Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
The countdown is on to the start of the 2017-18 college basketball season, with less than six weeks of practices remaining until the country’s 350-plus Division I programs take the court for meaningful action for the first time since April.
This week, we’ll be going through the City 6 from a number of lenses, taking a look at some big-picture storylines before we go through each program in detail over the next couple of weeks.
Six new faces to know
Troy Harper (above, at Campbell) will immediately be a key part of the Drexel rotation after two years at Campbell. (Photo courtesy Campbell Athletics))
Drexel: Troy Harper
Those who follow both the local high school and college scene will remember Harper, a bouncy 6-2 guard who graduated from Neumann-Goretti in 2014. Part of the last Saints class to win a Catholic League championship, Harper averaged 12.2 ppg during his senior year at N-G as the Saints won 27 games as well as the PCL and state titles. He then spent two years in tiny Buies Creek, North Carolina at Campbell University, where after averaging 6.7 ppg as a freshman he finished second on the team in scoring (13.5 ppg) as a sophomore. But spending all that time so far from home wore on him, so he’s back in Philadelphia to finish out his college career.
Harper sat last season out, along with fellow transfer Tramaine Isabell (Mizzou), who also will step into the Dragons’ backcourt this season. What sets him apart from the rest of the wings on the Drexel roster -- Sammy Mojica, Miles Overton and Kari Jonsson -- is his athleticism, which he demonstrated several years ago with a big-time put-back slam over Archbishop Carroll’s Derrick Jones at the Palestra in a Catholic League semifinal. If he can improve on his 3-point shooting from Campbell (.293 as a sophomore), Harper could be a very productive weapon in the CAA.
La Salle: Miles Brookins
Brookins was an under-the-radar prospect from California when he committed to La Salle last fall, picking the Explorers over Boston University and Pepperdine, not exactly La Salle’s typical opponents in recruiting battles. And he arrived on campus expecting to be no better than the third big man in the La Salle frontcourt, behind seniors Demetrius Henry and Tony Washington, who split duties at the ‘5’ last year. But then Henry decided to leave the school last month to start his professional career, completely changing the course of Brookins’ first year in the Atlantic 10.
Washington played full-time minutes two years ago, when Henry was sitting out his transfer season from South Carolina, so it’s known that he can handle nearly 30 mpg. But besides him and Brookins, the only other true post player on the roster is 7-2 Irishman Cian Sullivan, who’s still rather raw and growing into the type of mobility he’ll need to have at this level. But the early response on the 6-8 Brookins has been very positive. At Mater Dei, Brookins went up against one of the best prospects in the country, 7-2 Bol Bol, every single day in practice, and it’s supposedly paid off. If La Salle is going to improve on last year’s 15-15 record, they’ll need Brookins to be at least a serviceable big man off the bench.
Penn: Eddie Scott
There’s no doubt that Steve Donahue has stepped up Penn’s recruiting game in his two-plus years back in Philadelphia. His first complete recruiting class, last year’s incoming group, produced one of the best rookies in the league (A.J. Brodeur) and two other freshmen who played major roles in the Quakers’ resurgent run down the stretch. Scott, who comes to University City by way of of Gonzaga College High School (D.C.) -- the same program which produced Villanova national champion Kris Jenkins, among many others -- is the latest impressive youngster to arrive on campus, part of yet another group of first-year college student-athletes who should play a big role in trying to turn around the program’s recent fortunes.
A 6-foot-6 wing, Scott played the ‘3’ on the highly-regarded Team Takeover program on the Nike EYBL circuit last summer. In the Ivy League, he’ll be capable of playing the ‘3’ or ‘4’, similar to the role ‘17 grad Matt Howard played as a hybrid combo forward who could take advantage of mismatches. Ultimately, Penn wants to play bigger, with the 6-8 Brodeur at the ‘4’, which would mean Scott will play a lot of ‘3’, but if there’s only one big on the floor, Scott could certainly slide over and be very effective. Two other freshmen, point guard Jelani Williams and forward Jarrod Simmons, should also see minutes early in the year with the chance to prove they belong on the court.
Saint Joseph's: Anthony Longpre
The Hawks’ coaching staff clearly has found a style they like, with forwards who can stretch the floor and knock down 3-pointers rather than those who just protect the rim and run the floor. St. Joe’s had quite a successful season in 2015-16 playing shooting big men in seniors Isaiah Miles and Papa Ndao plus freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva, winning 28 games while making it to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. But last year, with Miles and Ndao graduated plus Oliva sidelined by a knee injury, the Hawks had no post players who could shoot, and the offense clearly suffered.
Oliva is by all accounts fully recovered from his surgery, and alongside him are two freshmen forwards who both have the ability to shoot the ball: Anthony Longpré (Glenelg Country, Md.) and Taylor Funk (Manheim Central, Pa.). Though Funk, a 6-9 ‘4’ who was a PIAA Class 5A First Team All-State selection last year, certainly has the ability to play this year, more of the initial hype has been over his classmate. Longpré has a college-ready body at 6-10 and 245 pounds, and he’s skilled, averaging 15.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his senior year at Glenelg. He was also a deep reserve on the Canadian team that won the country’s first-ever FIBA gold medal at the 19U championships in July.
Temple: De’Vondre ‘Dre’ Perry
The Owls’ 2017 class, like the one before it, is slated to have a larger-than-typical impact on the program during its four years. Temple’s coaching staff, led by Fran Dunphy, brought in four young athletes who all have a good deal of potential and bring some versatility to the roster. But while the quartet will certainly provide depth for a Temple squad hoping to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years, they join a rotation that already has seven returners with established Division I credentials. So playing time for the freshmen will not just be given out; it will have to be earned.
Of the four, it’s Perry that seems most likely to be a significant contributor from the get-go. A powerful 6-6, 220-pound small forward, Perry is a slashing wing who can finish above the rim with ferocity. Though his ball skills will still have to improve during his college years, he’s got a versatile game more similar to recently graduated Daniel Dingle than scoring wing Quenton DeCosey, who exhausted his eligibility in 2016. If Perry can play the small-ball ‘4’ while Obi Enechionyia shifts over to the ‘5’, Temple could put an extremely dangerous offensive lineup on the floor with three guards.
Villanova: Omari Spellman
Wildcats faithful have been waiting to see Spellman in a ‘Nova uniform for well over two-and-a-half years, since he first committed to the program back in February 2015. The forward from Ohio was rated a consensus five-star recruit and was ranked amongst the top 20 prospects in his class by ESPN, choosing Villanova over Arizona, UCLA, UConn, Virginia and many more. But Spellman was forced to redshirt last year due to an academic technicality relating to a transfer back in his freshman year of high school, delaying his collegiate debut by 12 months. Finally, he’ll get his chance to show not just the Main Line but the entire country what he’s capable of doing on the court.
At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, Spellman is a big body with just as much talent. He’s the most offensively skilled big man that has stepped foot on Villanova’s campus in quite a while, with a bevy of post moves, terrific touch around the rim and the ability to step out and knock down jumpers out to the 3-point arc; he’s also a strong passer and rebounder, and boasts nimble feet and vacuum-esque hands. With the starting center gig available thanks to Darryl Reynolds’ graduation, expect Spellman to jump right in and play a major role on a Wildcats squad that yet again is the favorite to win the Big East for what would be the fifth straight year.
Up Next: Players who need to step up