Playing in the Public League’s top basketball division offers a varying list of pros and cons.
A top con would be with so many strong teams in Division A, there’s simply not enough wins to go around for everybody. On the flip side, competing in such a rigorous division allows each member to play all season against the absolute best of the best with no cupcake “easy wins” to be had on the docket. Not only that, but playing in Division A comes with an automatic playoff berth, so a team could go 0-10 (there are six teams in the division, with each playing each other twice) and still qualify for the postseason.
In 2013-14, Frankford was that team.
Make no mistake about it: the Pioneers certainly took their fair share of lumps. Only two of Frankford’s 10 division losses were by less than 10 points, and after going just 8-15 overall as a team, it’s easy for those not in the know to just assume head coach Dave Huzzard’s team is devoid of any basketball talent.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Take last Thursday’s first-round home playoff contest against John Bartram, for example. In 32 minutes of mostly complete basketball, the Pioneers methodically picked apart Bartram, a very strong Division B team that moved out of A following last season, one in which it eliminated Frankford from the postseason.
This time around was a different story. The Pioneers led Bartram from start to finish, and they have senior Aaron McFarlan to thank. Though McFarlan was not the only one to step up for Frankford, the senior’s gritty 21-point, eight-rebound effort was contagious. More importantly, McFarlan’s outright refusal to lose this game trickled down to his teammates.
“We’ve been struggling all year, so it felt good to get a win,” McFarlan said. “My dad always told me to come out in every game with a ton of heart and hustle, and that’s what I did today. I’m happy we’re still in the playoffs and that it wasn’t my last game. And just because we lost all our division games doesn’t make us a bad team. I honestly think it helped us grow as a team, seeing the best all season.”
While McFarlan was speaking to a visiting reporter, Frankford athletic director Jack Creighton approached and quipped that the Pioneers were “the best 0-10 team in the Public League,” which produced an ear-to-ear smile from McFarlan, who scored 10 of his 21 points in a crucial third quarter after Bartram had cut the deficit from 11 to four.
“Aaron’s gone to the hole for us all season long,” Huzzard said of his 6-foot-1 senior. “He’s always gone in amongst the trees, it just hasn’t always worked against some of the taller teams in our division. The seniors really needed this, especially Aaron, who has come such a long way for us.”
Frankford’s next test will come against a very familiar foe, as the Pioneers used the weekend and Monday to prepare for their Class AAAA semifinal against Division A rival King, which defeated the Pioneers 66-59 and 66-36 during the regular season. Despite King’s 18-4 overall record (7-3 in A), McFarlan said he and his team would approach the game with no fear.
“We just have to play with this amount of heart and hustle against everybody,” McFarlan said. “We don’t do that all the time. We only lost to King by seven the first time before they got us pretty bad the second time, but the third time, we’ll be ready.”
Junior Odanis Betances (12 points, six rebounds) and senior Rob Simmons (seven points, eight rebounds) burned Bartram down low, and juniors Mussa Ba (nine points) and Quadire Truesdale (eight points) also were key contributors. Huzzard has maintained all year that he preferred to keep his program in Division A so that his players can develop at the highest level and hopefully end up as strong as Imhotep (8-2), Constitution (8-2) and King (7-3) were this season in 2014-15.
“Everyone knows how good our division is, but what they don’t know is our non-league schedule was crazy, too,” Huzzard said. “We scheduled some real tough teams so we’d be ready for the playoffs. Today, we were ready, and I think that tough schedule really helped us get this win.”
In a season with more downs than ups, Huzzard and company were thrilled to get that sweet taste of playoff victory back in their mouths.
“We just needed a win. The coaching staff needed a win. The seniors needed a win,” Huzzard said. “We lost in this building in the playoffs to Bartram last year, and you just don’t want to leave your gym as losers. Today, we left as winners. We needed it. I know I did.” ••