— 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.
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 email@example.com