While the perennially powerful Lower Merion boys’ basketball squad posted a 20-8 record last winter and earned its 10th consecutive trip to the PIAA state tournament – the longest current streak in PIAA 6A boys basketball – the past year has been a challenging one for the Aces.
First was the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant on Jan. 26, 2020, then in mid-March the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the remainder of the PIAA state tournament after the Aces had advanced to the second round.
“This has been a challenging year on a number of levels for the Aces family,” said Lower Merion boys’ basketball head coach Gregg Downer. “We’re excited to be back in the gym and focused on cherishing every moment we have together. We also realize there are no guarantees with the schedule. If we get a chance to play some games, compete and stay healthy, that’s a win.”
Because the COVID-19 pandemic remains ongoing, fans are not allowed in the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium for Lower Merion’s home games (as of Jan. 19), but the school is streaming the Aces’ home games at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3R4CED874UZ7gIwid0KGSA.
As of Jan. 19, the Aces are scheduled to play an 11-game schedule against Central League opponents. Lower Merion’s season opener is scheduled for Jan. 23 at 11 a.m. against Radnor.
Leading the way for the Aces this winter is 6-8 junior guard Demetrius Lilley, who received first team All-Main Line and All-Central League honors in 2020 while averaging 16.9 ppg and 12.1 rpg.
Other Lower Merion players to watch in 2021 include 6-0 senior guard Sam Davison, 6-0 junior guard Jaylen Shippen and 6-1 sophomore guard Sam Brown.
Here’s a beginning-of-the-season look at the other Central League boys’ basketball squads on the Main Line:
The Pioneers, who posted an 11-11 record last winter, feature a mixture of size in 6-8 senior center Andrew Fox, 6-9 junior power forward/center Mike Walz and 6-6 senior forward Jordan Cuthbert; and an experienced backcourt in senior guards Jerry Miller, Jack Liedtka, Ryan Mackey and Austin Fontaine. Last winter, Liedtka led the Pioneers in scoring (9.5 ppg), three-point shots made and in minutes played, and received first team All-Main Line honors. Miller received second team All-Main Line recognition.
“We’re excited as we have most of our core players back from last year and are looking to build on their experience,” said Conestoga head coach Mike Troy. “The players have worked very hard in the offseason getting better and we can’t wait to get on the court and play games. We will have a height advantage over several teams we play this year and will look to maximize that advantage as well as our experience in the backcourt. Our defense and playing together will also be keys to our success.
“Being in a COIVD environment has brought several changes, including very little summer or fall basketball, wearing masks when we play, and a reduced regular season schedule. It will be a different kind of season as it will definitely be a sprint not a marathon. That being said, all teams are in this environment so we are looking at the positives, being responsible, and look to get after it on the court together.”
The Rams lost their top seven scorers from last year’s team to graduation, including guard Markus Bradley-Lowry (14 ppg, first team All-Main Line in 2020) and forward Michael Tabasso (All-Main Line honorable mention last winter).
“We are starting completely over with most of the team never having set foot on a varsity floor,” said Harriton’s first year head coach Jesse Rappaport.
The Rams’ top players are senior guard Dan Katz, senior guard Blake Beauvis, sophomore point guard Reid Belcher and senior guard Nick Masterman.
Rappaport said, “With the late coaching change, and the school district’s and Wolf’s shutdowns we are still learning about each other, and how to play the Harriton way. Our goal is to improve, be safe, and get games in for the boys.
“Having a Central League only schedule is a real challenge, as the league is always strong. Plus, in the league this year we have a wide variety of season start dates, open gym rules, shutdowns – everyone has a different advantage and disadvantage to deal with.”
Harriton’s basketball (and wrestling) contests are streamed on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLo_mwTLE-IRLPXB8ycYtt
The Fords will be led by senior guard John Seidman, who last year averaged 15.4 points per game, as well as 6.0 rebounds per contest and 2.8 assists per game while receiving first team All-Main Line and All-Central League honors.
Other returning senior starters for Haverford are Will Higson and Hunter Kraiza. Junior Nick Colucci and sophomore Googie Seidman saw varsity experience as well in 2020.
Haverford head coach Keith Heinerichs also noted that junior JR Newman is a newcomer who is a great team player on both ends of the floor.
“Our biggest key will be trying to gel together on offensive with a limited off-season,” said Heinerichs. “We want to be aggressive on both ends of the floor but play under control. We need to share the ball on offense and play hard on the defensive end.”
Radnor, which finished 15-11 last winter and advanced to the District 1 quarterfinals, features a potent all-around performer in senior guard Lew Robinson, who averaged 14 points and five rebounds per game as a junior, receiving first team All-Main Line honors.
Other key players to watch for Radnor this winter include senior guard Jahmir Dixon, and sophomore guards Danny Rosenblum and Charlie Thornton.
“We have a mix of talented young guys who are eager to gain more varsity experience,” said Radnor head coach Jamie Chadwin. “Lew Robinson has been outstanding as a steady lead guard for, we are excited for his senior year.
“We have some length, and good quickness. We hope to be a bit more balanced and dynamic than the past two seasons. We’re focused on the opportunities in front of us, and our strengths… not interested in excuses or limitations.”
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