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Boys Basketball Preview: Haverford School’s title defense about more than just its two stars

Haverford School's Christian Ray, seen in last year's PAISAA final, is back in quest of a second straight Inter-Ac League title for the Fords. (Digital First Media/Austin Hertzog)
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HAVERFORD — Haverford School’s game had ended Wednesday night, but Jameer Nelson Jr. and Christian Ray were still playing the two-man game.

The Fords are in a rare position in program history, defending an Inter-Ac title for the first time since 1999, which has Bernie Rogers’ squad toeing a fine line between pride and hunger.

“We just take it on, take that hungry mentality,” Nelson said Wednesday. “We just try to stay, what’s the word?”

“Level-headed,” Ray interjects.

“And motivated,” Nelson adds.

That postgame press pick-and-pop informs the dynamic the Fords hope to employ in their title defense. Nelson, like his namesake bound for Saint Joseph’s University, and Ray, a La Salle commit, are the headliners. But opponents that try to shut down those two exclusively run the risk of being trampled by the rest of a deep roster.

Take Wednesday’s game with Perkiomen School, a 59-42 win in which the Fords led by as many as 27 points. Nelson missed out, resting an achy knee (it’s unrelated to a hip issue that cost him the final 15 games of last season). Starting guard Gavin Burke missed the last three quarters after rolling an ankle.

Yet the Fords didn’t miss a beat. As good as Ray, who’s liable to go for 20 points and 10 rebounds every night, is, it’s when he gets the rest of his team involved that the Fords truly hum.

“Jameer and I know that we’re going to have a lot of attention, but if we draw a lot of attention, that’s going to be a mistake because we have a lot of kids that are skilled, we have a lot of kids that have been playing basketball for a long time,” Ray said. “… We can draw the ball and open everything up for them. They’ll score and it’ll open it back up for us.”

Last year’s title was powered by Ray and Kharon Randolph, the twin offensive powers who combined for 34.5 points per game. This year’s scoring figures to be more diffuse behind Ray.

There’s Burke, a lacrosse All-Delco and Villanova lacrosse commit. There’s hulking center Asim Richards, a football All-Delco and University of North Carolina commit whose offensive game has come light years. Add in rangy wing Jameel Brown, explosive guard Tyler Seward and hard-working rotation players like MJ Atkins and the Fords are more than just their two stars.

“When we get into games and everybody kind of gets a feel, it’s a testament to Coach Bern because he puts us in that offense and it makes everybody look good,” Nelson said.

As for last year’s success, the Fords have put it behind them. It’s on to the next title quest.

“It was a great feeling last year, but we had to kind of shake it off,” Ray said. “Coming into the year, it was kind of hard to get peoples’ minds to get back to Day 1, new season, new start. But the good thing about last year to this year is we had a lot of seniors last year, so a lot of guys that are playing varsity now didn’t have that feeling of an Inter-Ac championship and the (PAISAA) final run that we had.”

Episcopal Academy will be among the challengers in the Inter-Ac. The one-two scoring punch of Matt Dade and Alex Capitano, who combined or 36.5 ppg last year, return but with more scoring depth that might ease the workload they shouldered last year. Colin Chambers returns in the backcourt, while Jack O’Reilly and Andrew Alikakos will contribute in the lane.

A number of players — Jalin Meachem, John McElwee, Luke Lesher, Malcolm Folk, Will Delaney — got limited experience last season on a roster beset with injuries, and they’ll assume larger roles this season.

Ches-Mont League

Sun Valley’s Vinny Deangelo scored his 1,000th career point as a junior, leading the Vanguards to a state tournament berth. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Sun Valley is coming off a 19-win season and the Vanguards’ first states berth, and most of the key pieces from that crusade are back. Senior guard/forward Vinny DeAngelo, who averaged 22.7 ppg, is back, as is second-leading scorer Marvin Freeman and third-leading scorer Isaac Kennon. Veterans Lance Stone and Dom Valente return, though the Vanguards must replace Shahir Brown-Morris at the point.

Billy Fisher, Nick Giannakopolis and Jarad Owens are among the underclassmen assuming bigger roles.

Bicentennial League

The Christian Academy won 10 games last season and could grow further with its four top scorers from back. Senior guard Tehron Phillips averaged 13.8 ppg after missing the first eight games; the Crusaders were 8-8 with him after a 2-6 start.

Fellow double-figure scorer Grant Sareyka (12.5 ppg) will join him in the backcourt, while forwards Sam Geathers and Luke Sareyka combined to average 15 ppg. Juniors Jourdan Greene and Carlton Neal will augment that mix.

Delco Christian’s strength stems from its junior class. Jackson Piotrowski is back after averaging 12.1 points per game as a do-everything wing, and forward Obinna Nwobodo will get yet another year to grow in the lane under new coach Reggie Parks. Senior Jacob Bronkema is a solid support scorer and heady worker on the court, while Jamal Hairston logged plenty of minutes last season for a team that won 17 games and returned to the PIAA Class 2A tournament.

Independent

Chester Charter School for the Arts’ second varsity season will include something new: Seniors, as Devante Morris ages up with his young school. The big focus will be 6-10 junior center Tyler Howard, while sophomores Bruce Rogers, Sean DeShields, Timmy Evans and Davon Stovall all gained experience last year.

Former Chester High player Jamihy Evans is at the school now, one of two new juniors with forward Damir Baez.

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