In his second season with the Panthers, he directed them to a 20-5 record and a trip to the Sweet 16 Harrison topped 80 points 10 times that year.
“We call it ‘organized chaos,’ ” Masterson said of his offense. “We try not to focus on the score. We try to get 90 possessions and take 75 shots. Thirty of them 3-pointers. We try to take 20 more total shots than our opponents.”
Masterson added that his team tries to control the offensive glass and force at least 26 turnovers per game.
St. Mary’s has a roster of just eight players.
“We want our kids to play hard the entire game,” Masterson said. “You can’t teach your kids to play a certain way and then tell them not to play that way. We want to be really good sports. We’re a Catholic school and we want to imitate Christ.”
Masterson is well aware he has his detractors out there. He was concerned that a few people might voice negative words after his club defeated James Irwin 109-28 on Feb. 1. St. Mary’s led 97-18 after three quarters.
“We try to push the pace and force turnovers,” Masterson said. “Especially with the short season we have this year there is not a lot of room for error. It’s a sprint to the finish line.”
Prior to taking the job at St. Mary’s, Masterson served as an assistant coach for six seasons under J’on St. Clair at Cheyenne Mountain and Rampart. When the St. Mary’s job came open Masterson was quick to apply. Masterson started his career coaching Catholic schools.
During his first three seasons at St. Mary’s, Masterson’s teams were a combined 47-24. This year’s Pirates are No. 3 in the RPI behind Manitou Springs and Buena Vista, respectively. St. Mary’s hosts Manitou Springs on Feb. 25 in a game that will likely be for the Tri-Peaks League title.
“We’re looking forward to that Manitou Springs game,” Howery said. “For us it’s state or bust.”