It’s going to be an interesting season at Conwell-Egan Catholic (CEC).
After winning the PIAA Class AA championship in 2015, the Eagles return to the hardwood without some key pieces.
While there were five graduates the program’s directors knew weren’t coming back this winter, Egan unexpectedly lost senior Stevie Jordan when the 5-10 point guard, who recently committed to Rider, opted to play his final scholastic season at Advanced Prep International in Dallas.
That leaves the Eagles without half the backcourt that carried them to both District 12 and state titles last year. With the graduation of Chase Kumor (Salisbury), Egan had already lost 10 points-per-game. With Jordan’s departure, CEC head coach Frank Sciolla needs to find a way to replace an additional 16.8 PPG provided by Jordan – the reigning Class AA All-State Boys Basketball Player of the Year – last season.
“By now, everyone has heard of how much we’ve lost since last year,” said Sciolla, who was named Class AA Coach of the Year. “I’m sure there are a lot of teams out there that would love to challenge us.”
That doesn’t mean Egan is bereft of talent in the current campaign. The Eagles had enough to outpace Lower Merion in four of five periods in a scrimmage held Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 1 at (Kobe) Bryant Gymnasium. The Aces went to states in 2015 for the sixth straight year and the ninth time in 11 seasons and finished in sixth place in the District 1-AAAA Tournament.
Returning to the hardwood for Egan are seniors Lapri McCray-Pace and Vinny Dallessandro. A 6-2 shooting guard for the Eagles, McCray-Pace earned Second Team All-State honors after averaging 11.4 PPG last season. A big 6-8 power forward, Dalessandro averaged 10.5 PPG and 7.7 rebounds per game last year.
What’s more, Dalessandro – who recently committed to Division II Pace University – had his newly-developed perimeter game on full display in the scrimmage, hitting a 3-pointer to give his team an early 3-2 edge in the first period.
“I worked on that a lot throughout the summer and that’s one of the strong-points now in my game,” said Dalessandro who played for Team Final and the Jersey Shore Warriors.
Vinny is going to have to hit a few more threes this season with the departure of Jordan and Kumor, a 50 percent shooter from beyond the arch. He’s OK with that.
“I started feeling more comfortable stepping out and shooting it because I know I can make that shot now,” said Dalessandro. “I don’t want to take any bad shots; I want to take smart shots in the game – whatever works for the team.”
Midway through the first period, Pace hit Dalessandro with an outlet pass that had the big man wide open underneath the basket. While the open layup tied the score at 7-all, the Aces pulled away late. Pace hit back to back shots on a layup and a short jumper then found 6-7 sophomore James Leible open underneath on a dish-off to his right. While Lapri’s play drew the Eagles close, Lower Merion took the first period, 16-13.
The second period saw Dalessandro put Egan up 5-2 early on another trey and a two. A layup by returning 6-1 senior James Thompson, a sixth man last season, put the Eagles up, 11-7 and Pace’s end-to-end layup sent the second period score to its 13-7 final, favor: Egan.
A Bensalem transfer student from St. Joseph’s Prep, Leible played mostly JV ball last season for the Hawks and has to get used to the speed and intensity of the varsity game. Additionally, Leible has typically been a post player in the past and Sciolla would like to use him on the perimeter this season.
Additional returning varsity players include junior Daniel Green and Kar’ron Johnson. Swing players last year, both will be used exclusively on varsity this year. Johnson hit a shot off the glass to tie the score at 6-all in the third period. A driving layup by Pace tied it again at 8-all but the Aces pulled ahead 11-8 on a 3-point play by junior Terrell Jones.
Lapri put the Eagles back on top 12-11 when he hit his own putback with 1:20 to go. A pair of free throws and a defense that forced Lower Merion to settle for a two-pointer instead of a three secured a 14-13 Egan win in the third period.
“We have a whole new lineup – only have two returning starters,” explained Dalessandro. “We have to get the (new guys) into the mix – they’re still picking up the defenses and the way they play against other guards.”
While Pace, Dalessandro and Thompson got the Eagles out to an early 9-3 edge in the fourth period, the Aces caught up quickly with a flurry of three-pointers. Lower Merion hit five shots from behind the arch including three by Jones.
The Aces went on to a 20-14 win moments after Dalessandro put down a powerful dunk late in the period to draw Egan within four. Vinny says the Eagles still have work to do before getting into it against their Philadelphia Catholic League opponents.
“We have to get our guards more involved and we have to attack the rim more,” said Dalessandro. “We can’t rely on all our bigs crashing the boards all the time.
“Besides that, we just have to play as a team and have faith in each other.”
After winning states with last year’s 62-51 win over previously unbeaten District 7 champion Aliquippa, the Eagles have a mark on their backs coming into this season.
“People are looking at us like we’re on top because we won states so they’re not going to hold back on us,” said Dalessandro. “They know who we are and they know how we play.”
How Egan goes about getting the ball through the rim is liable to change, however. Sciolla is looking to 6-1 sophomore Eric Esposito for help along the perimeter and to 5-10 junior Darien Simmons for defensive help.
After the Eagles took the fifth period 15-9, Pace put his spin on the plan for this season.
“Stevie’s gone – the younger guys have to step up,” said Lapri. “Chase was big loss too. He was one of our better basketball players and he was more of a leader in the locker room.
“Now, other people have to fill that role.”
Egan opens its campaign at 6 p.m. Saturday vs. Philly Public League rival Samuel S. Fels in the Kyle Lowry Classic at Holy Family University. Archbishop Wood takes on Lancaster McCaskey at 4:15 p.m. and George Washington opens the showcase tourney at 2:30 p.m. vs. South Shore (NY).
The Eagles open Catholic League play in their home opener Dec. 22 against Judge. Egan won the game last year in Philadelphia, thanks to 36 combined points from Jordan (13) and Kumor (23).
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Kyle Lowry Classic — Holy Family University
George Washington vs. South Shore (NY) 2:30 p.m.
Archbishop Wood vs. Lancaster McCaskey 4:15 p.m.
Conwell-Egan vs. Samuel S. Fels 6 p.m.
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