The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Suburban One League American Conference took on a new look this season. Norristown and Upper Merion left for the Pioneer Athletic Conference and Hatboro-Horsham and Quakertown joined the league from the SOL National.
Despite the shuffle of teams and graduation of key players, halfway through the boys basketball season it’s the same as it has been for the past few years — Plymouth Whitemarsh and Cheltenham atop the league standings.
PW is a perfect 4-0 (wins against Wissahickon, Upper Dublin, Hatboro-Horsham and Cheltenham) in first place and Cheltenham follows in second at 4-1 (wins against Springfield, Upper Moreland, Quakertown and Wissahickon).
The Colonials are looking for their fourth straight league championship despite losing all five starters from last year’s District 1 Class AAAA championship team.
That team was led by seniors Xzavier Malone and Mike Lotito. Malone, a left-handed guard, is now playing at Division 1 Rider University after scoring 20 points per game for the Colonials. Lotito, a forward, accounted for more than 10 points per game.
It’s been a group effort so far this season to replace their scoring.
Junior twin guards Ahmin and Ahmad Williams were the first two players off the bench last year and have moved into more prominent roles. They each have become primary options on the offensive end and haven’t stopped playing the tight, on-ball defense they showcased as sophomores.
“Conditioning plays a major part,” Ahmad Williams said of his defense. “Do a lot of extra stuff. Even though we practice crazy hours, we still have to put in the extra hours if we want to be something or be somebody. We have to play both ways because on the collegiate level that’s what you have to do. You can’t say, ‘coach I want to play offense.’
“I take pride in playing both sides of the floor. I know that if I go to the next level that’s what it’s going to be.”
Senior guard Matt Walker is PW’s top outside shooter. He played sparingly last year, but now — a team captain — is vital to the team’s offense.
Sophomore center Naheem McLeod may have made the biggest leap of all for the Colonials. The 7-foot McLeod barely saw the floor as a freshman but did play key minutes in the district championship game against Chester. He’s now a starter who defends the rim on defense and has the potential to score in double figures.
Guards Cheo Houston (injured last year), Ish Horn (Martin Luther King transfer) and Kareem Breeden (bumped up from JV) are all crucial to PW’s pressure defense and are viable options on offense.
Cheltenham has finished second in the SOL American in three of the last four years. Coach John Timms and the Panthers lost 10 seniors from last year’s team, but are exceeding expectations with an offense that is averaging 63 points per game.
“Defense,” Timms said, beginning to explain his team’s early-season success, “and this year we’re a more up-tempo offensive team. It seems like Cheltenham — we get labeled as a fast team and a high-scoring team, but in my four years here we average 55 points. We were a defensive team, but teams because of your athletes tend to make you be an offensive team. This year we’re actually an offensive team. When you can lose a Tim Spencer (injured) or play without a Trevonn Pitts (foul trouble vs. PW) for the first quarter and still score 19, 18 points, that lets you know we’re a better, complete offensive team this year.”
Newcomer Hatboro-Horsham is in the race for the league title. The Hatters are in third place with a 4-2 record.
Senior forward Clifton Moore — an Indiana commit — is arguably the best player in the league. He and his teammates still get to play Cheltenham twice and host PW later in the season.
Wissahickon is in fourth place with a 3-2 record. Upper Moreland follows at 2-3, ahead of Upper Dublin and newcomer Quakertown, both of which are 1-3. Springfield is in eighth place at 0-5.