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Teams Strive for Great Hoops Seasons


Abington, Lower Merion, Chester boys and Cardinal O’Hara girls all gunning for big victories

(Photo Left) Abington boy's basketball players Robbie Heath (#3), Eric Dixon (#43), and Lucas Monroe (#22). Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

 

GHOSTS ARE LED BY DIXON

Abington is thought to be the top team in the suburbs by many pundits.

A big reason why is 6-foot-9-inch center Eric Dixon, who has blossomed so fast that he played for the Under 17-USA squad this summer. He not only represented the country in international competition, he started for the squad and was one of the team’s top inside scorers and defenders.

College coaches have noticed. Dixon has received over a dozen offers from top schools including Villanova, who offered on Nov. 15.

“I am very humbled to have played for team USA,” he said. “It feels great, because all the time in the gym is paying off. It gives me a little extra motivation to work even harder.”

Abington is arguably a top 5 team in the area. In fact, no pundit doesn't have the squad in a top 10. It’s hard to see anyone having a threesome like Dixon, Robbie Heath, and Lucas Monroe, all of whom are Division I talents.

“Robbie, Lucas and I have great chemistry on the court because we trust each other,” said Dixon. “We don’t ever get on each other in a negative way and we push each other to get better at all times. Plus, we’re all competitors and have the common goals to win every time we’re on the floor.”

That’s exactly what the Ghosts intend to do. “We have learned so much from the playoff process,” he said. “We want to win the states. But there’s a lot that goes into that and we have to work hard every day and take care of business at every step.”

 

LOWER MERION: FeareD finalists

 The Aces are traditionally a team that no PIAA Class 6A team wants to see in the post-season. They have made the state tournament for seven straight years, but have lost in the first round for the past four years.

It’s a new era now with Terrell Jones (Holy Family) and Noah Fennell (NYU) having moved on and five third-year juniors taking over the leadership of the team. The experienced group of Theo Henry, Jack Forrest, Steve Payne, Matt O’Connor and Daryl Taylor are hoping to lead the Aces to the states again. “It’s a tightknit group,” said assistant coach John Gallman. “There are big shoes to fill with Noah and Terrell graduating. These kids have worked extremely hard in the off-season and they work out together and also hang together outside of school and practice. States is surely one of our goals, but, for us, it’s one game at a time.”

Gallman added that the continual success of a program that has won three state titles and played in five championship games since 1996 is “because of the passion and support of the alumni and parents, student body community, and coaches. The number one thing is the players each year allowing us to coach them, and them being coachable.”

He added that a recent example of that was when the community came out to support Payne, whose father died of an illness on Oct. 30. “The whole team and all the parents were there every step of the way,” he said. “It’s an unreal family to be a part of. He’s a great young man who has gone through a tremendous loss but he stays busy with the school and the team. Everyone has rallied around Steve.”

Gallman who played at Archbishop Carroll and coached at Germantown Academy, said he has learned a lot at all his stops in high school basketball. “They are all tremendous experiences,” he said. “I learned a lot everywhere I have been.”

 

CHESTER MAY BE BACK

The Clippers haven’t been a major player since they won two championships in 2011 and 2012, and lost to Lower Merion in the PIAA 4 A state title game in 2013. This year, with one time assistant coach Keith Taylor taking over the team, the Clippers hope to be a state contender again. The Clippers have won eight state championships, more than any other school in state history in the big division (now 6A formerly 4A).

“Chester basketball is returning back to its old ways. We will definitely be a powerhouse and no longer the underdogs,” said Brian Randolph, the tallest player on the team at 6’4”. “We are a small team this year but we will be relentless, like Chester teams in years past.”

The Clippers won those two titles under Larry Yarbray, but now Taylor, a former Chester great who was passed over for the job a decade ago, takes over. “He’s a great coach with a great mind,” said Randolph. “I think he is going to light a fire under us and have us keep fighting and pressing, like old Chester teams. It’s going to be fun.”

Randolph said that there are no major Division I stars or NBA prospects like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Nets) or Jameer Nelson (Pelicans) on this team, but that a slew of hustling stalwarts can lead a team to a 20-win season. He believes there’s potential to make noise in the post-season like they have in the past five decades.

“Of course, we are going to be like the old Chester,” said Randolph. “I call this the ‘Dawn of a New Era’; they’re going to remember my name and they are going to remember my teammates’ names from this team! This team is filled with players that [have] been playing together our whole lives and we all share the same drive to win. We are a family outside of basketball, so that brings us much closer on the court.”

When asked about teams that are expected to be better than Chester this year, such as Abington, Plymouth Whitemarsh and Cheltenham, Randolph simply said, “Of course, they’re heavy hitters. But so are we. Without a doubt, we will be state title contenders this year.”

 

Cardinal O’hara Girls Roar

The Lions are similar to Chester in that they were the kings of girls’ basketball in Delaware County and the state for decades. Recently though, O’Hara has only one Catholic League and one state title in the last 10 years. Things are looking up, as Linus McGinty has a really good team in 2017-2018.

“I think we will be pretty good this year,” said Mackenzie Gardler, a Villanova recruit. “We are definitely going to have to work hard every game, every minute and every second, until the clock runs out, because we are undersized. We are a completely different team than last year, so I think getting used to playing with each other will take some time, but, once we click, nothing but good things will happen from then on!”

Gardler, whose grandfather used to coach the boys team at O’Hara and has several relatives who played for the boys and girls teams is a fan of the program, as well as a player. “Ever since I was little, I have heard about the success the girls’ basketball team brings every year, because not only did my mom play against them in the Catholic League at St. Hubert’s, but both my aunts have played for my coach [McGinty]. My one aunt who went to UConn experienced one of the most successful single years at O’Hara. And there are so many other talented girls who came through our program like Kristen Clement, Chrissie Donahue and Trish Juhline, who are amazing role models for us.”

So why Villanova? “I wanted to create my own path,” she said. “My top two choices were St. Joseph’s University and Villanova, and both my parents and my grand-pop played at SJU, so I wanted to have my own experience. It was a complete shock to a lot of people; but I knew right when I walked on campus that I wanted to go there, plus Harry Perretta did a great job recruiting me, and he made me feel at home and very special through out the whole process.”

 

Teams Strive for Great Hoops Seasons
Jeremy Treatman - Contributor

Jeremy Treatman is the founder and co-director of the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics and Sports Broadcasting Camps. Over 50 NBA players, including Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Rajon Rondo played in his events when they were in high school. Jeremy wrote high school sports for the INQUIRER for 10 years, and was the first TV reporter for the HIgh School Sports Show on Channel 29 from 1994-2001. He currently is Comcast's announcer for all high school games.

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