Raylil Winton (above) is the only returning member of the Pennsbury rotation. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Cooney (@KevinCooney)
(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.)
When Bill Coleman took a glimpse around last spring and his Pennsbury Falcons had lost in the playback round of the District One tournament, he noticed one big glaring weakness.
Only one player with any meaningful rotation minutes- point guard Raylil Winton – was going to return for 2017-18.
That fact dictated just about everything that Coleman was going to do for the remainder of the summer. There was a dual need for the Falcons to not just develop knowledge about their roster on the skills end, but needing to get experience in actual game situations – even in a summer setting- became paramount among all other objectives.
‘We pushed hard,” Coleman said by phone on Tuesday. “We played double the amount of games that we did in the summertime. We spent every moment of the summer trying to make sure that they were going to be as ready as humanly possible. We wanted to test them.”
As the dawn of a new season approaches in early December, Coleman now can have a clearer picture on what the Falcons will have coming into the new year.
“As our summer progressed, we wanted to get into skill work and to test things out,” Coleman said; “We are still young, but we feel like we have some talent there that can grow.”
The main gap for the Falcons could be replacing Mark Flagg, who ended up going to St. Francis. “I mean, we have to replace an All-Star kid,” Coleman said. “That’s not going to be an easy thing to do.”
So how are they going to do that? Well, Winton is the chief attention grabber. The 5-11 senior will be the focal point of the attack. “He really came on towards the end of last season,” Coleman said. “I think he’s poised to have a good year.”
Chad Weldon – the 6-foot-8 senior forward- could end up being a difference maker as well. Weldon is getting Division III looks for college and has impressed Coleman during the summer.
“He’s got good feet for a big man,” Coleman said.
Josh Arruda -- a 6-1 guard -- and Jake Martell – a 5-8 point guard- are seniors that also figure to play in the rotation.
Colin Connor may start at shooting guard for the Falcons despite only being a sophomore, while junior Gary Francis could end up down at the power forward spot.
Still, one of the problems for Pennsbury could be scoring. Since Mekhi Bryant, Derrick Woods and Cameron Jones left in 2015, the Falcons have been forced to play a more defensive style that played well in the meat grinder of the Suburban One League’s National Conference.
“When you look at it, we lost all our scoring,” Coleman said. “That’s something that we’re going to have to develop as the year goes along.”
There’s also a non-conference schedule that does feature heavyweights in Coatesville (Dec. 16 in the Coaches Vs. Cancer tournament at Archbishop Wood), Episcopal Academy (Dec. 29 in the Jameer Nelson Classic at Widener), Frankford (January 20) and at Spring-Ford (Feb. 3) that will raise different challenges through the course of the season. It may not be the national schedule that people get used to, but it certainly isn’t a collection of cupcakes.
Coleman said he’s excited about some freshmen who have entered the Falcons system, but doesn’t know how to expect them to react. “Are freshman ever really to go?” he asked rhetorically. “We’ve had only one that played since I got here in Mekhi (Bryant). It’s just the truth that you don’t know how they will react until you get them experience. But some of them may get used to things quickly.”
Add all this together and you have a Pennsbury team with more questions and fewer expectations than in the past. Within the Suburban One League’s National Conference, they are not going to be considered as the favorite. Even Coleman agrees with that. “Abington is absolutely going to be loaded with those big three players,” he said.
But they should still be a threat to earn one of the 10 spots from District One to come out of the Class 6A field. It will depend on how quickly things come together and how they react within a division that isn’t exactly looking difficult beyond the Ghosts.
“It’s going to be fun not being the team that everyone is hunting,” Coleman said. “I’m interested to see how our guys react.”