Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2016-17 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
With a large chunk of his nine-man rotation expected back, Mike Grassel decided to spend the summer giving his basketball-playing Dallastown Wildcats as many looks as he possibly could and providing stiff competition whenever possible.
So, the fifth-year head coach put his Wildcats in the Harrisburg-based Kirk Smallwood Summer League, entered a Dallastown contingent in the Hempfield Summer League in suburban Lancaster that Danny Walck oversees and took them to Hoop Group’s highly regarded team camp events at Reading’s Albright College.
While Grassel’s Wildcats finished 11-11 the winter before and hung mighty tough against some quality opposition in the York-Adams League’s difficult Division I — with plenty of youngsters logging quality amounts of playing time — he wanted more.
And what better way to build chemistry, stoke the confidence level and expose his experienced nucleus to an even higher level of play — and hopefully reverse some of those narrow losses that kept the Wildcats out of the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs — than to spend the summer and fall mixing it up with hoops hammers.
“We’re trying to step up our competition right now and see some different teams,” Grassel said last month, during a break in the action at the Big 64 preseason event at West Chester. He’s since taken his team to events at York and Messiah Colleges. “Just knowing they’ve been in the situation before and everything’s not brand new to them [is a positive]. Even today, we were talking time and score and understanding it.
“Summer League you obviously play a lot looser, but it’s still about kids understanding how to win basketball games. Our 11-11 last year very easily could have been 15-7,” Grassel added. “Central [York] beat us in the last minute, Spring Grove beat us in the last minute, Eastern York beat us in the last seconds. We had a streak of bad luck last year. We’re hoping a year older, a year more mature [will change that].”
Well, changing that luck has been the basic plan since last season came to a close — especially since Grassel’s Wildcats return seven players packing all sorts of experience and has several others hoping to crack Dallastown’s guard-heavy rotation.
As for those guards, start with 5-10 senior Donovan Catchings and 5-10 junior Brandon McGlynn, both of whom are multi-year starters capable of running the attack or sliding over to the shooting guard role. Catchings is receiving Division III looks, while McGlynn holds an offer from the Naval Academy and just had Mount St. Mary’s in for a look.
Juniors Braden Caldwell and Da’Trail Albert, both 5-10, will spell Catchings and McGlynn or play alongside them should Grassel decide to go small and really get after people. Another 5-10 junior, Max Teyral, also will vie for playing time.
While these guys would prefer to get up and down the floor at warp speed, Grassel believes all are capable of directing traffic when the ‘Cats run their half-court stuff.
“Right now, we should be pretty much a run-and-gun-type team,” McGlynn said. “We have a lot of good defenders. We’re really athletic. We’re fast. Definitely can push the ball, pass and finish. That’s what we’re looking at right now.”
Yet if the ‘Cats slow it down …
“We have smart basketball players,” McGlynn continued. “Like a good bit of us all play AAU. I feel like we’re well-coached, we run stuff well, we execute.
“So, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“We want to be a good mix,” admitted Grassel, who has concerns about his smallish club’s ability to rebound and defend consistently. “Obviously, with all our guards, we want to have a good mix defensively and offensively, but when we get in those games we have the IQ to play half-court basketball. We have the knowhow.
“In our motion offense, our guys do a nice job and really buy in,” Grassel said. “Being quite honest, go, go, go would be our preference to get in a transition game and then after that, with so many guards, look to get some mismatches, look to get it where our guys are getting to the rim and finding shooters.”
Among the frontcourt guys Grassel’s guards may be looking to find off some slick penetration move are 6-4 junior Ben Ward, 6-4 junior Justin Atwood, 6-2 senior David Hoffman, 6-5 junior Ben Writer and 6-2 senior Rob Owens.
One other possibility is 6-4 junior Will Barton, a remarkably athletic transfer from nearby York High that will bring needed size, length and hops up front.
“We’re really excited,” McGlynn said. “We just got back from Messiah and everybody seemed like they were having a lot of fun. We have Will Barton coming in from York High, and he just dunked on somebody. Should be a really fun year.”
It should be a fun yet extremely competitive year, particularly since Grassel’s Wildcats hope to be in the hunt for a York-Adams I championship with Central York, Spring Grove, York High and newcomer Northeastern. Backyard rival Red Lion also is there.
“Our division’s going to be extremely tough and we want to be that next team,” Grassel said. “Our goal is to be the next up-and-coming team. Central has had a great run. Spring Grove is obviously very talented, especially with a D-I talent like Eli Brooks and he’s special. York High, with Northeastern joining the mix, we have to finish out games and we have to come ready to work every single night.
“There are no off nights in our division. I think Coach [James] Brooks from Spring Grove said it last year. No knock on any other area, but right now York-Adams Division I, I’d put it up top to bottom against any division probably in the district.”
Dallastown’s nonleague slate also has some bite, as the Wildcats will face Central Dauphin, York Suburban, Elizabethtown, Manheim Twp., Penn Manor, Governor Mifflin, Dover and possibly Hempfield when they step out of YAIAA-I play.
If everything goes well, Dallastown hopes to return to the District 3 playoffs — Grassel (47-44) guided the Wildcats to the Class AAAA field in his first season (2012-13), but has yet to make it back — as part of the new 6A classification’s 12-team field.
Let’s just say lots of things are on the Wildcats’ to-do list.
“We want to put ourselves in playoffs and let the chips fall where they may from there,” Grassel said. “This sounds so cliché, but just going in every night and competing night-in and night-out, not taking any nights off since that’s bitten us in the rear end in the past, respecting every opponent and playing every night like it’s our last game.
“If we do that, and I’m not big on putting stuff out there, we have our goals that our team knows if we do the little things, it’ll take care of itself.”
McGlynn definitely is on board. Others likely share those lofty goals as well.
“We don’t just want to make it to playoffs and districts,” McGlynn said. “We want to win when we get there, so that’s definitely a difference.”
So, obviously, expectations are running mighty high at Dallastown — even several weeks before training camp opens and begins to unfold.
“We definitely want to be the No. 1 team,” McGlynn admitted. “We’ve probably had this thought since I’ve been a freshman and Coach has been telling us this. Every other sport right now at Dallastown is doing really well, so we’re really motivated.
“Not only in York, but to try to make it further — counties, districts and, obviously, we want to go to states if we can. We want to win. We want to be the best.”
Well, these Wildcats definitely are working to get there.