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Pat McInerney has never been the leading scorer or best player on his own team, and basketball is not even his best sport, but the 6-5 senior forward has played an important yet underappreciated role in Benet’s resurgence as a basketball power.
Benet coach Gene Heidkamp believes McInerney is the first four-year varsity player in the history of Benet’s program, which dates to 1949. During McInerney’s career, the Redwings are 87-13, the school’s best four-year showing since going 107-11 from 1975-79, the start of their heyday under former coach Bill Geist.
“I’m very pleased with Pat,” Heidkamp said. “He’s been so important to our program. He’s been a huge part of our success over the last four years.”
After playing a reserve role his freshman year when Benet went 27-3 and was a missed free throw away from upsetting state champion Simeon in the supersectional, McInerney started as a sophomore on a team that included two Big Ten players in current Northwestern guard Dave Sobolewski and Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky.
The Redwings had the best winning percentage in school history that year, going 29-1 and falling one win short of the school record for victories.
After Sobolewski and Kaminsky graduated, McInerney made sure the Redwings remained a force. They were 21-7 last year and are 10-2 so far this season even though McInerney is the only returning starter.
“I’ve been doing the same thing basically since I was a freshman,” McInerney said. “I just try to win games. Every time I take the floor I do what I have to do to win games.”
That means playing a variety of roles, from joining 6-9 junior center Sean O’Mara as a rebounding force down low, going out on the perimeter to defend the passing lanes and either scoring or distributing on offense.
Those tasks aren’t glamorous and don’t bring the attention that the highly recruited O’Mara receives, but his proficiency at completing them provides the cornerstone of Benet’s success. McInerney averages 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists but numbers alone cannot illustrate his impact
“He’s the best passer I’ve ever played with and he attacks the glass, he plays crazy defense and he helps me when I need it,” O’Mara said. “He’s a great teammate and a great player.”
McInerney’s versatility was on full display during three Benet wins at last week’s Plainfield North Tournament.
In the first game, McInerney played the starring role with 14 points and 14 rebounds in a 55-35 win over the host school. In the other two games, he played more of a supporting role.
McInerney scored only four points against Lincoln-Way North, but dished six assists, including five to O’Mara, who tallied a game-high 21 points in a 41-40 victory. Many of O’Mara’s buckets are set up by entry passes from McInerney at the top of the key.
“He’s an unbelievable post feeder,” Heidkamp said. “He enters the ball to Sean and I think he’s one of the best post feeders that I’ve ever seen in 20 years of coaching. He has really been good at that.”
But not all of the passes go to O’Mara. The right-handed McInerney is adept at whipping passes around the court with either hand, often surprising defenders with the pace and accuracy of his left-handed feeds.
Lockport found that out the hard way as Benet rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 47-42. McInerney was a dervish during the comeback. On successive possessions, he scored on a power move in the lane, whipped a pass to guard Eddie Eshoo in the left corner for a three-pointer and tipped a Lockport pass on the perimeter and went coast-to-coast for a three-point play. He finished with 11 points, hitting his last three shots, five assists and four steals.
That was a typical night’s work for the unassuming McInerney, a power-hitting first baseman and outfielder who will play baseball at Illinois and is relishing his final season on the hardwood.
“It’s fun to go out with these juniors and seniors for one last go,” said McInerney, whose older sister Kaitlin was a star basketball player at Benet and Northwestern. “[I want to] basically just try to take more of a leadership role.
“This is my last year of playing organized basketball and I want to make the most of it. I look at every game like it could be my last basketball game.”
Heidkamp knows he will have to face the reality of McInerney’s last game in a Benet uniform, but he wants to postpone that day as long as possible.
“We’re hoping he’s got some big games left,” Heidkamp said. “We’re going to miss him when he’s gone but we’re going to enjoy it for the last couple months while we got him.”