Northeast Times

Hit the Hardwood

First things first: Fath­er Judge head coach Sean Tait gives some in­struc­tion to his 2012-13 Cru­sader bas­ket­ball team dur­ing a re­cent Sunday morn­ing prac­tice. Judge won 13 games last sea­son but stumbled after a tor­rid start. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

— At long last, bas­ket­ball sea­son has ar­rived.

After a thrill­ing fall sports sea­son that saw four North­east-area teams win league soc­cer and foot­ball cham­pi­on­ships, it’s time to trade in the cleats and out­door fields for high-tops and bas­ket­ball gyms.

As is the case com­ing in­to a new year, pre­vi­ous star play­ers have gradu­ated, pav­ing the way for a fresh crop of new faces to prove what they are cap­able of on the court in the Cath­ol­ic and Pub­lic League games. Where these eight teams will be in Feb­ru­ary re­mains to be seen, but for now, each one of them car­ries un­bridled op­tim­ism for a story­book sea­son. 

Cath­ol­ic League

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 18-5 over­all, 9-4 league

The 2011-12 sea­son treated Arch­bish­op Ry­an quite nicely. Head coach Bernie Ro­gers’ bunch ex­ploded for 18 wins, in­clud­ing a five-vic­tory turn­around in the league. The sea­son cul­min­ated in a play­off loss to Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, and while the team will cer­tainly miss de­par­ted seni­ors Chris­ti­an Rivera and Nick Aughen­baugh (the second and third-lead­ing scorers), the Raid­ers have good reas­on for op­tim­ism.

Lead­ing scorer Bry­an Okolo re­turns in the back­court, as does seni­or Gage Ga­le­one. Guard Tyler Reed and for­ward Shawn Miller are also seni­ors with varsity ex­per­i­ence, while ju­ni­ors Brendan Hor­an and Matt De­ver will provide depth in the front­court. Foot­ball play­er Billy Dykan, with his 6-foot-7 frame, will give the team size in the middle, which it has lacked in re­cent years.

“These guys had ex­per­i­ence win­ning last year, and we want to stay on that level,” Ro­gers said. “I think we can be in the mix for a play­off spot. Right now I’m happy with our ef­fort and un­selfish­ness, and on pa­per this is one of the more tal­en­ted teams we’ve had here. We can score, but we need to get bet­ter re­bound­ing and on de­fense.”

Fath­er Judge

Last sea­son: 13-10, 5-8

After a blis­ter­ingly hot start last year, the Cru­saders hit a stum­bling block down the stretch and ex­ited in the first round of the play­offs. But a new sea­son brings a fresh start for head coach Sean Tait and his Judge team.

Bri­an Hen­nes­sey gradu­ated, and rising ju­ni­ors from a year ago — Steve Griffin and Joe Robin­son — are not back. Without their three lead­ing scorers, the Cru­saders have seen oth­er hol­d­overs as­sume lar­ger roles, namely seni­or guard Sean Hanna and combo play­ers Jeff Sei­gafuse (seni­or) and Ma­lik Robin­son (ju­ni­or). Sopho­more Will Brazu­kas is man­ning the point, while seni­or Brandon Maguire — a Frank­lin Towne trans­fer — adds size in the middle. John­mike O’Con­nor, James Bogans and Mike Am­rhein are ex­pec­ted to add depth off the bench.

“With some ad­di­tion by sub­trac­tion, we’re in a bet­ter place than we were last year,” Tait said. “We have a good chem­istry, and every­one on this team likes one an­oth­er. We’d like to be a play­off team, and it’s amaz­ing what we can achieve when none of these guys cares about get­ting the head­line.”

Pub­lic League, Di­vi­sion A

Frank­ford

Last sea­son: 8-13, 3-8

Dave Huzzard en­joys a good chal­lenge. 

A year after win­ning just three league games, the Pi­on­eers’ head coach had an op­por­tun­ity to move his team out of the cut­throat Di­vi­sion A. But he quickly de­cided against it. Play­ing the massive Pub­lic League’s best teams (the league is now 65 mem­bers split across five di­vi­sions) is what Huzzard wants, in hopes of get­ting the Pi­on­eers to real­ize their full po­ten­tial. 

Huzzard will be count­ing on some new faces, namely in­ex­per­i­enced sopho­more guards Ster­ling Walk­er and Quadir Trues­dale, whose play the coach called “the key” to the sea­son. Key re­turnees in­clude seni­ors Don­ald Robin­son and Sha­quille Rone, whose ma­tur­ity Huzzard lauded.

“Ob­vi­ously, we want to make the play­offs and go fur­ther this time,” Huzzard said of the team’s second-round play­off loss. “I want my kids play­ing against the best teams in the city, es­pe­cially the young guys. It’s fun to play the power­houses. I love it.”

Di­vi­sion B

George Wash­ing­ton

Last sea­son: 10-13, 5-8

There will be a new face on the Wash­ing­ton side­line this year, even if every­body at the school already knows him.

John Creighton — also the school’s varsity lacrosse coach and JV soc­cer boss — in­her­its long­time head coach Calv­in Jones’ Eagles pro­gram. Al­though he’s new, Creighton has big plans for restor­ing G.W. as a Pub­lic League hoops power. Creighton hopes to turn home games in­to cam­pus events (with a new stu­dent sec­tion called ‘The Bird­cage,’) but his first chal­lenge will be to com­bat an old is­sue: keep­ing all his play­ers aca­dem­ic­ally eli­gible. 

Four-year play­ers Kend­ale Tru­itt and Na­fece Ed­wards give the Eagles size and ex­per­i­ence on the wings, while Creighton men­tioned sopho­more point guard Devante Sax­on (Tru­itt’s broth­er) as a play­er who could open some eyes.

“The stu­dent part of be­ing a stu­dent-ath­lete is something I stress,” Creighton said. “So far,they’re all eli­gible, and I’ll con­tin­ue to hold them ac­count­able. I ex­pect a lot from them, and I hope they ex­pect a lot from me. I have an open-door policy, and the seni­ors have made the trans­ition easi­er. When we’re all on the same page, we have a good thing go­ing here. So far, I’m im­pressed.”

Samuel Fels

Last sea­son: 18-9, 9-4

Fels had its best sea­son for boys bas­ket­ball a year ago, but the way Mark Heimerdinger sees it, that’s all in the past. 

The former head coach at Car­din­al Dougherty and cur­rent hoops coach/ath­let­ic dir­ect­or at Fels en­joyed a play­off sea­son in 2011-12, but his top five scorers gradu­ated. That means there are plenty of new faces, and while Heimerdinger is still sort­ing things out, this much is cer­tain: there will be some grow­ing pains.

Seni­or guards Danil Mateo and Chris Gee-Al­len, as well as ju­ni­or for­ward James Cot­trell, are play­ers Heimerdinger hopes can be­come “lineup staples.” 

“We’re look­ing to re­place four starters with guys who didn’t play last year,” he said. “So far, noth­ing has sur­prised me in a good way. We have to in­struct these kids with­in the sys­tem and hope­fully reap the be­ne­fits in a year or two. We’d like to make the play­offs, but things are dif­fer­ent every year.”

Di­vi­sion C

Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln

Last sea­son: 4-15, 4-8

After a rough 2011-12 sea­son, the Lin­coln Railsplit­ters hope a move to Di­vi­sion C trans­lates in­to more wins.

Lin­coln is young, but they do have two key re­turn­ing seni­ors in 6-foot-3 Ad­onis Ros­ar­io and 5-foot-9 An­thony Caruso. Head coach Al Brown will look to these two for ex­per­i­ence and lead­er­ship, hop­ing Ros­ar­io can be an “en­for­cer” who provides re­bound­ing and de­fense, while Caruso’s “high bas­ket­ball IQ” will trickle down to the team’s young­er play­ers. Blaire Bowes is a play­er to watch, as the fresh­man is slated to be the team’s point guard.

“Right now, we’re young, so I really just want us to im­prove every game,” Brown said. “By mid­season, I hope we’re in a po­s­i­tion to make the play­offs. We’ve put in a lot of work since school star­ted, and I’m ex­cited to see them ap­ply what they’ve learned and be­ne­fit from the fruits of their labor.”

North­east

Last sea­son: 10-9, 7-6

Coach­ing in the Pub­lic League means everything. Just ask Ira Stern.

Stern, a North­east alum, is in his first year as boys bas­ket­ball coach at the school. And des­pite a breadth of bas­ket­ball ex­per­i­ence, Stern is find­ing out that none of his pre­vi­ous jobs mat­ter quite as much as this one.

“Be­fore, all my friends would say, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ when I told them about my job. Now that I’m here, it’s all any­one wants to talk about,” Stern said with a laugh. “I just had a grand­daugh­ter, and nobody wants to hear about that. It’s been great.”

Stern in­her­its a roster of four re­turn­ing starters and eight seni­ors. Head­liners in­clude for­ward Greg Mick­ens, sharp­shoot­ers Tony Nay­an, Daquan Bo­han­non and Kyree Simpson, whose speed Stern called “un­be­liev­able.” DeAndre Wil­li­ams is an­oth­er guard to watch; since the Vik­ings lack size, they will em­ploy a “run and gun” ap­proach on of­fense and full-court man-to-man press on de­fense.

“I want us to score 70 to 80 points every game,” Stern said. “We have a goal of ‘One team, one goal, no ex­cuses,’ and it’s just a dream to come back to my alma ma­ter and have an op­por­tun­ity to win.”

Di­vi­sion D

Frank­lin Towne Charter

Last sea­son: 4-11, 2-10

After three coaches in three years at Towne, Chris Lauber is ready to bring some sta­bil­ity to the Coyotes bas­ket­ball pro­gram.

With an ath­let­ics pro­gram on the rise the first-year head coach wants to keep things go­ing in the right dir­ec­tion. He is hop­ing to build a found­a­tion for his young play­ers, while giv­ing the seni­ors a fi­nal year to re­mem­ber. 

Head­liners for the Coyotes are cap­tain Steve Smith, a four-year play­er, as well as seni­or Tom Whit­field, a scorer at guard who can also play strong de­fense.

“It’s a fresh start for every­one as we are no longer shackled by the past,” Lauber said. “They’ve been through so many coaches, but I don’t plan on just be­ing here for a year. People are ex­cited about ath­let­ics here, and we’d like to even­tu­ally add to our trophy case in the school lobby.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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