Supporting cast crucial part of Abington’s success

FRANCONIA >> Abington’s boys basketball program has churned out a lot of high-quality players in the last few years.

As a result, the Ghosts have had a lot of success in the Suburban One League, District 1 and even the PIAA level. But a good basketball team isn’t just one or two guys doing everything while the other three stand there and watch.

Part of the secret to Abington’s success is the even bigger number of supporting players that coach Charles Grasty and his staff have developed over the years.

Monday night, the Ghosts won the SOL tournament for the second time in the three years of the event. In their 70-66 win over Plymouth Whitemarsh, Robbie Heath and Eric Dixon led Abington like they have all season, but the supporting cast played a huge part too.

“We know Robbie and Eric are going to get a lot of the points so you have to come in and play a role,” sophomore guard Lucas Monroe said. “For me, that’s kind of doing a little bit of everything. I’m not much of a big scorer but I think I can make a big impact on the game without scoring too much. I can rebound and handle the ball and get Robbie and Eric involved by getting them the ball.”

For every Heath, Amir Hinton, Matt Penecale or Anthony Lee, there have been two or three other guys that have excelled in a less flashy role. On this year’s team, it’s guys like Monroe, seniors Joe O’Brien, Rob Young and Eric Dougherty and younger bench players like Darius Brown and Brandon Coffman that have come in and given Grasty exactly what he expects of them.

Monday, the quartet of Young (8), O’Brien (6), Monroe (6) and Dougherty (2) provided 22 points while O’Brien had 13 rebounds. The big senior center knows he’s not in the game to take a shot every other possession but he’s also aware of how the things he does carry a high value.

All season, when O’Brien has rebounded in double-figures, the Ghosts have been successful.

“My role is to play defense, grab rebounds, block shots, just do anything I can to help out,” O’Brien said. “I know I’m not going to score a lot so I’m going to do anything I can to help. It’s been my role every year I’ve been here and I enjoy it a lot. I come in, work hard and do what I need to do.”

Young, the team’s point guard is another example. He has committed a meager 27 turnovers all year against many, many more assists with his numbers close to some that Penecale posted. The senior isn’t a top option on offense, but if he gets a kick-out, he’s confident to take the shot.

“For me, it’s taking care of the ball and running the team,” Young said. “I’m only taking shots in the flow of the offense but it’s taking care of the ball, mostly. When (Grasty) gives you his trust and you understand your role, you play more and the more time you get in a game.”

Penecale, now playing at West Chester, was always one to note the impact of his supporting guys. It’s the same this year. The neat thing about the way Abington has been able to remain so good is that the guys plugged into roles continue to embrace it.

“We talk about it a lot,” Young said. “Early in the season we talk about what our roles are and it gradually gets bigger for each guy as the season goes on.”

From the Jack Steinman, Brian Close, Dione Greene, Jake Porter, BJ James and Curtis Lochners, among plenty of others, of the past few years to the current group and even the young guys like Brown, a sophomore, on the bench, guys just keeping buying in. One thing Grasty preaches is that for a particular guy, any night could be their night.

“Last year with Jack, he enjoyed his role and I tried to watch what he did and follow suit,” O’Brien said. “My six points is enough. Robbie had 30 tonight and Dixon finished strong with 18. I had 13 boards, Lucas had a couple boards, a couple steals, we can all contribute in our own ways.”

In Saturday’s SOL semifinal against North Penn, Grasty plugged Brown into the starting lineup and the guard responded with a couple of big shots and some solid defense. Two years ago, Porter was the guy to hit a game-winning 3-point shot against Pennsbury while Steinman set a school record for charges taken in a season.

“The guys all know what they have to do,” Monroe said. “We they come in and we’re all not playing selfish and do what they’re supposed to do, we’re a very lethal team. You can’t have one or two players scoring all the points and nobody else contributing, we have to be 15-deep. We think we can bring in anyone, they can do their role and they can contribute to the team.”

Monroe, a 6-foot-5 guard, has the talent to score plenty of points but his upbringing as a point guard makes him a great fit for a supportive role. Most nights, he’ll be the Ghosts’ third-leading scorer but the sophomore has to fill his line with rebounds, assists and defensive plays for it to feel like a strong outing.

The older guys in the program have been very open about welcoming their younger teammates, Monroe said, even if some of those young guys end up taking starting spots. Heath, a junior, has started every game since his freshman season, while Monroe and Dixon started as freshman.

Making the leap from middle school to high school basketball is a big one, and Monroe added that if the upperclassmen hadn’t been so welcoming, he would have had a lot of trouble adjusting last year.

“We just have to hustle on every play, get to every loose ball and every rebound,” Dougherty said. “We need to do everything we can to help win.”

It starts in the gym at practice. O’Brien said the guys who don’t get as many minutes work as hard, if not harder, than the starters and Monroe added that while players see headlines and stats, the only thing they really care about is if all of it has translated into wins.

Abington earned the No. 3 seed in the upcoming District 1-6A tournament, meaning they have a bye into the second round. Last year, the Ghosts were stunned in the first round after winning a district title two seasons ago and reaching the PIAA semifinals three seasons back.

Heath and Dixon have proven they can score against some of the best squads in the state but if the Ghosts want to go a deep postseason run, they’ll need everyone else playing their role to the best of their ability. It’s been a benchmark of Abington teams in the past and it’s a safe bet to venture it will stay that way the next few weeks.

“We like to represent Abington, which means we play hard and we play defense and that’s how we win games,” Monroe said. “We like to share the ball and we can’t be selfish. I think that’s a big thing, to represent the community and they like coming out to watch us play ball and it’s important that we’ve had upperclassmen who aren’t selfish and don’t mind letting younger players shine.”

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