High School Sports

Fiery, emotional and vocal: St. Joseph’s trio leading boys’ basketball team in different ways

St. Joseph’s Jack Mangene, seen here last season, is one of three leaders who have helped the Wolves to an early 2-0 record. Ethan Khoza and R.J. Marsh are the other two.
St. Joseph’s Jack Mangene, seen here last season, is one of three leaders who have helped the Wolves to an early 2-0 record. Ethan Khoza and R.J. Marsh are the other two. Centre Daily Times, file

The leaders of the St. Joseph’s boys’ basketball team all aim to push their teammates on the court, but they each take a different approach.

R.J. Marsh is the team’s most gifted player whose competitive fire rubs off on his teammates. Jack Mangene is the emotional leader, setting the tone for his team with his scrappy play and willingness to challenge his teammates. And Ethan Khoza is a gifted speaker who knows exactly what to say when he addresses the team.

“We have a really good mix of three guys who have different leadership styles and different abilities,” St. Joseph’s coach Richard Ciambotti said. “All those things merge together to make something really special from a leadership standpoint.”

Ciambotti felt his team lacked leadership last year with just one senior on the roster, but that’s no longer an issue for the Wolves. They know they can count on upperclassmen Marsh, Mangene and Khoza to keep the team together and to maintain a high level of intensity at practices and in games. The trio has also been productive to lead St. Joseph’s to a 2-0 start, including a win over Penns Valley on Monday.

Marsh, a junior, may have wanted to beat the Rams more than anyone on the court. The Wolves viewed the matchup with Penns Valley as their “benchmark” early in the season. Penns Valley has been a consistent program in the area with 21 straight winning seasons, and Marsh spent the entire offseason thinking about Monday’s game after losing to the Rams twice last year.

St. Joseph’s fell 51-18 to Penns Valley in its first game of the 2016-17 season and lost 50-45 in the second meeting between the teams. Khoza saw how much passion drives his teammate that night. In the locker room after the game, Marsh was “literally shaking” and couldn’t even talk.

He didn’t need to say a word to explain what the game meant to him. His teammates saw it in his effort on the court and in his emotion in the locker room.

“That’s how badly he wants to win,” Khoza said. “It feels like for me, I have a responsibility not just to myself, but to R.J. because I know R.J. really wants to win and that pushes me to really want to win as well.”

Mangene shares that trait with Marsh and tries to lead by example with his hustle. Mangene is constantly chasing down loose balls and battling on the boards to make a difference in every game for the Wolves.

“Whether you’re playing the worst team ever or the best team ever, Jack’s going to give his best effort every time,” Marsh said.

Though Mangene isn’t the player who delivers heartfelt messages to his team, the 6-foot-1 junior uses his voice to keep his teammates on task.

“Sometimes you got to snap at ’em,” Mangene said.

Mangene doesn’t like to do it, but it’s necessary at times.

“The hair is going crazy,” Marsh said, describing Mangene in those moments. “He’s yelling.”

While Marsh and Mangene have developed into leaders as juniors, Khoza has settled into his role in his second year at St. Joseph’s. Khoza transferred to St. Joseph’s from State College last year and needed to figure out what the coaches expected out of him and the team.

This year, the senior is confident being one of the team’s vocal leaders.

“I’m not afraid to speak up and tell people what needs to be done for us to be a good team,” Khoza said.

Khoza has taken on leadership roles off the court, serving as the vice president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes this year and helping out with homecoming. And he’s the team’s faith leader on its four pillars council, praying before games and bringing in scripture.

“He’s able to kind of capture what we want the message to the team to be, but articulate it probably as good as any of our coaches can do,” Ciambotti said.

Khoza’s messages often reinforce that everyone has something to contribute.

The Wolves have benefited from having different personalities dedicated to the same goals leading the way this year. Marsh, Mangene and Khoza have already set a strong example as St. Joseph’s looks to build on its performance in its first two games.

“I’m so proud to be around these guys because they consistently bring so much effort and energy,” Ciambotti said. “When we can match their effort and energy with focus, we’re going to find something really special.”