CHESTER >> Off the top of his head Wednesday, Larry Yarbray couldn’t recall the last time before 2015 that Chester had failed to qualify for the PIAA playoffs.
He’s probably been reminded a few times by the fanbase that the answer is 1991-92, or that his squad last year was only the second since the ’81-82 Clippers to be deprived the privilege of a daunting series of trips to Pennsylvania’s hinterlands.
Yarbray is spot on with one statistic though: His Clippers were 5-1 when point guard Khaleeq Campbell went down with a season-ending knee injury Dec. 29. That loss was the first of 10 in the final 19 games; as Yarbray correctly recited, five were by three points or fewer, plus one in overtime.
Yarbray’s shunning of the historical accounting is a nod to the present. Last year’s result may have been an anomaly for Pennsylvania’s most storied program. But it was one that, even sans Campbell, the Clippers had the power to avert.
“Just to look at it and the time that we had, it was almost like we let ourselves down because we didn’t get over that hurdle,” Yarbray said. “Yeah, Khaleeq got hurt. We were on a roll when Khaleeq got hurt. But from that point on, guys had opportunities to play and they got out there and didn’t rise to the occasion.”
Returning nine players who appeared in at least 16 games last year, plus Campbell healthy again, gives the group a second chance to meet the challenges posed by the expectations around the program.
“We use it as motivation,” guard/forward Marquis Collins said. “We say before every practice, we need to get back to the tradition, winning a state championship and competing at a high level.”
The Clippers boast a multitude of Division I talents, but in that rotation, Campbell was the most indispensable last season. The diminutive guard was one of the few with significant varsity experience, plus he was the only true point guard on the roster.
Once he went on the shelf, the Clippers often resembled a rudderless ship on the court, tons of talent that wasn’t pulling in the same direction. Add a few demoralizing losses dealt by Yarbray’s usual courting of a devilish schedule absorbed by a youthful team forced to learn new roles, and things snowballed.
The summer represented a reset button. Campbell was cleared to return in July, and while he was limited to mostly shooting drills over the summer, he’s back to full action without a brace. He sees the time spent watching as a blessing to hone his conception of the game.
“Before I got hurt last year, I didn’t really know where all the one through the five went,” he said. “Now standing back and watching it, I know where everybody goes and now, I think we’re all just pretty good now.”
Others have taken strides forward. Collins looks ready to assume a larger and more consistent offensive role. Stanley Davis, several inches taller now, provides a true backup option to spell Campbell after learning the position and figures to slot in as the starting two-guard. Maurice Henry and the lanky Jordan Camper form a more forceful tandem in the paint, with Jamar Sudan in the mix as a hard-working power forward and versatile on-ball defender.
Long-range shooting could be an area of relative sparsity, though Davis, Collins, Ahrod Carter and Deshawn Hinson showed promise behind the arc last year and Campbell hopes all the hours spent doing nothing but shooting will pay dividends.
“At the end of the day, we do have a legacy, but we’ve got a point to prove this year,” Campbell said. “We didn’t play how we should’ve played last year. We should’ve done way better, so we have a point to prove this year.”
Elsewhere in the Del Val League:
Reigning league champs Penn Wood must replace All-Delco Malik Jackson and starting guard Addison Scott, both of whom are contributing in college at West Chester and Arcadia, respectively.
Defensive specialist Calvin Melton will be the leader of the Patriots’ backcourt, aided by veterans Vincent Smalls, Javon Lindsey-Terrell and Pernell Ghee. Juniors Rashad Anderson and Kairi Jones should help shoulder the scoring burden, while the imposing Jordan Johnson (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) will hold court in the lane for coach Clyde Jones, who enters the season 13 wins shy of 300 career.
Academy Park had a historic 2014-15 season, winning 18 games and coming within a win of the state tournament. But the Knights may be negatively impacted by the school’s success on the gridiron: The opening night of the basketball season will see two starters — guards Jawan Collins and Deandray Covert — playing in the PIAA Class AAA football quarterfinals.
Collins, who scored his 1,000th point as a junior, is 241 points from the school record. He’s one of four contributors back from last year, including Mike Satimehin and Nassan Garrison.
Nick Simmons will provide backcourt scoring, while Nakim Stokes, who transferred back to the district after spending his junior season at Manchester Twp. H.S. in New Jersey, should also chip in to Allen Brydges’ athletic squad.
Injuries derailed a bright start to Chichester’s 2014-15 season, but Buzzy Wood has healthy bodies back. Senior Derrick Wells and junior Eric Montanez averaged 38.3 points per game before injuries curtailed their seasons, forcing the supporting cast to step up prematurely and gain valuable experience.
Jamai Womack will do most of the dirty work in the post, aided by 6-foot-6 sophomore Mike Davie, while sophomores DaQuan Granberry and James Hendricks impressed when given minutes.
Bill Rowe takes over at Interboro after eight seasons as an assistant at Academy Park and Garnet Valley, and he’ll have a largely blank slate to work with. Josh Encarnacion is the only returning varsity player to log double-digit games, leaving plenty of opportunities for new faces to impress a new coach.
Senior forwards Chase Pattinson and Brandon Conlin are giving varsity a try for the first time, while Josh Little and Jeremiah Passmore played sparingly a season ago.
The deck gets reshuffled again at Glen Mills for coach Tony Bacon after he led the team to the PIAA Class AAA Tournament a season ago. The biggest loss is Anthony Johnson, who was discharged from the program and will return to Harrisburg High School for his senior season after drawing looks from Division I schools.
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