Maceo Austin (above) and Kennedy Catholic are the two-time defending PIAA Class A champions. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Since the first two attempts went remarkably well, let’s go for three.
With yet another high school basketball season about to get underway, City of Basketball Love is going to unload a series of 3-point attempts and hopefully cash in as we unveil another set of preseason rankings over the course of this week.
Each of Pennsylvania’s half-dozen classifications will be represented for the second consecutive season, making this a formidable undertaking.
And while we begin today with Class A, check back for the remaining classifications as we crescendo toward Dec. 8 and opening night across the Keystone State.
Should be fun.
Once the first full week of games is played, we’ll be back with weekly updates of our rankings, beginning on Dec. 18 and appearing on Mondays the rest of the way.
As for a quick peek at what to expect in Class A, our preseason No. 1 is a refurbished Kennedy Catholic squad coached by Rick Mancino that surrounded returning all-state selection Maceo Austin with all sorts of size and talent.
In case anyone happened to forget, Austin was one of four Golden Eagles to reach double figures in last spring’s PIAA Class A championship game, collecting 16 points, nine rebounds and dropping six dimes in a 73-56 conquest of Girard College.
Since Girard College returns everyone, including all-state choices Mikeal Jones and Daiquan Copeland, it’s hardly a surprise the Cavaliers check in at No. 2.
Brief glimpses of our preseason top 10 appear below, with PIAA district and last season’s final record displayed in parentheses. Only those schools competing for PIAA state championships are eligible for ranking purposes.
NR — not ranked; OW — others to watch.
CITY OF BASKETBALL LOVE’S PRESEASON STATE-WIDE BOYS’ BASKETBALL RANKINGS — CLASS A
1. Kennedy Catholic (10, 26-2)
Notables: While unbelievably smooth 6-5 Maceo Austin (19.2 ppg) is the junior centerpiece of Rick Mancino’s latest state small-school hammer, Kennedy also brings back the likes of 5-11 junior Manis Norman, 6-5 senior Ben Taylor, 6-3 senior Sonny Mancino, 6-5 sophomore Ike Herster and 6-7 junior Helon Amos. What will keep the Golden Eagles winging at a ridiculously high level are the additions of 6-10 junior Oscar Tshiebwe — like Austin, he’s got an assortment of Division I scholarship offers — and 6-8 junior Mattia Acunzo. Kennedy would be even more intimidating hopping off the bus, but 6-10 Touba Traore was lost for the season with an injury.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 vs. First Love Christian (at Geneva College).
Mikeal Jones (above) and Girard College were the state runner-ups a year ago, and return all five starters. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2. Girard College (1, 24-9)
Notables: Although Girard College returns everybody from its journey to last spring’s Class A title game — including 6-8 sophomore Mikael Jones and 6-5 senior Daiquan Copeland — there was an offseason shift on the Cavaliers’ bench as Bobby Jordan takes over following Clyde Jones’ departure for Chichester. Other key returnees include 6-6 junior Brandon Smith, 6-2 senior Craig Logan, 5-9 junior Kasim Toliver and 5-6 sophomore deep threat Aquil Stewart.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at St. Joseph’s Prep.
3. Faith Christian (1, 27-5)
Notables: Tony DaCosta’s Lions may have bid adieu to a number of players that were part of a state semifinalist — including 6-5 all-state performer Zeke Snowden — but there’s still quite a bit of talent on hand at the tiny Sellersville school. Experience, too, since 6-3 senior Landon Coyle, 6-2 senior Charles Ervin and 6-0 seniorDarius Forney are all back. So are 6-7 senior Sawyer Smith and 6-3 junior Derian Bradford.
Season-opening games: Dec. 8-9 at Pennridge Tip-Off.
4. Lourdes Regional (4, 20-8)
Notables: Should continue to be all sorts of excitement buzzing throughout the hallways of the tiny Shamokin school, especially when James Sandri’s Red Raiders are in the gym hoisting up shots. Lots of experience on hand, as 6-5 junior forward and Vanderbilt baseball commit Thomas Schultz, 5-9 senior C.J. Reichard and 6-5 senior Larry Czeponis are all back. Lourdes also will get boosts from others, too, including 5-9 junior Ty Klembara, 6-0 senior Dawson Williamsand 5-7 sophomore Adam Sandri.
Season-opening games: Dec. 8-9 at Lourdes Regional Tip-Off.
5. Sankofa Freedom (12, 16-11)
Notables: Deep, experienced group that returns plenty from a squad that last season advanced to the state second round before running into Faith Christian. Will be led by all-Philly Public League selection Khalil Turner, a 6-5 junior sporting guard skills and all sorts of athletic ability. Isaiah Thomas’ Warriors also have 6-1 junior Scott Spann, 6-4 sophomore Derrius Ward, 5-8 senior Jabril Noble and 6-1 junior Jaymes Savage, among a host of others, back and ready to roll.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
6. Shade (5, 17-7)
Notables: Still a surprisingly young squad, but Wade Fyock’s Panthers have all sorts of youthful talent led by returning all-state selection Brady Fyfe, a 6-3 junior who last season averaged 23 points and 7.3 boards per outing. Fyfe hardly operates alone, however, as 6-3 junior Noah Pyles (10.2) also averaged in double figures and 6-1 junior Austin Mauger (8.5) was mighty, mighty close. Also back for the District 5-A contenders is 5-10 senior guard Michael Hartman (4.3).
Season-opening games: Dec. 8-9 at Homer-Center Tip-Off.
7. Sullivan County (4, 16-9)
Notables: Another of the perennially productive District 4 programs that duke it out during the regular season and cause all sorts of problems once they dive into state play. Should be the case yet again this time around, as Glenn Vaughan’s deep Griffins have plenty of regulars returning from an outfit that in March fell to Lourdes Regional in the District 4-A third-place game and missed states. Plenty of production at both ends of the floor will come from seniors John Saxe and Alex Baumunk.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8-9 at own Mountain Madness Tip-Off.
8. Millville (4, 22-5)
Notables: While the Columbia County Quakers may have a brand new head coach in Corey Sweeney, they’ll surround the first-year skipper with an assortment of veteran players with good size back from a run to the state’s second round. Although 6-3 senior Jaylen Reichner is Millville’s top scoring threat, other experienced performers include 6-3 junior Tyler Johnson, 6-2 junior Drew Shultz and 5-10 senior Casey Steinhoff.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 at Milton.
9. Vincentian (7, 19-6)
Notables: May have made a quick exit from last season’s state playoffs, but the suburban Pittsburgh school always seem to be a hoops factor and that shouldn’t change this time around. Especially since Shelton Carney’s Royals still have 6-3 senior guard Zach McDonough sporting Vincentian basketball shorts. McDonough averaged 22 ppg a season ago for Vincentian bunch that finished fourth in WPIAL playoffs and tumbled to District 6 champ Saltsburg in state opener. Talented crop of freshmen on hand as well.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8-9 at Moon Tip-Off.
10. Elk County Catholic (9, 28-1)
Notables: While the always-tough Crusaders may have graduated a number of players from a talented club that reached the state quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Kennedy Catholic, Aaron Straub seems to be able to put the puzzle pieces back together quickly and consistently win game after game after game. More than 700 victories for those keeping track. Still plenty of talent on hand at ECC since 6-4 senior Ryan Newton and 5-11 senior Logan Hoffman are among those returning.
Season-opening game: Dec. 12 at Johnsonburg.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Cornell (7, 18-6); Greenwood (3, 12-13); High Point (3, 18-9); Juniata Valley (6, 12-14); Monessen (7, 22-8); Nativity (11, 13-12); St. John Neumann (4, 27-1); Turkeyfoot Valley (5, 18-6); Williamsburg (6,16-11); York Country Day (3, 21-5).