HERSHEY — Jack Concannon sat 12 rows up at the Giant Center, a vantage point that gave him the literal long view to accompany his metaphorical one.
He watched the team he coached until stepping down last spring struggle through foul trouble in a 67-56 loss to Imhotep Charter in the PIAA Class 4A boys basketball final. He saw four Bonner & Prendergast seniors that he’d brought into the once moribund program trudge stone-faced to midcourt to accept the silver trophy as runner-up.
Through it all, Concannon wore a grin, in part because he knew, by the time the fog of disappointment lifted for his former players, they would sport a similar appreciation.
“We’re all a little disappointed now,” Concannon said Thursday night, “but if you look at the big picture, it’s been a pretty good five-year run.”
Bonner & Prendie’s trip to the state final amid perennial powers — among them Imhotep, winners of three straight Class 4A crowns and seven titles since 2009 — was unique. Concannon inherited a two-win squad five seasons ago, in the aftermath of the school fighting off closure by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He handed off to protégé Kevin Funston a team that advanced to the PIAA Class 5A semifinals, losing in overtime to eventual champ Abington Heights, in the school’s first states berth. Funston took the group one game further this year, continuing the incremental growth Concannon stressed.
With that history, Thursday’s hurt faded quickly. And the silver trophy that will adorn a hallway display case started to be seen for what it was — not the second-choice trophy of Thursday night, but one of the most coveted mementos of the season.
“I think they handled a lot of adversity and did everything we could’ve asked for, so it wasn’t really a somber meeting,” Funston said. “It was more of a thank you, let’s celebrate a great time and appreciate the guys that are coming back and send off the guys that are going.”
With Concannon in charge — and a staff that has been together for five years — the turnaround started. The Friars won 12 games in Concannon’s first season, making the play-in round of the Catholic League tournament. They won 13 games the following season, advancing to the PCL quarterfinals, then 16 in 2016-17, denied a states berth by Archbishop Carroll in the District 12 consolation game.
Last year brought 25 wins, a regular-season Catholic League title, a city championship in Class 5A and the state semis berth after losing at the buzzer in the PCL final at the Palestra. Funston’s first season went further, accomplishing the oft-stated but seldom realized goal of coaches everywhere.
“It’s a process,” Concannon said. “I think each year, we’ve gotten better. There’s no doubt. Every single year, we’ve gotten better. … As long as we have good kids and we represent the school well, that’s what it’s all about. Of course we all want to win championships, but at the end of the day, it’s a good group of kids, good group of coaches, great school and we lost to a great team.”
That sense of accomplishment dawned even in the postgame disappointment. While the Friars didn’t get the state title they were after, they knew how far they had come as a group.
“It’s definitely room for celebration, especially from what this team was a couple of years ago,” said senior guard and Miami signee Isaiah Wong said, who transferred in as a junior. “They were celebrating for a team that was the seventh seed (in the Catholic League). And I feel like now, we were the No. 1 seed in states and last year were the No. 1 in PCL, and I think we all did good together as a team. We all had great accomplishments together.”
The way in which Funston and Concannon emphasize improvement means the goal for next year is set. It will be a challenge to continue this upward trajectory when Wong and fellow Division I talent Tariq Ingraham (plus valuable depth cogs Mike Perretta and Chris Haynes) graduate. But with a bevy of contributors back, the baseline for success is set.
“You have to work hard all summer and make sure we stay connected as a team and keep that chemistry so that we come back stronger and better,” said junior guard Donovan Rodriguez, who scored 14 points in the final. “… Last year, how we lost in the final four, this year we came further. So next year, hopefully we’ll come back here and even win it.”
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