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Untested Pennsbury boys basketball getting set for new experiences

Pennsbury will look to senior guard Josh Arruda, left, for leadership in the upcoming 2017-18 boys basketball campaign set to begin Dec. 9 vs. West Catholic. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)

FALLS TWP. – It’s a whole new world for the Pennsbury boys basketball team. With graduation, not only did the Falcons lose both their big men Mark Flagg and Billy Warren, all five starters have graduated including point guards Addison Howard and Tyler Sessa Reeves.

That means any ties to the 2014-15 Pennsbury team that made it to the PIAA Class 4A semifinals have been broken.

Ten seniors have departed the ranks of the Falcons including sixth man Vaughn Ward. With Flagg, the team needs to find a way to replace the 19 points-per-game and 12 rebounds-per-game that the 6-8 forward contributed.

This year, Pennsbury will look for guard play from 6-foot senior Raylil Winton-Law, 6-1 senior Josh Arruda, 5-8 senior Jake Martell and 5-10 sophomore Colin Connor. Up front, the Falcons will depend on Chad Weldon, a 6-8 senior, and 6-4 junior Gary Francis.

Francis and Winton-Law were the only players who saw any significant minutes last year. Eighth-year head coach Bill Coleman says the current group of Falcons had a few challenges to hurdle in the offseason.

“In the beginning of the offseason, this group of guys, they really weren’t quite sure what it took to win basketball games,” the coach explained.

“They’ve been part of the program but they never had to do it themselves; they always had people pulling them in that direction.

“So, it was a little bit of a transition to understand what it takes.”

Two years ago, Pennsbury took the court for the first time without Cameron Jones (Saint Peter’s), Derrick Woods (Delaware) and Mekhi Bryant (Baltimore City CC). While that trio provided 45 points-per-game and took the Falcons to states in back-to-back campaigns, those magnificent seasons seem so far away at this point.

“The sophomores have no idea – nor do the freshmen – have any idea who Cam Jones was or Derrick Woods is,” said Coleman. “They know who they were but they don’t really know how successful they were.”

“What you try to do is pull from experiences little bits and pieces of what you’ve learned over the years and apply it to this group.”

Except for its old nemesis Abington, Pennsbury has been dominant in the Suburban One National League the past four seasons. Last year, however, the Falcons – who finished in second place in the SONL at 8-4 – started to show cracks in the armor, dropping late-season matchups with both Council Rock South and CR North, after beating those two league rivals the first time around.

In districts, Pennsbury lost to 11th-seeded Penn Wood and No. 10 Lower Merion. Both were state qualifiers last season. In between, the Falcons pulled off a miraculous win when they tied Norristown on Flagg’s putback basket in the closing seconds of regulation before winning it 84-83 in overtime.

Needing a win against Lower Merion in playbacks to make states, Pennsbury led by four at the half and by five after three periods only to see the Aces pull away with 21 points in the final frame.

“This group knows that we had a chance to make states last year and we just didn’t make it because we didn’t finish plays,” said Coleman. “That’s what we’re trying to make them understand – we have to finish as a group, we have to finish plays in order to be successful.”

In the first 10 games of the season, Pennsbury has non-league duels scheduled with District 1 rivals North Penn, Coatesville, Archbishop Ryan and Pocono Mountain West, which posted 23 wins last year including a 71-57 triumph over Lower Merion in the opening round of states. All were PIAA qualifiers last year with Ryan making it as far as the PIAA Class 6A semifinals before falling to eventual state champ Reading.

Despite his team’s apparent lack of experience, Coleman is confident in this group.

“If we play our brand of basketball, we’ll be fine,” said Coleman. “If we go away from that or we’re not five strong, like we always talk about, it’ll be an issue.

“But I think these guys have bought into our message so I’m excited for the season.”

The Falcons’ upcoming campaign begins Dec. 9 vs. West Catholic in the Play-by-Play Tipoff Classic at Archbishop Carroll High School. Over the Christmas break, Pennsbury takes on Episcopal Academy in the Pete & Jameer Nelson Classic taking place this year Dec. 29 at Thomas Jefferson (Philadelphia) University. The next day, the Falcons face Chichester in the Holiday Classic at Interboro.

NOTES: A red-shirt sophomore at the University of Delaware, Derrick Woods posted career-highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in his first start for the Blue Hens in an 88-70 triumph over North Carolina Wesleyan last night (Nov. 21) at the Greensboro Coliseum. A freshman at Saint Francis, Mark Flagg is averaging 6 PPG. 3.3 RPG and 1.5 steals per game for the Red Flash, which is 2-2 overall on the season.

PENNSBURY BOYS BASKETBALL 2017-18 SCHEDULE
12/9/2017            A             West Catholic Play-By-Play Tip Off Classic 2:45 p.m. at Archbishop Carroll
12/12/2017         A             North Penn        8:00/5:30
12/14/2017         H             Archbishop Ryan              7:00/5:30
12/16/2017         A             Coatesville – Coaches vs Cancer at Archbishop Wood       12:30 p.m.
12/19/2017         A             Bensalem            7:00/5:30
12/21/2017         H             Abington             7:00/5:30
12/29/2017         A             Episcopal Academy – Pete & Jameer Nelson Classic 10:30 a.m. at Thomas Jefferson University
12/30/2017         A             Chichester – Holiday Classic at Interboro                2:00
1/4/2018              A             Neshaminy         7:00/5:30
1/6/2018              H             Pocono Mon. West         2:00/12:30
1/9/2018              H             CR South              7:00/5:30
1/11/2018            A             CR North              7:00/5:30
1/13/2018            A             CB East – SOL Challenge 2:00
1/16/2018            H             Truman                7:00/5:30
1/18/2018            H             Bensalem            7:00/5:30
1/20/2018            H             Frankford            1:30/12:00
1/23/2018            A             Abington             7:00/5:30
1/30/2018            H             Neshaminy         7:00/5:30
2/2/2018              A             CR South              7:00/5:30
2/3/2018              A             Spring-Ford        7:00/5:30
2/6/2018              H             CR North              7:00/5:30
2/8/2018              A             Truman                7:00/5:30

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