Aces Making a Run With New Impact Seniors

There's always a chance for talent to grow and shine at Lower Merion

(Photo Left) Lower Merion's Jack Forrest (#2) couldn't stop Conestoga's Milton Robinson (#4) during the Dec. 19th game. Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

Despite a heartbreaking first loss of the season to Conestoga on Dec. 19, Harrison Klevan is one of the happiest kids around these days. The 5-foot-11-inch senior has emerged to be a key player on a 3-1 Lower Merion team. He has dreamed about playing for the Aces since he was a ball boy for the team a decade ago and also attended the Aces basketball camp for many summers.

“My whole life I wanted to play meaningful minutes for the Lower Merion varsity,” he said. “To be finally getting meaningful time is a great feeling, after basically never playing before this season. I know what my strengths are out there and I try and play within myself.”

Klevan’s story is not uncommon at Lower Merion, one of the most competitive and successful programs in the history of Delaware Valley high school basketball. Coach Gregg Downer has a system that has worked tremendously over the last 20 years. And while seniors and key underclassman players play the bulk of the minutes most years, the guys on the bench are always prepared for their chance.

In the case of Klevan, and fellow seniors Zach Slogoff and Jared Robinson also, this year has been a revelation. Injuries to Theo Henry and Matt O’Connor have opened the door for playing time for all three, but especially for Klevan. His improvement has increased tenfold while waiting for his opportunity. In the team’s second game of the year, at Chester, all three were on the floor in crunch time and Klevan’s four steals and three assists were essential to the win.

“A big part of my improvement has been getting bigger and stronger. I’ve always felt I was a pretty good shooter, however. It didn’t matter if I was 5-foot-5-inches tall, and scrawny,” Klevan said. “My size improvement has been a large part of my development and it has really transformed my game. It has allowed me to become more athletic and do more things on the court I could have never done before. Also, I couldn’t do it without coaches like Doug Young rebounding countless balls for me, and family members pushing me along the way; helping me become more dynamic and not just a ‘driveway’ shooter.”

Lower Merion’s Coach Downer is a legend. He is best known for being Kobe Bryant’s high school coach, leading to the 1996 state championship win, but in the past 21 years, he has also made it to 16 other state tournaments, won two more titles and lost in two finals.

He is as respected as any other coach in the area. To ambitious little kids like Klevan in the late 2000s, the Lower Merion dream was very common. “Growing up, I would always watch the Lower Merion games and watch those guys [and think] they were awesome,” Klevan said. “I would go to those games as a youngster and think it was like a NBA game, in a sense. The fact that I am playing in my senior year and getting these meaningful minutes and some starts is something I don’t think I could have ever thought I would do. I just go out there and play tough gritty basketball and play as hard as I can. I can’t take the opportunity for granted and I won’t.”

On the current Lower Merion team there are two freshmen on the squad. Prior to 2017, Bryant and Dan Pangrazio in 1995 were the only real impact freshmen in the program, but in recent years Downer has been switching to a new philosophy. He believes that 9th graders can not only make his team, but, in many instances, play. A sincerity that was evident two years ago, when five freshmen made the varsity. It was a special class of current juniors that included starters Darryl Taylor, Jack Forrest, and Steve Payne. O’Connor and Henry were expected to start this year too, but they have suffered injuries.

Klevan said he never gave up his dream of playing varsity. “The process for me from freshman to varsity as been a pretty huge roller coaster,” he said. “My freshman year, I did not play much but coach John Gallman always boosted my morale, even though there were some games I thought would be the first and last time I would wear an Aces uniform; I feel I never disappointed when I got in there. The summer going into 10th grade, I was on the JV workouts until suddenly I got moved up to practice with varsity for a period. I ended up back on JV but it was a good experience and opened my eyes. My summer going into the junior season was the roller coaster period. I was supposed to make the jump to the varsity except I was playing poorly for a few months, which led to doubt. However, I had a very good tryout and made it onto the team. Nothing was given to me; I had to earn everything. So, I can say it’s very special to be a Lower Merion Ace, a dream come true. To be able to play for a Hall of Fame coach and wear the same uniforms that countless top college players and professionals like Kobe wore is something not a lot of kids can say they did.”

Robinson feels the same. “All three of us and [fellow senior Isaiah Morgan] just play very hard and persevered, and wanted to be part of this varsity and it happened for us,” he said. “We know this is always a great team with great players and great coaches, and there were guys ahead of us. You have to stick to it and wait for your chance. We always believed that we could contribute. I know coach Downer has confidence in all of us, and in that Chester game with guys in foul trouble or injured, there were the three guys from the freshman team in [2015] all in there at the end. It’s a great feeling.”

Klevan said no matter who is on the court, Lower Merion will always be a team that opposing coaches and players will fear. “Overcoming a lot of injuries and personal issues this year has not stopped us from a good star,” he said. “I feel we will be [able to tough it] out, wherever we find ourselves."


Aces Making a Run With New Impact Seniors
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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