Ajiri Johnson (above) is the only starter back for Bonner, but hopes are still extremely high for the Friars. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
(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 returning to the Bonner-Prendergast sideline in 2014, head coach Jack Concannon has put the program back into the thick of the Philadelphia Catholic League race.
That year, his team fell to Father Judge in the first round of the PCL playoffs, but Concannon was beginning to build the program back to where he originally had it when he was previously at the helm of the Upper Darby school from 1992-96. The following year, in 2015-16, his team went on a late run defeating West Catholic in the season finale then upending the Burrs again in a play-in game two days later to clinch a playoff berth.
Last season, his team took another step forward, defeating Conwell-Egan in the opening round, the second straight year they had won a playoff game. The Friars fell to eventual PCL champion Archbishop Wood, 65-43 in the quarterfinals. The season finally ended when they fell to Archbishop Carroll in a PIAA Class 5A play-in game.
Much of the Friars’ success last season was due to a strong senior class led by guards Christian Lane (9.6 ppg), now at Albright College, and Tymir Cooper (10.2), now Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio). Also part of that class was Dylan Higgins (Widener) and Justin Gans (Delaware County Community College).
It’s been a gradual process for Concannon to get Bonner-Prendergast (16-9, 7-6) back to the PCL semifinals at the Palestra, a place the program has not been since 2008. Four starters are gone from last year’s team, but perhaps the most improved one is returning for Concannon’s team.
“We had seven seniors so we lost a lot of experience,” said Concannon, who has amassed 117 wins at Bonner-Prendergast between his two stints. “We had a good group of kids with some of them playing in college. We try to encourage our kids to be student-athletes. As far as last year’s team, I was very pleased with that team. We got out as much of that group as we could.
“We lost a lot but we have Ajiri Johnson coming back from a good, full year.”
Johnson flourished in his first full season with the Friars, avg. 13.4 ppg on his way to a First Team All-Catholic selection. The 6-8 senior forward committed to Rider in the fall after putting his versatile game on display last season which included a 29-point game against Lansdale Catholic. After playing last year at center, Johnson will move to the four with the arrival of a highly recruited transfer.
Tariq Ingraham, a 6-9, 220-pound junior forward, came over from Salesianum (Del.) where he already received offers from Rutgers and Robert Morris as well as interest from La Salle, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Villanova, among others. Concannon has been very impressed with what he has seen from Ingraham early on.
“He has a really good hands and a soft touch for his size,” Concannon said. “He can knock down the 15 to 17-footer. He has good hands and good feet. Those are two things that stick out. He’s a burly kid but he moves really well.”
Isaiah Wong (above) immediately becomes one of the best guards in the Catholic League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The frontcourt tandem of Johnson and Ingraham will be complemented by the addition of another transfer in Isaiah Wong, who immediately comes in with one of the most impressive resumes of any guard in the Catholic League.
The 6-3 junior guard played his last two seasons at Notre Dame (N.J.) and attracted a lot of attention from several major Division I programs including Villanova, UConn, Seton Hall and Miami (Fl.), all of which have offered
Wong, a player who can finish at the rim through contract, knock down the perimeter jumper and take over a game when he has to, has working well with Johnson and knows integrating Ingraham and rest of the supporting cast will come with time.
“We’re getting our chemistry in practice and working to build our relationship,” Wong said. “Once practice started, Ajiri and I already had chemistry. The next step is to get Tariq and the other guys involved.”
Johnson, Ingraham and Wong should give the Friars a number of scoring options and Concannon’s team may boast one of the best frontcourt tandems in the Catholic League. Outside of those three, there’s some uncertainty among the two other starting positions as well as depth on the bench.
Mike Perretta, a 5-11 junior guard and son of Villanova women’s coach Harry Perretta, saw some time last season, most notably scoring six points against the Eagles in the team’s first-round playoff victory. 6-1 sophomore guard Donovan Rodriguez showed flashes in his first year scoring 12 points against the Patriots in the regular season match-up and added 10 against Marple Newtown.
Yohance Garner, a 6-0 senior guard who had nine points versus Archbishop Ryan, is the only other senior and someone Concannon has said “we’re going to be counting on him for minutes and leadership.” Junior guard Chris Haynes (6-2) is player Concannon said will be in line for minutes as he “played some varsity and JV last year.” Another player to watch is 6-2 freshman guard James Welde who Concannon noted is “very talented” and is “going to see some varsity minutes.”
With such a young and inexperienced team, Johnson will be the leader of the group but there is certainly room for other players to take on bigger roles. Wong sees himself in that position.
“I’m trying to be a leader because I want to prepare for next year,” Wong said. “I want to make us a better team as well as becoming stronger.”
Bonner-Prendergast opens the season at home against Overbrook on December 8 followed by matchups with Malvern Prep and Math, Civics & Sciences in the next two games. From there, they’ll travel down to the Kreul Classic in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. to play Westminster Academy (Dec. 15), The Patrick School (N.J.) (Dec. 16) and Miami Christian (Dec. 18). They finish out the nonleague portion of the schedule vs Plymouth Whitemarsh before beginning Catholic League play versus Conwell-Egan on Jan. 2.
Concannon knows he has his work cut out for him integrating two talented transfers with an inexperienced roster but he’s excited to see how his team handles the adversity that comes with a totally, new roster.
“I think we can definitely cause some matchup problems for the other team with those two guys in the game,” Concannon said. “There’s also the other side of it that we could possibly have some matchup problems against a team that is more guard or perimeter-oriented. It might be hard for those guys. It may work to our advantage or not but we’ll see how that shakes out.”