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Boys Basketball Preview: Upper Darby primed to build on states berth

Garnet Valley's (14) Connor O'Brien attempts to avoid the defense of Upper Darby's (5) Mamadou Toure late in the second quarter. THe Jaguars went on to win 69-65 in the Central League match-up. (Pete Bannan/Digital First media)
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Upper Darby’s berth last winter in the PIAA Class 6A tournament may have shocked some. But with four of the top six players in last year’s rotation back, the Royals won’t benefit from the element of surprise this time around.

Long-time coach Bob Miller is forced to replace his top two scorers; Magd Abdelwahab, who averaged 13.6 points per game and hit 65 3-pointers, and point guard Jalun Trent. Between them, they leave the ball-handling and shot-making niches unfilled. But the next four contributors return, and growth in their games could have the Royals contending in the Central League again.

Senior Mamadou Toure, who averaged 9.6 points per game, will take over as the point guard. He and small forward Diby Keita combined for 51 made 3-pointers this year. Both will have to elevate from secondary to more consistent, primary scorers, but they have a lot of experience to bank on.

After playing big roles in Upper Darby’s run to the PIAA Class 6A playoffs last year, guard Mamadou Toure, left, and forward Floyd Wedderburn Jr. will be big pieces in the Royals quest to build on that success. (Pete Bannan/Digital First media)

The low-post is likewise settled. Kymir Roper averaged 4.9 ppg last year but showed the ability to dominate at times, and fellow senior Erodnay Sawyer could establish a deep rotation at center. Power forward Floyd Wedderburn Jr. also progressed as last season went on.

Underclassmen Jack Cavanaugh, Shareef Jones and Iyan Joshuaville will vie for minutes in the backcourt, and Mo Kante will chip in on the wing in Miller’s increasingly position-less scheme.

The two-time District 1 Class 5A champions Penncrest have the biggest roster hole to fill with the graduation of two-time All-Delco and 2016-17 Daily Times Player of the Year Tyler Norwood. But what these Lions lack in star power could be compensated for in depth.

Forwards Malcom Williams and Matt Arbogast started on last year’s squad, and Gee Antonelli logged valuable minutes in the post. Isaiah Rice will inherit the keys to the backcourt, with the combination of Dylan Bittle, Aidan Carroll and Marquis Tomlin called upon to provide shot-making. Sophomore center Denzel Boyer is a player to watch.

Garnet Valley lost an explosive scorer in Austin Laughlin (21.7 ppg) to go with dependable secondary threat Connor O’Brien (14.7). But as the Jaguars have done recently, they’ll replace rather than rebuild.

Greg Vlassopoulos showed his offensive talent by averaging 12.6 ppg last year, while All-Delco defensive end Cade Brennan has become a polished lane presence.

Replacing backcourt production is where things get dicey. The two most likely figures from the start are sophomores Neel Beniwal and Carl Schaller.

Marple Newtown found its way into the District 1 tournament last year via 12 wins. They lost four starters, but Tommy Gardler returns to lead the effort after averaging 12.2 ppg last season. Aziz Khammassi will have to step into a larger role in the frontcourt, and Mike Tansey is among the complementary backcourt pieces.

Ridley returns a strong backcourt nucleus from last year’s down season. Malachi Williams was the Green Raiders’ second-leading scorer as a sophomore at 7.4 ppg, and he’ll pair with Nasir Santiago in the backcourt. Meese Tobey gained experience in the frontcourt; as a senior, he’ll be called on for more offensive production.

Haverford rallied to an eight-win season in 2017-18, utilizing a raft of underclassmen primed to lead this year. Leading scorer Dan Roe (9.9 ppg) is back. Kevin DePrince, Luke Verzella, Jake Ruane, Cannan Curry and John Seidman give coach Keith Heinerichs six of his top eight scorers back.

Add to the mix senior Noah Gizienski and juniors John Scheivert and Sean Reynolds, and the Fords could have a deep rotation.

The changes are wholesale for Strath Haven, which won 10 games and made the District 1 playoffs in coach Dan Spangler’s first season. Of the Panthers’ top seven scorers, only Brady Mutz returns, while Justin Morris will look to build upon a solid niche as a 3-point threat last year.

Luke Edwards got a taste of varsity last year, while Julian Carmichael and Nate Thallman will bolster the frontcourt.

Radnor is coming off a three-win season, but coach Jamie Chadwin has his leading scorer back in Lew Robinson, who averaged 10.4 ppg as a freshman. He’ll join shooter Jack d’Entremont, forward Bennett Mueller and fellow senior Doug Campbell. Radnor quarterback Sean Mullarkey will have a go at hoops this year on a roster featuring a slew of multi-sport athletes.

Springfield could find itself in a rebuilding year, as coach Kevin McCormick anticipates not having a senior on his roster. Brian Ward played significant minutes last year, while Cole Rhodes and Tanner Robinson are among the newcomers slated to step into more minutes.

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