NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Marple Newtown captain Minh Tran belatedly landed on the court via a string of successive opportunities that the guard has received and taken full advantage of.
Like when coach Sean Spratt stepped in two years ago and instituted open gyms, at which Tran made himself a fixture, undeterred by falling short in JV tryouts as a freshman and sophomore. Or when in the spring of his junior year, Spratt found himself short on bodies for an offseason tournament and gave Tran a nod.
Or when Tran’s work ethic earned him a varsity spot as a junior with the understanding he’d play primarily on JV, where injuries vaulted him into a primary role.
“Working hard is the number one thing. I just had a goal in mind,” Tran said last week. “I never really made it to the team before, and when (Spratt) came in, I was like, this is my opportunity to show the coach that I have something. That summer I just worked my butt off and that’s why I’m here right now.”
Born in Vietnam, Tran gravitated toward basketball after coming to the United States just before his third birthday. Aunt took to calling him “Jordan” from a young age for the volume of basketball videos he consumed. When his family moved from Upper Darby to Marple when Tran was in eighth grade, he made the pilgrimage to New Ardmore Park in his neighborhood on a daily basis with friends, shooting for hours on end.
Tran faced cultural boundaries. He said his parents, Michael and Phuong, don’t understand the game much, and with Minh being the first in the family to play sports, there are distinctly American norms with which to grapple. The most basic was getting his parents to sign off on participation.
“My dad didn’t want to let me play because it was too much time,” Tran said. “He said, ‘You can go find a job or whatever.’ And I was like, no, I worked too hard that summer to not play. So I just was like, ‘Dad, you’ve got to let me play.’”
The accessibility to the sport appealed to Tran, who’s self-taught. He played four varsity games last year, and redoubled efforts in the summer working with Marple Newtown assistant Chris Gardler and Soutiri Sapnas, the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Occasionally, that involved roping others into workouts — like the 6:30 a.m. summer texts Spratt would get beseeching him for new drills.
“I got called at 10 a.m. because he found a gym to go to in the summer,” senior forward Matt Peel said. “I think we went the next morning at like 7 a.m. He’s definitely one of those kids where you’ve got to keep your phone on at all times.”
It’s paying off for Tran, who is averaging 4.5 points per game and is third on the team with 13 made 3-pointers. He’s twice scored 12 points in a game, both times via four 3-pointers. The Tigers (5-8) are 4-2 when Tran scores five or more points.
That Tran was named a captain, despite a grand total of zero varsity points entering the season, testifies to his infectious determination.
“He definitely has that influence,” Peel said. “He definitely brings the energy. He’s not the loudest kid, but he wants it. You can tell he really loves basketball, and I think that rubs off on a lot of kids.”
“Having these people around me is incredible,” Tran said. “People push me all day long. I wake up at six o’clock in the morning with some of these guys and work out. My goal on this team is just to make everybody around me better — somehow, some way, in summer, in games, out of games — it’s motivated me to keep pushing.”
Haverford School’s Inter-Ac ascent has been predicated on balanced scoring. With guard Jameer Nelson Jr. feared out for the season, the blueprint could change. Or if Asim Richards continues his recent form, it might simply shift.
Nelson, the third-leading scorer on the 12-4 Fords at 10.8 points per game, was hurt after an awkward fall under the basket in last Friday’s win over Episcopal Academy. He has a hip injury that could end his season, a team official said. Nelson was the third scoring option behind Kharon Randolph and Christian Ray, with sharpshooter Gavin Burke not far behind at 9.2 points per game. But even before Nelson’s injury, Richards stepped up.
Richards, who averages 3.5 ppg, has upped that to 7.5 over his last four outings, using his bulk on the boards to create havoc in the lane.
“He’s more active,” Haverford School coach Bernie Rogers said. “I think he’s taken some personal accountability to go to the basket. We tell him, ‘You’re strong and you’re hard to box out if you make it happen.’ I think he’s starting to figure that out.”
At 6-5 and 258 pounds, Richards is a football prospect who’s garnered Division I offers from Temple, UConn, Syracuse, West Virginia, Rutgers and Indiana as a tight end or lineman. The junior’s impressive frame and above-average agility make him an enticing blank canvas for college coaches.
He’s gotten into better basketball shape as he distances himself from football season. Richards, who averaged 4.7 ppg as a sophomore, tied a career-high with 11 points in the Jan. 9 win over Germantown Academy, equaling his output from the preceding five games combined. His instincts as a tight end make for soft hands, reflected in his 73.3 free-throw percentage (22-for-30), and he benefits from the attention opposing defenses pay to Ray, averaging 19.1 ppg.
Some oddities from beyond the arc:
n Radnor is averaging four 3-pointers per game, yet no individual has more than 10 through 10 games.
n Mike Perretta had scored nine points in his previous seven games total. Then he erupted for 19 as Bonner & Prendergast upset reigning PIAA Class 5A champion Archbishop Wood Friday.
n Chichester forward James Hendricks made zero 3-pointers in his first eight games. He’s hit six in the last three outings, on the way to scoring in double-figures each of the last seven games. “We always knew he could shoot,” Chichester coach Clyde Jones said. “He just needed to believe it.”
n Contenders for the “don’t cross the line” award, given to the player with the highest proportion of made basket coming beyond the arc: Ridley’s Jack Grace has 27 3-pointers among 32 made baskets. Perretta has 18 of his 20 makes from 3-point range. EA’s Justin Hershey is the leader in the house, though, with 20 3-pointers against one 2-pointer.
To contact Matthew De George, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sportsdoctormd. For expanded Super 7 and stat leaders, visit papreplive.com.
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