The first games of the 2014-15 PIAA basketball season are just a few hours away. If you haven’t already, make sure you pick up Friday’s paper, which includes eight pages of comprehensive previews for boys and girls basketball and information on every single one of our hoops teams. Among the myriad facets of our preview package are our preseason super 7s. For the boys, here’s the logic that went into the inaugural season ranking.
1. Archbishop Carroll
On paper, it’s almost impossible not to see this team in this spot. They have five legitimate Division I players. We all know what Derrick Jones can do, and we saw how successful the Patriots could be last year. But we also witnessed the flaws that torpedoed their chase for the Catholic League and PIAA Class AAA titles and the room they had to improve. This year, they have a better zone-busting shooter in Ryan Daly. They have a renewed commitment to not allow a more advanced and aggressive Ernest Aflakpui to vanish in the post. They have an athletic, dynamic backcourt with the likes of Samir Taylor, Josh Sharkey and David Beatty. And they have a superstar in Jones with the desperation of knowing it’s his last rodeo. That makes for a very dangerous team.
2. Haverford School
Speaking of Division I talents, the Fords boast plenty with senior Shawn Alston, junior Lamar Stevens and freshman Cameron Reddish. Then again, the question of if the Fords are the most talented team in the Inter-Ac hasn’t been much of a mystery the last couple of years. Once again, they have some of the best players in the league. The question is if that talent will mesh quickly enough to translate into a first league title since 1999.
I’m sure the Clipper faithful won’t take kindly to the Orange and Black landing this far down the rankings. But that’s almost by design in a way: This has the makings of a Chester team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Is there a Rondae Jefferson-type star in the ranks? Certainly not. Is there even someone of the ilk of Mahir Johnson or Tyrell Sturdivant? I’m not sure yet. But there are a lot of solid pieces, a stable-if-not-spectacular veteran backcourt of Keyonte Watkins and Khaleeq Campbell, and some really athletic guard-forward types like Marquis Collins and Jahmi Bailey who played just enough last year to show glimpses of what they could become.
4. Episcopal Academy
The Churchmen last year were a cohesive team that brought the best out of its constituent parts. That trait fostered by coach Craig Conlin, plus what is certainly an increase in overall talent level, means EA could really make some noise. They’re big, thanks to Dickinson commit Michael Hinckley and super sophomore Nick Alikakos. They’ve got a veteran floor general in Mike Jolaoso. And they have enough role players to contribute steady minutes and knock down some shots. Their battles with Haverford School promise to be tremendous this season.
5. Penn Wood
There might not be a team in Delco with as large a disparity between their frontcourt and backcourt as the Patriots. Sharpshooter Malik Jackson and the lanky, blow-by ability of Addison Scott is a tantalizing mix. But then there’s the front court, which will star 5-10 Calvin Melton. Really. The bright side is that Jackson and Scott will win games on their own. But how will the Patriots match up with players like 6-8 Maurice Henry of Chester or 6-8 Anthony Johnson of Glen Mills? Glad it’s not my job to figure it out.
Perusing the nine Delco teams in the Central League, what’s most apparent are the question marks. Simply put, the two Central League teams that made the Super 7 cut are the ones with the least glaring weaknesses on paper. And of the nine teams (with the possible exception of Nick Giordano at Marple Newtown), Brett Foster represents the most dynamic scorer of the bunch, and he’s just a junior. With Ameer Staggs and Julian Wing also back and a coach like Mike Snyder who gets his kids to grind out close, low-scoring games, there’s reason to believe the Green Raiders are in an advantageous position.
Last year wasn’t the best of campaigns for the Cougars. But they return leading scorer Kevin McCormick. They upgrade the post with a full season of Quideer Wimes, who’s coming off a football season where he proved an ability to assert his superior physicality. They have a bunch of guys at 6-3 and 6-4, which qualifies as tall for the second tier of the Central League (that is, behind Conestoga and Lower Merion). And they have a passel of solid guards who might not be superstar playmakers, but are steady rotation guys who can play reliable defense and hit a three here and there.
Honorable mention: Penncrest (The runner-up to Penn Wood for frontcourt-to-backcourt disparity, the Lions not only have to replace the contributions of Rahmi Halaby and transfer Ben Casanova, but they have to do so with three guards in Drew Hanna, Nolan Carroll and Mike Doyle who were secondary scoring options last year); Upper Darby (the Royals replace all five starters and don’t have much size, but if they can find production and long-range shooting from their backcourt, they could make up for it quickly); Haverford (I think the Fords take a step back this year despite the return of Jack Donaghy to run the point. He’s another guard who had the luxury of being pass-first – heck, almost pass-exclusive at times – last season who’ll have to provide points this year); Garnet Valley (The addition of Andrew Louden, who was able to score points on a Cardinal O’Hara team that struggled last season, makes this an interesting team. Louden and Austin Klenotiz could make an interesting 1-2 punch, but can they be the ones to get the Jaguars over the District One Tournament hump?).