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DiGIOVANNI: Same goals for Coatesville, despite new faces behind those masks

CALN >> The most storied boys basketball program in Chester County, if not the entire state of Pennsylvania, is back in the gym for the strangest season in history.

And even behind masks, and spread out to maximize social distance, the Coatesville boys basketball team is continuing one school tradition: young stars are looking to emulate those who have come before.

Aside from that, 2020 continues to provide new challenges for everyone. So when a band of young Coatesville stars took to the court at Ross Kershey Gymnasium for the first of this season’s open gym sessions, things were definitely different. The players were shooting and running up and down the floor with masks on, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall safety and keeping the players and coaches healthy are the primary goals.

“The wearing of masks has been very tough on the kids so far,” said Coatesville coach Marc Turner. “I mean, it is hard to breathe when you are running up and down the court with a mask on. Most of my time has been spent telling the kids to keep their masks up. They pull them down to breathe and I get it, but we try to do the best we can to keep them up. The thing that concerns me is the other 22 hours they are not here. They have to do the right thing or our season will not happen and I am constantly reminding them of that fact.”

The Red Raiders advanced to the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament last season before bowing to powerful Roman Catholic. The Ches-Mont League title, always a first priority for the Red Raiders, went to West Chester East. One of this year’s top Red Raiders, Abdul-Sabur Stewart, said that has been on the minds of his team all offseason.

“We definitely want to get the Ches-Mont championship back to Coatesville,” Stewart said. “That is our first goal and even though we lost a lot of scoring from last year’s team we feel we will have a great season. We have real good team chemistry and we have a real good scorer in Jaeden Brickus, and I can score and Zhaire Harley. We are all very close and the whole team plays off the court at Coates Park. We are all friends and we all push each other.

“As far as wearing the masks, it is something that is not comfortable but as the day went on we got a little used to it,” Stewart said. “We had to take them down for a time to get some more air but the coaches stressed that we had to keep them up. By the end of the open gym we were pretty used to the idea.”

Stewart is also a star receiver on the successful Coatesville football team, which advanced to the District 1 Class 6A playoffs this year. Turner is very excited to get him on the hardwood and help the 2020-21 Coatesville squad.

“Abdul is one of the most versatile players I have been around,” Turner said. “He can guard the point guard on the opposing team and then guard the center later in the game. He is our leader on the floor and last year as an example, he covered Dylan Blair from Downingtown West, their point guard. And then, when we played Roman, we put him on their big man, Jalen Duran. I am very excited for him this season.

“I really feel this is a very coachable team. this group wants to learn and is fun to be around,” Turner said. “And with Abdul and Jaeden leading the way, we should be pretty good. Jaeden is a big-time scorer and he is very hard to stay in front of. But, the whole season will come down to who can stay healthy and what teams can not get the virus. This is very tough, trying to play basketball with masks on but to have a season at all we all know what we have to do to stay healthy.”

It may be a brand new world at Coatesville. But even in this crazy year, one thing remains the same: The hunger to be the best burns inside every Coatesville player, and the Red Raiders will be a factor on the Ches-Mont League and District 1 scene again.

Pete DiGiovanni covers boys basketball for The Daily Local News and Pa. Prep Live. You can reach him at pdigiovanni07@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteDLN.

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