NEWTOWN SQUARE – After watching Mike Smoluk in the fall, it’s hard not to think that he looks a little out of place in the winter.
A dynamic wide receiver for the Green Raiders’ Central League champion football team and a second-team All-Delco selection at defensive back, Smoluk is used to making big plays by catching the ball.
But when he moves on the basketball court, he takes over the reins from Collin Wright as the quarterback of the offense. Jon McGill and Ken Bartow are the big-name shooters for the Green Raiders, as evidenced in a 64-34 thrashing of Upper Darby in the league semifinal Thursday, but Smoluk has consistently improved all season. Smoluk has consistently improved this year and he burned the Royals for 10 points and five assists. Modest? Maybe, until you consider that he only needed eight shots to do it. So where does a receiver learn to pass like that?
“I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “Whatever I see, I throw out. It’s way different. I like receiver (better). Throwing out passes is great, but catching them is more my thing.”
That’s why he’s getting looks from the likes of Widener for football, but if he keeps playing like he did against Upper Darby, the Green Raiders will have a good chance to make a deep run into the postseason. They’re penciled in for a seed between Nos. 11 and 13, depending on how a few bounces go, and when they’re shooting like they did against the Royals, they’re awfully tough to beat.
Ridley couldn’t miss earlier this year, but then cooled off so much that it lost the stranglehold it had on the No. 2 spot to Upper Darby. No problem, though, when the Green Raiders connected on 24-of-45 (53.3 percent), which, well, is good enough to beat almost anyone. That’s especially when a team turns that percentage up 61.5 from beyond the arc on a sizzling 8-for-13, including a 5-for-5 day from McGill.
“Threes get us going,” McGill said. “It gets our offense going. It gets other guys going, too, because if they’re going to cover me, other guys will be wide open.”
Missing the shots he’s used to draining has taken its toll on McGill, though.
“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “Some games I just can’t take it. I try not to think about it too much. Just keep on shooting.”
As for Bartow, he knew his team had the potential to knock off the Royals, a team Ridley split with in the regular season, but by 30?
“Not by 30,” he said with a smile. “We did it before on our home floor, so we knew we could, but we didn’t expect it.”
Make no mistake about it. Upper Darby’s a very good team, but it’s the ultimate high-risk, high-reward team. I’ve seen the Royals play three times this year and their shots have been falling for one, maybe two quarters. But they’ve shot well in nearly every other game and it’s not hard to see how they give teams fit. They won’t shoot 1-f0r-17 from 3-point land too often, which means that they’re a realistic threat to knock off a couple teams in districts and maybe punch a ticket to states.
Individually, there’s not a superstar on the team, so the sum of the parts is definitely greater than the parts themselves. When Upper Darby plays as a team and hits its shots, it’s awfully tough to beat. When they don’t, though, the Royals are an easy out. Thursday, they only made 13 of 56 shots from the field and were held to single digits in three of the four quarters. That, in turn, led to dissension in the ranks as some players started arguing with each other more than the norm, but that’s not all that surprising considering the frustration of being blown out in a playoff game.
Not having to play Lower Merion and getting another day to prepare for districts probably benefits the Royals, anyway. The Aces would be a prohibitive favorite to beat the Central League All-Stars, let alone any team in the league, so getting to rest and prepare for Round 1 of districts is big. Beni Toure could use some extra time to heal his ankle and the team clearing its collective mind from the Ridley debacle should go a long way.
As for Lower Merion, though?
“We’ve just got to come out with more intensity and hopefully our shots fall, because they weren’t falling last time (a 69-39 Aces romp last Saturday)” Bartow said. “I think we were a little nervous last time, but not this time. It’s probably a little bit (of a mental roadblock), but we’ve just got to take them like any other team. Go out there and do what we do.
– MATT CHANDIK