Hoop Dreams

  • Joe Ricketts was Frankford’s leading scorer as a junior and is one of several key returners for the Pioneers, who opted to stay in the uber-talented Public League Division A. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • John Creighton is back for his second season as George Washington’s basketball coach. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • Father Judge practices for the season to come. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • Lincoln’s Raymond Fred in action against Archbishop Ryan. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Away we go: Most area basketball teams kicked off their 2013-14 seasons last weekend, including Archbishop Ryan and Abraham Lincoln. Ryan sophomore Fred Killian tries to keep Raymond Fred at bay. The Raiders defeated Lincoln, 59-49. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

Thanks­giv­ing brought us bru­tally sting­ing cold tem­per­at­ures, while the early throes of Decem­ber dumped something we haven’t seen in awhile across the Phil­adelphia re­gion: ample snow­fall.

So let’s ditch the cold and head in­side the warm gym­nas­i­ums for an­oth­er fant­ast­ic sea­son of high school bas­ket­ball. 

Sound good?

With a pleth­ora of area teams vy­ing for post­season glory across two leagues, hopes are high as we churn closer to Christ­mas and the new year. Who will rise up in 2013-14? Here’s a closer look at the pro­grams:

Cath­ol­ic League

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 14-9, 9-4 league

In his time at Arch­bish­op Ry­an, Bernie Ro­gers has al­ways got­ten the most out of the tal­ent he’s had. After be­ing hit hard by gradu­ation, the Raid­ers’ head coach will face one of his stiffest tests yet in the un­for­giv­ing Cath­ol­ic League. 

Gone is Bry­an Okolo, one of the best play­ers in the league last sea­son, as well as key seni­ors Gage Ga­le­one, Shawn Miller and Tyler Reed. Seni­or Brendan Hor­an, the second-lead­ing scorer in league play last year, is the most ex­per­i­enced guy back on a team that fell to Arch­bish­op Car­roll in the quarterfi­nals.

“We’re very young, ex­per­i­ence-wise, but we do have seni­ors who have come up through the pro­gram,” Ro­gers said. “We have some tal­ent, and these guys are look­ing for their chance. We’ll go through some ups and downs, but we’ll im­prove along the way.”

In ad­di­tion to Hor­an, Ro­gers men­tioned seni­ors Matt De­ver, Chris Mar­shall and Nick Heuser as play­ers who will need to step up in the league, which is “so fun and chal­len­ging, but also some­times a little scary,” Ro­gers said with a laugh.

“You hope the young­er guys who have been around un­der­stand the cul­ture,” he said. “I want them to see how hard Bry­an worked and com­peted, and hope­fully that rubs off on them. The mar­gin for er­ror is not big, so as usu­al we’ll have to do all the little things right to com­pete in a league that’s so good.”

Fath­er Judge

Last sea­son: 10-12, 5-8

Speak­ing of new faces, Judge head coach Sean Tait’s got a few of those as well.

After gradu­at­ing their most ex­per­i­enced play­ers in Sean Hanna, Brandon McGuire and Jeff Sie­gafuse and los­ing Ma­lik Robin­son via trans­fer, things look a bit dif­fer­ent for the Cru­saders. They’re young (seni­or John­mike O’Con­nor is the only seni­or ex­pec­ted to get ma­jor minutes) and tal­en­ted, so much so that Tait thinks Judge will be a for­mid­able Cath­ol­ic League team … he’s just not sure when.

“A lot of these kids haven’t been through it yet, so how will we be?” Tait asked. “Ask me in mid-Janu­ary.”

In ad­di­tion to O’Con­nor, vet­er­an ju­ni­or point guard Will Brazu­kas re­turns, and he’ll be joined in the ro­ta­tion by ju­ni­or Pat Mulville and sopho­more Quincy Reed (both up from JV), while trans­fers Aaron Curry (Con­sti­tu­tion) and Jamir Cole­man (Ger­man­town, after spend­ing a year in Geor­gia) will need to step up. Sopho­more Justin Flem­ing and her­al­ded fresh­man Mark Rodrig­uez are also ex­pec­ted to con­trib­ute.

“We have the same goals every year,” Tait said. “We want to be lucky enough to be a play­off team in this league, which we’ve done in my four years here. I like our size, smarts and ath­leti­cism, and it’s im­port­ant for this young group to find some early suc­cess.”

Pub­lic League: Di­vi­sion A


Last sea­son: 10-12, 6-5

The top di­vi­sion in the city’s most packed league, fea­tur­ing per­en­ni­al powers such as Im­hotep, Con­sti­tu­tion and Math, Civics & Sci­ences, dwindled from 12 teams to six in the off­season. If you think Frank­ford bailed on fa­cing top-line com­pet­i­tion, then you don’t know Dave Huzzard.

“I had to fight to stay in ‘A.’ They wanted to dump us down, but I’d rather be 0-10 in ‘A’ than 8-2 in ‘B’ and not see our guys play the best teams in the city,” Frank­ford’s head coach said. “You get more ex­pos­ure play­ing against teams that have won state titles.”

Frank­ford won a play­off game over North­east last sea­son and brings back a large part of its core, in­clud­ing seni­ors Joe Rick­etts, Aaron Mc­Far­lan and Rob Sim­mons, as well as ju­ni­or guard Qua­dire Trues­dale, whom Huzzard is very high on. New­er names to keep an eye on are ju­ni­ors Mussa Ba, Ladji Fofana and the 6-foot-6 Odanis Betances, a trans­plant from New York.

“We haven’t played with con­sist­ency yet, and I’m not pick­ing us to win the A Di­vi­sion,” Huzzard said. “But there’s people say­ing we’ll be the cel­lar dwell­er, and I think we’ll sur­prise a few people if we keep get­ting bet­ter. It’s nice we have guys back with ex­per­i­ence, so they won’t be nervous wrecks out on the court.”

Di­vi­sion B

George Wash­ing­ton

Last sea­son: 14-9, 9-3

John Creighton won Di­vi­sion B in his first sea­son as GW’s head coach. In or­der to re­peat, he’ll have to do so without his top two scorers.

Gone is seni­or Kend­ale Tru­itt, who gradu­ated, as well as his young­er broth­er, Devante, who trans­ferred to a charter school. The duo rep­res­en­ted one of the most fear­some 1-2 scor­ing punches in the city.

“It’s a ma­jor change, be­cause you’re talk­ing about re­pla­cing 40 points a game,” Creighton said. “Now, we’re go­ing to look at a more bal­anced, mo­tion of­fense ap­proach.”

Creighton does bring back six play­ers, with 6-foot-4 seni­or James Cot­trell and seni­or point guard Khyree Hunt-Hawkins be­ing head­liners.

“We lost a lot, but we’ll still be com­pet­it­ive in every single game,” Creighton said. “I take it game by game, so I don’t have much of an out­look yet, oth­er than we’re go­ing to play our tails off and be in every game. We have really good kids who get good grades and are well-be­haved. It’s all com­ing to­geth­er at the per­fect time.”

Samuel Fels

Last sea­son: 8-11, 4-8

Samuel Fels head coach Mark Heimerdinger doesn’t have much in the way of ex­per­i­ence when it comes to his roster, but he knows the only way for the pro­gram to go is up with so many fresh faces, some of whom have nev­er played at the varsity level.

“We’ll be in­ex­per­i­enced, lots of sopho­mores and ju­ni­ors,” Heimerdinger said. “We’re go­ing to be young, and I want them to un­der­stand we have to im­prove, and that starts with un­der­stand­ing the game, both phys­ic­ally and men­tally.”

Ju­ni­or for­wards James Bish­op and Sami Ar­ring­ton have been the most con­sist­ent play­ers so far for the Pan­thers. After that, it’s a lot of un­known for Heimerdinger, who has been a high school bas­ket­ball coach in Phil­adelphia for parts of four dec­ades. His ex­tens­ive ex­per­i­ence on the side­lines will only help his youth­ful team.

“I’m al­ways ex­cited this time of year,” he said. “This team works hard and they come to prac­tice every day. We have depth at cer­tain po­s­i­tions, which should help us. All I can tell you now is that by Janu­ary, I hope we’ve grown enough to put ourselves in po­s­i­tion for a play­off run.”

Di­vi­sion C

Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln

Last sea­son: 5-13, 4-8

Al Brown’s fa­vor­ite part of the massive Pub­lic League is its un­pre­dict­ab­il­ity. 

The Lin­coln head coach, who re­turns some tal­ent to a team that fin­ished in the bot­tom half of Di­vi­sion C last year, says the be­gin­ning of a new sea­son is what ex­cited him the most.

“It’s very ex­cit­ing, sure, be­cause right now we’re all on the same play­ing field,” he said. “Who’s go­ing to step up and be an X-factor? Who will bring the con­sist­ency? You prac­tice hard, but in in­tense game situ­ations, how will guys do? How will they deal with ad­versity and suc­cess?”

These are all ques­tions Brown hopes his Railsplit­ters can an­swer in time, and he thinks he’s got the tal­ent to win. Blair Bowes, who star­ted as a fresh­man, will man the point. Seni­or Ray­mond Fred is ex­pec­ted to be a cap­able scorer, and ju­ni­or Ish­mael Mar­shall and seni­or Zy­hir Baker-Elam add de­fens­ive en­ergy and in­tens­ity.

“Every day in prac­tice we work and we build on the mo­mentum we’ve had,” Brown said. “The greatest gift of coach­ing is to see them ex­ecute something how you prac­ticed it. We’re just try­ing to teach them to play the game the right way.”


Last sea­son: 13-4, 9-3

Com­ing off a fant­ast­ic sea­son, Ira Stern doesn’t want to hear about a po­ten­tial drop-off due to a high gradu­ation rate.

“We lost eight guys, so we’re go­ing to win games with pre­par­a­tion,” said Stern, en­ter­ing his second sea­son as North­east’s head coach. “We’re teach­ing them that we can beat teams if we pre­pare enough, which is why we prac­tice three hours a day, five days a week.”

One of the few re­turn­ers is ju­ni­or guard El­mange Wat­son, who Stern hopes av­er­ages around 15 points a game. Stern loves guard De­shaun Brown’s shoot­ing, and Tyriq Wilson, Will Okrafo-Smart and 6-foot-9 Dalv­in John­son are all names to keep an eye on.

“Our goal is to win Di­vi­sion C,” Stern said. “We won’t score as much last year, so we’d like to score 60 and give up 40. Our philo­sophy re­mains the same: we’re go­ing to box out, re­bound and run the floor. If we play our game, nobody’s beat­ing us.”

Di­vi­sion D

Frank­lin Towne Charter

Last sea­son: 11-6, 7-5

Chris Lauber lost three of his top seni­ors from his first year as Frank­lin Towne’s head coach, but that hasn’t di­min­ished his en­thu­si­asm head­ing in­to year two.

Gone are top scorer Steve Smith, as well as heavy con­trib­ut­ors Na­je Benton and Thomas Whit­field. But second lead­ing scorer Ry­an Boyd is back, and Lauber said “the team will run through him.” Ju­ni­or trans­fer Ish­mael Lanzo has some abil­ity, and seni­ors Mike Kessler and De­met­ri­us Frye are ready for lar­ger roles.

“We have a lot of po­ten­tial,” Lauber said. “This year feels new for every­one, but our goal is still to make the play­offs, which we did last year for the first time out of Di­vi­sion D. They’re more fa­mil­i­ar with the of­fense in year two, and now we can bet­ter identi­fy our struggles and see what we need to fo­cus on in prac­tice.”

One thing re­mains clear: Lauber is less stressed out this time around.

“Things are a lot calmer, a lot more for­ward mov­ing than just be­ing in the mo­ment,” he said. “I’m very ex­cited for the kids. They are great stu­dent-ath­letes and great people, and we have a lot of friends on this team. They had a taste of the play­offs, but that wasn’t enough. Now, when you men­tion the play­offs, it’s not a ques­tion of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ We’re all ex­cited, and it’s rub­bing off on one an­oth­er.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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