Sacrifices, win-first attitude sent 2017-18 Abington to new heights

Sometimes the stars align and everything works out perfectly.

That’s what happened for the Abington Senior High School boys basketball program when all-time leading scorer Eric Dixon and No. 3 on that list Robbie Heath’s careers overlapped for three years.

Throw in 1,000-point scorers Amir Hinton, Matt Penecale and Lucas Monroe and the Ghosts had quite the five-year run from 2015 to 2019.

Heath won a District 1 championship as a freshman in 2015 and won two more with Dixon in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, Dixon led the Ghosts to a fourth crown in five years.

The best season during that stretch was the 2017-18 campaign when Heath was a senior and Dixon and Monroe were juniors. That Ghosts team is ranked No. 5 in the Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Boys Basketball Team of the Decade bracket. After topping No. 12 Archbishop Wood 2018-19 in the first round, Abington will face No. 13 La Salle 2013-14 in the quarterfinals this week.

Abington’s Eric Dixon goes high for a shot over Neshaminy defenders during their game on Jan. 3, 2018. (Bob Raines/MediaNews Group)

Abington went 24-6 in 2017-18 and won the Suburban One League National Conference with a perfect 12-0 record. The Ghosts won the District 1-6A title over an undefeated Plymouth Whitemarsh team, which ranks ninths and is still alive in the Best of the Decade bracket, and reached the PIAA-6A state quarterfinals. The third round of states is the farthest any of Heath or Dixon’s Abington squads advanced.

Dixon led the team in scoring with 24 points per game, Heath added 19.2 and Monroe 12.3 in 30 games. All three were First Team All-SOL National selections.

Despite the high scoring totals, it was the unselfishness that made this team so special. Monroe led the team with 131 assists (4.3 per game) while Heath was right behind with 128 (4.2 per game).

“That team bought in,” Abington head coach Charles Grasty said. “They wanted to win. We had our three leading scorers, but we also had guys that understood their role. Even our leading scorers, we had Eric Dixon who led us in scoring, but he could have taken a lot of shots if he wanted to, a lot more. Lucas could have taken a lot more shots. Of course Robbie could’ve taken a lot more shots, but they sacrificed because they wanted to win. They were all about winning. I think along with talent you have to have guys who are willing to sacrifice their personal numbers for wins and (that team) definitely did it.”

Abington’s Robbie Heath passes over Neshaminy’s Cam Jeffers Jan. 3, 2018. (Bob Raines/MediaNews Group)

The sacrifices Heath made became evident after his freshman season in college. He averaged 24.6 points per game this season at West Chester, which led the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and all Division II freshmen. He broke the PSAC freshman scoring record, was named the PSAC East Rookie of the Year and earned a spot on the First Team All-PSAC East. The Whittlesea, Australia native scored 20 or more points 22 times, including a 50-point outburst on Feb. 15 against Bloomsburg.

“Robbie is a heck of a basketball player and a person,” Grasty said. “I get to talk to him once in a while and I just tell him that for him to sacrifice not only his scoring, but it kind of affected his recruiting as well, in order to win – that speaks volumes about the type of person he is and his character.”

The defending district champions were hard to beat in 2017-18.

They were on the ropes against PW in the District 1 championship game, trailing by nine points at halftime, but that turned around quickly in the second half. The Ghosts won the third quarter, 29-8, and won, 75-73, behind 25 points from both Dixon and Heath. Heath had 19 of his points in the second half.

In the second round of states, Abington got a boost from junior Darious Brown, an All-SOL National Honorable Mention, in a win over St. Joseph’s Prep. Brown shot 4-for-5 from three-point range for 12 points in a 66-61 win over legendary coach Speedy Morris and the Hawks.

Abington’s Brandon Coffman puts up a No. 1 after winning the Ghosts claimed the 2018 District 1-6A championship win their win over Plymouth Whitemarsh. (Adrianna Lynch/For MediaNews Group)

They finally went down in the state quarterfinals, but it took everything District 2 champion Hazelton had. Dixon finished with 35 points and Heath 27 in a 94-86 defeat. The Ghosts scored 41 points in the fourth quarter, but Hazelton hit their free throws and poured in 38 over the final eight minutes to hold off a furious comeback attempt.

The 2017-18 Ghosts had plenty of college talent. Joining Heath, who is looking to transfer to a Division I program this offseason, in the college ranks are Dixon at Villanova, Monroe at Penn, Brown at University of the Sciences and 2017-18 junior Maurice Henry at Rosemont. JP Nolan, who graduated in 2018 and hit 26 three-pointers off the bench, is playing college baseball at East Stroudsburg.

Monroe, who is second all-time at Abington with 420 assists, was one of just three players and the only freshman to play all 27 games for Penn this season. He earned four starts – including three of the final four games – and averaged 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds. He added 24 assists, 16 steals and 12 blocked shots.

Brown appeared in 13 games for the Devils while Dixon redshirted at Villanova.

Voting for the second round of the Boys Basketball Best of the Decade bracket is posted on Twitter @ReporterSports

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