ASTON — First-year head coach Steve Maloney knew the challenges that awaited him in taking over Sun Valley’s struggling program.
But the 3-14 record hanging next to the Vanguards name doesn’t quite capture the progress Maloney and his young team have made.
Sun Valley has trotted out 17 players this season, one of the higher totals in the county. Only three players have appeared in all 17 games. Injuries and off-court issues have prevented several players that Maloney anticipated would be major contributors from having much of an impact.
The response from Maloney has been simple: If the Vanguards are going to take their lumps, the coach is at least going to let the younger players on his roster gain valuable experience, hopefully getting some of their growing pains out of the way with an eye toward a brighter future.
The youth-first tactic has its drawbacks. For one, Maloney only took the job in July, meaning he had precious little time to prod his players to develop chemistry and gain experience via summer leagues and open-gym sessions, a problem exacerbated by many of Maloney’s players spending the fall on the football field.
Many of the struggles the Vanguards have endured this season bear the hallmarks of youth. Save for a pair of blowouts against Octorara and Oxford, Sun Valley has been within single digits in the fourth quarter against most Ches-Mont opponents. In a league lacking a dominant power as in recent years, Sun Valley has faced myriad winnable games. But learning how to win has been among the most significant hurdles.
The only solution is to get the young players on the court to learn their way through in-game adversity.
“I think his mentality for that is trying to get more out of the younger guys,’ junior guard Kyle Ryan said. “If the seniors are not setting an example, he puts them in because he knows that since they’re younger, they’ll work hard. They come to practice every day ready to work hard.’
Maloney’s rotation is junior-heavy, led by Ryan, Wali Sabree and Ryan Hall. There are several sophomores in the mix, too, plus freshman Shair Brown-Morris has logged regular minutes of late.
The message from Maloney is that age is no entitlement, and he’s not shy about demonstrating that with substitutions en masse.
“I think it’s just looking for the right guys,’ said Ryan, Sun Valley’s leading scorer at 9.6 points per game and one of the three to play in all 17 games. “If the seniors can’t get it done, then we sub in some of the young guys so that they can get some experience since they’re going to be the future of the team.’
The mistakes — not being aggressive enough late in games, untimely turnovers, inopportune tentativeness against veteran teams — are clear to diagnose and correct. Hall and his teammates agree that the most effective remedy lies in fostering team cohesion with everyone buying into the system, in word and in deed. He cites himself and Ryan, who have cultivated an on-court rapport playing together since age 6, as an example.
There’s little doubt that the potential for a better future is being forged now.
“I can’t wait for next year,’ Hall said. “I’ve been saying it from the beginning of the year, because our team is going to be so much better than it is now.’
Delco Christian coach Don Davis was impressed with what he was getting off the bench from guard Tracy Tann. So when he sought to tinker with his starting lineup, in search of better defense and a true point guard, it only made sense that Tann was his guy.
The result has been two wins in two games with Tann in the starting five. And true to Tann’s defensive emphasis, the Knights have allowed 76 total points in two games.
Tann put up strong numbers in Saturday’s win over Mount Calvary, pairing eight points with five assists and three steals. And while the numbers weren’t there in Tuesday’s OT win over Church Farm, his steadying presence played a part. Tann’s ballhandling also allows Wyatt Harkins, who is more of a two-guard, and Devin Hill to be freed to focus more on scoring. That duo has scored 59 points over the last two games.
Adjustment has been the constant theme for Penncrest’s frontcourt this season.
The group found out before the season that the transfer of Ben Casanova meant someone new would have to step up. Just when it was looking like AJ Taylor would be that guy after three solid games, an ankle injury cost him the next 10.
Taylor is back now, just as the likes of Chandler Henry, John Nichols and the undersized Nick Ladd appeared to be settling into their new roles.
Henry scored in double figures in four of the six games prior to Taylor’s return last week. Ladd averaged eight points per game in the five games before Taylor got back in the lineup, only to sit the next two games while Taylor played.
While Taylor was out last Saturday against Ridley, neither Henry nor Ladd (five combined points) did much to assert themselves.
That group doesn’t seem to be concerned about this new period of acclimation.
“I think we’re ready,’ Henry said Saturday. “I made a lot of mistakes today. Nick played well. I think we are ready if something like that happens.’