Out of a little midafternoon boredom Thursday, I put it to Twitter to sound out what people thought was the top team in Delco to start this season. The results there are interesting.
Time to put together a preseason boys hoops Super 7. So I ask, who should be No. 1 in Delco?
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) December 3, 2015
But since I have to be bringing some level of supposed expertise to the matter (spoiler alert: It’s low), I cobbled together my own before seeing how the voting shook out. And my outline looks, well, a little different that the social media consensus. These are the rankings that accompanied our preview package in the paper, which you should definitely pick up for the six pages of features, team-by-team capsules and season schedules. But because there’s only so much room even in the most devoted of papers, here’s the extended reasoning behind that Super 7.
1. Archbishop Carroll
I hear what you’re saying. This team lost two Division I players to graduation (Derrick Jones and Ernest Aflakpui), another blue-collar starter (Samir Taylor) plus the transfer of David Beatty, who is another Division I talent, for a team that made the PIAA Class AAA final. It can’t be a cumulative honor, you say, where the team that ends last season on top and starts the next season there. There’s more to it than that, I assure you. The Patriots still have a pair of Division I commits in Josh Sharkey and Ryan Daly, the latter of whom could average nearly 20 points per game. John Rigsby fills the void left by Taylor, with more offense and shooting. There are a bevy of big guys to help compensate for losing Jones, though no one could be expected to do what the high-flying Daily Times Player of the Year did. And then there’s the wild card: Miks Antoms, a Latvian import who, if he’s really 6-9 with as quick of feet and the mid-range game that his online videos indicate, could be a real find.
The Clippers are the most talented team in the county. Marquis Collins is the only one the team with Division I offers, but there’s talent up and down the roster. Stanley Davis and Jordan Camper had great summers. Jamar Sudan is a beast on the boards. Maurice Henry is imposing in the lane. Ahrod Carter and Jahmi Green-Bailey can provide a boost behind the arc, while Jamal Jones adds depth in the lane. Plus, Khaleeq Campbell is back and healthy to orchestrate the whole show; he’s what Collins referred to as “the missing piece” from last year’s states-less campaign. This is substantially the same team as last year’s underwhelming squad, but one that’s gotten better and more experienced across the board. Until the Clippers get that mojo back and start winning those tough games, they’ll remain in second place.
Ridley’s run of 20 wins in 23 games last season was predicated on its ability to beat you so many ways. Want to speed them up? Julian Wing and Brett Foster are demons in transition. Hit them with a zone? Nick Czechowicz and Ryan Bollinger can shoot out of it. Second-chance points? Ameer Staggs on the boards or finding space in the lane. The first dimension remains intact. Bollinger is back for the second, with Liam Thompson stepping up as the secondary shooting threat. But the frontline is a work in progress, leaving Wing to a play a lot of the four when he’s really a swingman. Ridley remains the favorite in the Central League and is decisively the best of the Delco teams on paper. But pieces of the puzzle will have to be nudged into place on the fly.
4. Episcopal Academy
The Churchmen return three-fifths of the starting lineup from last year, but they’re missing the two main ballhandlers. Conner Delaney has the toughness to take over part of that burden, though it remains to be seen if he has the court vision of Mike Hinckley or Mike Jolaoso. Matt Woods will have to be more than just a spot-up shooter, it seems. They’ve got good athletes in Kyle Sachetta and Kyle Virbitsky, plus a Division I stud in All-Delco Nick Alikakos. That should be enough to compete for the Inter-Ac title again.
5. Penn Wood
The bold line in these standings falls between the top four and the rest, at least to start. Figuring out the final three teams in these rankings are challenging, and each comes with significant question marks. The spring of talent at Penn Wood always seems to refresh itself. But they lost two stalwarts in Addison Scott and Malik Jackson, two guys who’ve stepped right into college basketball and made tremendous impacts. So who’s next in line? Calvin Melton is a great defensive player, but scoring isn’t his forte. Jordan Johnson is a huge body in the low blocks, but his offensive game isn’t very polished given his focus on football. Are Vincent Smalls and Javon Lindsey-Terrell going to account for 40-plus points per game like Jackson and Scott? I’m going to need some convincing.
6. Academy Park
There’s a sizeable dose of caution to throw into this valuation. Deandray Covert and Jawan Collins will mark the start of the basketball season with a PIAA football playoff game, which speaks to the ridiculousness of the scheduling, but that’s another topic. The Knights replace one star (Travis Smith), one consistent scorer (Rich Caldwell) and a bunch of role players. Allen Brydges can replace the latter group, and he still has a star in Collins who makes those around him better. Someone needs to step up to be that second double-figure option, and while the Knights’ speed and pressing mentality serves as an equalizer, generating consistent half-court offense could be a challenge.
Time to wade into the Central League. Penncrest replaces six of eight contributors, including four starters. Springfield also replaces four starters and 90 percent of its scoring. Marple Newtown, the other playoff team from last year, has its top two scorers gone. So where to turn? I wouldn’t bet against Mike Doyle, who’s made districts each of the last seven years. He doesn’t have much back. But he’s got A.J. Taylor, one of the most dynamic scorers in the league, a few guards and some big guys in the post. Plus, someone has to be in this spot.
Others: Springfield (Kyle Long makes the players around him better, but as only one member of that supporting cast has varsity experience, that additive benefit may not be enough); Haverford (another mystery because of the football hangover for a handful of players, but I could see the Fords being improved from last year’s 10-12 season); Upper Darby (Kahleel Henry slots in near Taylor on the scoring explosiveness meter, and there are plenty of potential cogs to fill in around him); Delco Christian (the reigning District One Class A champs have a veteran core, and while they’ll miss transfer Danny Browne, the big three of Grant Fischer in the post and Devin Hill and Wyatt Harkins on the perimeter is daunting); Chichester (Derrick Welles and Eric Montanez are back healthy this season, comprising one of the most dynamic backcourts around. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles sneak into the top half of the Del Val).