WHITEMARSH >> The Plymouth-Whitemarsh boys basketball team lost four starters to graduation after the 2014-15 season, including a 1,000-point scorer. Somehow, the team hasn’t missed a beat.
The Colonials are off to a 12-0 start this year and are beating opponents by an average of 16 points.
The only returning player to play significant minutes on last year’s squad that lost the District One final is Xzavier Malone. The senior swingman has been battling what appears to be a right leg issue. Last week he sat out against Springfield Montco, fouled out late in the third quarter with 14 points against Cheltenham and scored 19 against George Washington Saturday. Aside from the Rider University-bound lefty, this is a team without much varsity experience.
The starting lineup features Kevin Ashenfelter and captains Malone and Oakley Spencer in the backcourt and captain Mike Lotito and Davon Burrell up front. The entire group is 6-foot-2 or taller — with Lotito as the biggest at 6-foot-6 — but head coach Jim Donofrio doesn’t see this group as one that uses its size to block shots on defense, rather it needs to take charges.
“We’re not shot blockers,” he said last week. “You’ve got to know that. Some of that is with a young team — how you sacrifice your body. You’ll be OK, you’re not going to land and go through the floor … but you have to get to that level. We really are a young bunch — game preparation and experience wise. To be 11-0 (now 12-0) in that situation, we’ll take it.”
The starting five are all seniors, but didn’t get much experience with the talented 2015 class playing ahead of them a year ago.
The Colonials picked up their biggest win of the young season Friday night against Cheltenham. Both of the teams entered the game 5-0 in Suburban One League American Conference play and PW came out on top, 64-62, when Lotito made a layup in the final seconds to decide the game.
The game was played in a playoff atmosphere — a full gym with fans from both teams and very physical play on the floor. Donofrio was proud of the way his team handled the environment, especially how often they ran different sets.
“One thing that high school teams don’t do in games like that — which is pace and noise — is look at you,” Donofrio said. “And they did a great job of that literally every possession and they kept looking. We’ve been stressing that like crazy … That to me is a good advancement for right now.”
The coach did, however, caution that an inexperienced team starting this hot is not always a good thing.
“You win a lot early and you get a lack of concentration and you get comfortable,” Donofrio said. “Then you get a little cocky and the edge that got you to that record goes out the door. Winning makes you happy and happy makes you lose. It’s a weird combination.
“You’re 11-0 (now 12-0), so that’s your next challenge. How are you going to handle that? It’s one at a time and you’re trying to peak for something.”
Plymouth Whitemarsh will try to finish its first round of SOL American games with a perfect 7-0 record Tuesday night when it travels to Norristown Area High School for a matchup with the Eagles at 7 p.m.
Norristown is 5-7 this season with a 3-3 mark against league opponents.
Similar to the Colonials, Norristown has had to play without one of its stars fully healthy. Senior forward Roy Green missed time earlier in the season with a high-ankle sprain in his left foot and what was thought to be a meniscus tear in his right knee, but the MRI came back clean. Green returned over the holidays for the Triangle Club Tournament, but injured his shoulder last Tuesday in a 67-61 loss against Wissahickon. His status is unknown going forward.
A win Tuesday night would bring the Colonials one step closer to achieving their regular season goal of winning the SOL American crown.
“We take pride in playing for the league title every year,” Donofrio said. “And we have been lucky enough to get a good amount of them. It’s the number one focus of the regular season.”
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