Vatongoe "Tango" Donzo (above) and Penn Wood are coming off an 18-win campaign.
Matt Chandik (@MChandik26)
(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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
As far as head coaching debuts go, Matt Lindeman’s rookie campaign as the Penn Wood boss a season ago couldn’t have gone much better.
Sure, the Patriots could have won the state championship, but consider this. Penn Wood posted an 18-9 campaign, a stark improvement over a 12-11 season in 2015-16, and reached the state tournament for the first time since 2011 before falling to Williamsport. In 2011, the Patriots reached the Class AAAA semifinals before bowing out to Mount Lebanon in overtime.
Lindeman’s first year also produced a Del Val championship with a 9-1 league mark, and a big part of that was a heavy reliance on a group of eight or nine seniors who’d been through it all before.
So, because of that, Lindeman and the Patriots will have to try to produce an encore with a blank slate.
“Ninety-eight percent of every stat graduated,” Lindeman said. “We had a great group of seniors that deserved to play last year, and now, we’ve got to replace pretty much everything. We have a lot of good players, they just don’t have much varsity experience.”
This will be a different-looking edition of the Patriots, too. A season ago, they thrived on the offensive end of the floor, but Lindeman expects this to be an exceptional defensive team that will make teams work incredibly hard for their points. Senior point guard Chris Nash will be counted on to handle a lot, and he’s going to be the spark plug for that voracious defense.
“Chris is one of the best on-ball defenders that we’ve had in a long time,” said Lindeman, who was previously an assistant on Clyde Jones’ staff. “He guards people 94 feet. We also think that Vatongoe “Tango” Donzo is going to be a big-time shot blocker and an anchor on our defense. He’s a senior and I don’t think we’ve had a shot blocker like him since Darian Barnes in 2011. He contests every shot.”
Chris Nash (above) is part of an entirely new rotation for Penn Wood in Matt Lindeman's second year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Nash filled a role last year as a shooter, but it’s clear that he’s emerged as much more than that for Penn Wood this year. He’s improved on his pick and roll game, and he’s so explosive that it’s hard for defenders to stay between him and the basket on a consistent basis.
More importantly, he’s one of the few Patriots with varsity experience. Taking a backseat to that standout senior class helped him grow as a player by being able to watch what made those players work together. He knows that it’s on him to help Penn Wood reach the same standard, and he won’t be satisfied until he does.
“Watching those seniors, I learned how they played as a team and how they weren’t selfish,” Nash said. “I want to take what they did and apply it to this team. I feel confident with this group. I have to get my teammates involved more. We have a lot of young guys and I have to be one telling everybody where to go to make everybody better. It’s something I look forward to.”
The starting five is relatively locked in, as a junior and two seniors round things out. Junior Shad Kyem is an excellent defender that oozes athleticism and super quick feet, which gives Lindeman two elite athletes to cover opposing guards. Makai Moore, a 6-4 senior forward, can knock down shots and he’ll help stretch teams out. Julian Holloway is a 6-3 senior guard/forward who would have played for a lot of varsity teams last year, but was relegated to JV at Penn Wood.
“There’s a great pace to his game,” Lindeman said. “He’s never rushed or scared. He’s confident and he’s probably our second-best scorer behind Chris. He can really shoot, and I love his patience. He never seems to have a bad decision on offense.”
There’s plenty of work to be done to find out who’s going to fill out the rotation. There’s talent, but finding consistency is always the biggest issue with young guys. Zac Williams, a junior point guard, has come a long way to likely be the first one off the bench.
“He’s small, but he’s quick. He went from a kid that I wasn’t sure if he could help us to being a guy who’s going to play a good amount,” Lindeman said. “He’s really developed his offense and he’s going to help.”
Sophomores Latrel Goring and Amir Wilmore, both of whom check in at about 6-4 or 6-5, figure to give the Patriots some beef off the bench.
At a lot of places, there’s be predictions of doom and gloom after having to replace nearly the entire team’s production, but that’s not going to change the Patriots’ mindset. Lindeman says that the goal every year is to win the Del Val and to compete in the postseason. There will be some growing pains, but there’s no reason why Penn Wood can’t compete.
“This is going to be a different team and we’ll be a lot better defensively than we were last year,” Lindeman said. “From the growth that we’ve seen, I think we can still compete with most teams.”
A good point guard is an extension of the coach, so it’s no surprise to hear Nash echo his coach’s thoughts.
“If we happen to lose, I’ll be terribly upset,” Nash said. “My goal is to get to states again and possibly win it. I know my team is capable of doing it, and people will be surprised with Penn Wood this year. That’s a fact.”