Mapp has Academy Park on the right course

MIDDLETOWN — When he saw Lashon Mapp hit the deck Dec. 27, Academy Park coach Allen Brydges feared the worst.

He worried that the Knights’ only low-post player was done for the season, the shoulder injury he sustained going up for a rebound in the first quarter against Episcopal Academy appearing at first glance to require surgery or more rest than a high school season would allow. Once the Knights concluded their loss to the Churchmen, their first setback of the season, Brydges was considering contingencies.

And then, two days later, when the Knights took on Church Farm School at the Steve Jeunger Tournament at Haverford, there was Mapp, in the middle, grabbing rebounds and disrupting opponents’ offenses as always, the only noticeable difference a heavy tape job on his left shoulder.

To Mapp, playing on was hardly a question.

“There was a thought (about missing time), but I know that I’m a big part of this team and I didn’t want to let any of my teammates down,’ Mapp said Tuesday after a scrimmage against Penncrest.

Mapp’s willingness to play through pain has been vital for Academy Park (16-6). He’ll be instrumental in the Knights’ attempt to get past Oxford in the first round of the District One Class AAAA tournament Friday night.

The 2.0 points per game that Mapp has averaged this season isn’t indicative of his value. He’s the lynchpin to the Knights’ pressing defense, the last line of defense near the hoop. Standing 6-4, he’s hardly a big man by traditional standards, but he’s the tallest player in AP’s guard-heavy attack, and his lanky build means his reach is longer than his height would indicate. As Brydges says, Mapp allows his team to play “92 feet for 32 minutes.’

“He’s the most important guy who doesn’t score a whole lot in the whole league probably,’ Brydges said. “We can’t press, we can’t do anything without him. He lets us take chances and play the way we play because he’s a shot-blocker at the back.’

The more accurate representation of Mapp’s value isn’t scoring; it’s that Academy Park is 11-1 outside of a deep Del Val League this season. The one loss? To Episcopal, a game in which big man Nick Alikakos (19 points) and driving point guard Mike Jolaoso (25 points) had a field day in the lane absent Mapp.

Since then, Mapp has done his usual workmanlike job, prioritizing rebounding and rim-guarding over offensive production. His game is an accurate reflection of the grit he’s played with, having to endure pain and with the appearance that the stabilizing tape is the only thing attaching his arm to his torso.

“The only way to get through is to play in pain,’ Brydges said. “Things are rubbing together. His shoulder is just taped together. Without playing in pain, he wouldn’t be able to play. We thought he was definitely shut down, then a doctor told him if he was willing to play with it taped up and in pain, he could.’

Mapp’s gutsiness will aid AP’s quest to end a 15-year playoff win drought. The Knights snuck into the field last season for the first time in six years, but as the No. 28 seed, they ran into a buzzsaw in eventual District One runner-up Pennsbury.

This year’s trip is also lengthy — out to No. 16 Oxford (14-9) — but certainly less daunting. The Hornets lost eight players from last year’s states run and exhibit the occasional inconsistency of a young team. They have a variety of scoring threats lead by Ryan Hubley, but they enter the postseason having lost three straight after a six-game winning streak. Their last outing was a 66-29 drubbing at the hands of Downingtown West in the Ches-Mont semifinals.

“This is a big stage,’ said junior guard Jawan Collins, who is 13 points shy of 1,000 for his career. “We’ve just got to come ready to play from the beginning. We were a little nervous last year.’

Mapp is one of the players who carries lessons from last year’s loss, along with an undeniable desire to play.

“It’s one of the biggest games of most of our careers, and if you don’t win this game, it’s big because some of us won’t play another high school game,’ Mapp said. “We need to come out and play hard like this is our last game.’

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