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Delco Boys Basketball Notebook: Vlassopoulos an under-the-radar piece of the Garnet puzzle

There are plenty of reasons why Garnet Valley sits at 12-4 and is projected as one of the eight teams to receive byes in the first round of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. And among the most understated yet valuable is Greg Vlassopoulos.

Yes, Austin Laughlin is the team’s most prolific, most explosive scorer, averaging 21.1 points per game. And yes, Connor O’Brien’s long-range shooting makes him apt to go off at any time, while he’s also the only player on the team to have scored in double-figures each game this season.

But those two are granted the space to operate because of a dangerous tertiary threat like Vlassopoulos. And with Vlassopoulos contributing much more than just on the offensive end, he provides just enough rebounding and defense to allow Garnet Valley to outscore opponents in their free-wheeling style.

“He’s critical in a lot of ways,” coach Mike Brown said after last week’s win over Strath Haven. “He’s averaging over 12 points per game and as consistent as can be — probably the most consistent scorer on the team — but he’s also our second-leading rebounder. He rebounds a lot; he gets double-figure rebounds almost every game.

“It’s huge because teams can’t play a junk defense against us. They can’t overplay Laughlin or even Laughlin and O’Brien because Greg can get 20 points.”

Vlassopoulos’ ascent is a microcosm of what Brown has built over the last half-decade at a program where not too long ago districts berths were lustily celebrated. He’s the most recent in a conveyer-belt approach to talent growth.

Two years ago, when Laughlin was a green sophomore, he represented the third scoring option behind 1,000-point scorer and Cardinal O’Hara transfer Andrew Louden and Brandon Starr. Last year, Starr and Laughlin comprised the 1-2 punch, with O’Brien stepping up as the defense-busting third option.

This year, with O’Brien taking Starr’s role and averaging 17.4 points per game to complement Laughlin, it’s Vlassopoulos’ turn to emerge, and he’s taken that opportunity with both hands, serving as the pressure valve when opposing defenses key on the two marquee scorers.

“When me and Connor are getting double-teamed and hard pressure on us, we look for Greg, he can get easy layups,” Laughlin said. “I think he’s been a tremendous player this year, getting to the rim, getting fouled, rebounding.”

“They move the ball great, and I’m always getting open shots very game, getting wide-open layups,” Vlassopoulos said. “They push the pace and make guys cover them, which leaves me open for shots and layups.”

The proof is in the gaudy numbers the Jaguars have posted. They are second in Delco in scoring average at 70.3 points per game. Garnet Valley has three of the six 90-point games posted by Delco teams this year, handing 90 on Harriton, 96 on Collegium Charter and 92 on Radnor, all in the last three weeks. Bonner & Prendergast, Chichester and Haverford School each have one 90-point outing. And Garnet Valley also has a pair of 79-point outputs. The generally languorous style of the Central League makes those numbers all the more jolting.

Vlassopoulos also contributes on the other end to augment his 12.9 scoring average. His rebounding is valuable for a team that’s on the short side, and his length at 6-3 allows him to help Cade Brennan defend the post. See last week’s win over Strath Haven, when the Panthers’ Cooper Driscoll failed to attempt a field goal in the second half under the duo’s harassment.

“Greg does a great job, especially with rebounding he does an awesome job,” Brennan said. “If I can tie up their big guy, Greg goes in and gets the rebound and we can run the floor.”

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New Year, new Chester, it seems. And as the start of 2018 has drawn a line between an old version of the Clippers and a new one, it’s been Chester’s performance at the line that has made a difference.

In the first seven games of the season, Chester shot 50.5 percent from the free-throw line. In the eight wins that followed (before Chichester Tuesday), the Clippers shot 68.2 percent, raising the season percentage by a fifth to 60.7.

The leader, in terms of quantity and quality, is Michael Smith. He’s shooting 78.8 percent for the year (67-for-85), but he’s also getting to the line with more frequency. In the first nine games of the season, Smith was 19-for-31 from the line, shooting 61.3 percent.

In the next five, he got to the line 54 times, making 48 of them. That’s an 88.9 percent hit rate. That stretch includes 13-for-14 against Bartram (an overtime win), 12-for-14 against Glen Mills, and a spotless 10-for-10 to banish Harrisburg.

Of course, this didn’t exactly hold against Chichester Tuesday, a 64-52 decision for Chester’s ninth straight win. The Clippers struggled to the tune of 16-for-36 from the line but still managed to overcome that off-target night.

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Injuries have shaped the Catholic League title race, helping introduce a unique level of parity.

Bonner & Prendergast felt that in Wednesday’s 61-50 loss to La Salle. The Friars’ first league setback was not coincidentally its second game playing without point guard Tyreese Watson, who suffered a knee injury against Roman Catholic last week. The win over Roman was one of three straight two-point wins for Bonner; coupled with the Friars taking down Archbishop Wood, it had established Bonner as among the frontrunners. At 6-1 in the PCL, Bonner trails only Neumann-Goretti, which it plays Sunday.

Watson will be reevaluated this week, coach Jack Concannon said.

The team that finally tagged Bonner with a loss, La Salle, had lost two of its previous three thanks in part to the absence of 6-5 wing Konrad Kiszka. And a wrench would’ve been thrown in the Catholic League hierarchy had St. Joseph’s Prep beaten Bonner last week, a game in which the Friars needed Ajiri Johnson’s last-second dunk to pull out the victory. But Prep has been hampered by the loss of La Salle University commit Ed Croswell in the paint. Without Croswell, a one-dimensional Prep side lost to Cardinal O’Hara Wednesday.

Expect more twists and turns to come in the Catholic League tale.

To contact Matthew De George, email mdegeorge@d21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @sportsdoctormd. For expanded stat leaders and Super 7, visit papreplive.com.

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