Ridley coach Kevin Kelly (above) arrives at the Folsom school after two years at Oxford. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(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.)
It’s a fresh start for Ridley basketball.
Gone are 10 seniors from last year, representing the vast majority of the experience, scoring, rebounding -- you name it -- from the Raiders’ roster. That group in itself only really got one year to shine, after a 2016 class featuring current small-college players Ryan Bollinger, Julian Wing and Brett Foster led Ridley to back-to-back Central League championships, plus a District 1 semifinal and PIAA state tournament appearance in their senior season.
Also gone is Mike Snyder, who stepped down after 20 years at Ridley, including the last six years as the boys’ head coach after also serving as a boys’ varsity assistant and the girls’ head coach in his time there.
Taking over is Kevin Kelly, who was at Oxford the previous two years, but the 49-year-old has plenty of experience. He was head coach at St. Joe’s Prep before Speedy Morris, and has also been at Sun Valley, Archbishop Carroll and Williamson Trade School.
Having played against Snyder’s teams in summer leagues and offseason shootouts numerous times in the past, Kelly didn’t hesitate to call up his colleague to see what he thought about making the move from the Ches-Mont into the Central League.
“(Snyder) told me that we’ve got some very talented young kids,” Kelly said, “that with the right amount of work and right amount of commitment, they could replicate that [success], and the future looks pretty bright.”
“I knew they were young, which is definitely the case,” he added. “At any given point, we could have three sophomores, four sophomores on the floor...I knew they lost a lot of seniors. I knew they had that young core of kids coming up and then they had a couple kids that had minimal varsity experience coming back, but that’s about it from the actual team. Obviously the community and pride and stuff that Ridley usually has is what (made that job) appealing.”
Snyder was plenty successful in his six years, winning over 100 games at a 66 percent clip (104-53, .662), making the district playoffs in each of his first five seasons and the state tournament three separate times.
Last year, without Wing (DeSales), Foster (Cabrini) and Bollinger (PSU-Harrisburg), the Raiders went 11-11, with an 8-8 record in the Central League. They finished on the outside looking in of both the Central League and District 1 6A playoffs.
Only two varsity players return -- senior guard Jon Mastella and junior wing Meese Tobey.
After those two it’s a mixture of upperclassmen with no varsity experience and some talented sophomores who are going to jump right into the starting lineup.
“We’re a young team so we have a lot to learn and it’s all new, so we’ve just got to keep working hard and keep listening to (Kelly),” Tobey said at the Penncrest shootout in late October. “He’s experienced, he knows what he’s doing.”
To help with the transition, Kelly turned to junior varsity coach Pat McMenamin and volunteer assistant Curt Fromal, both of whom are sticking around from the previous staff. He gave those two credit for helping him get to know the team as quickly as possible, and start to implement what his expectations are for the first season.
“The core of what I want to continue is what Mike was successful at...and what’s key is the defense,” Kelly said. “ We’ve got to be a great defensive team to be able to be successful this year.
“I think because of our youth and our inexperience...offensively, it’s going to be interesting as we develop,” he continued. “I think we’ll get better as the season goes on offensively, but in order for us to be successful and competitive and have that good product on the floor that Ridley’s used to, we’re going to really have to play defense. And we’re going to be drilling that and demanding that day in and day out.”
Along with Masella and Tobey, look out for sophomores Malachi Williams, Jack Grace and Enoch Clark to make an impact on the varsity roster this year. Clark, a 6-3 transfer from California, could be one of the Raiders’ leading scorers right off the bat, but it’s more than likely going to be a score-by-committee approach.
Expect to see an up-tempo, transition-heavy approach that should be quite the change of pace from Snyder’s much more deliberate system.
“Coach Snyder, he was a lot more fundamental, a lot of hop-step and pump-fake, pump-fake,” Tobey said. “(Coach Kelly) lets us freely do our thing and he guides us to do what he wants us to do. It’s not as fundamental as Snyder, but it’s more free because of how athletic we are.”
The Central League won’t be easy this year. Defending champs Lower Merion boast a strong group of juniors that has its eyes on domination for two seasons; Penncrest, the defending District 1 5A champ, has the league’s best scorer in senior guard Tyler Norwood; Conestoga, Springfield, Strath Haven and others will be in the mix as well.
Tobey, a freshman on the last Central League championship team, at least saw what it took to get it done.
“They weren’t even that big and they were going up against some pretty good teams and they won,” he said. “What they taught me personally was you’ve just got to have heart, just got to have the will to play and the will to win and tell yourself I’m going to win, this guy’s not getting by me, I’m going to score on this guy. You’ve just got to have that heart.”