Kharon Randolph (above) is one of a few seniors on a junior-laden Haverford School squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
Things started to unravel for the Haverford School in late January 2017.
The Fords had rattled off five straight wins to start conference play, including defeats of Germantown and Episcopal Academies, the first- and second-place finishers in the Inter-Academic League in each of the past three seasons.
After 52 minutes of basketball in its sixth conference game, Haverford took its first Inter-Ac loss to Germantown in a 100-98 five-overtime thriller. A blowout loss at the hands of Malvern Prep just over a week later doomed any chances of a league for the Fords.
“We went through kind of a meltdown last year near the end of the season,” senior guard Kharon Randolph said. “It’s just about us managing the game -- don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”
Nine months removed, no one among the 2017-18 edition of Haverford School basketball needs reminding of last season’s finish.
“I think it’s kind of left them hungry,” head coach Bernie Rogers said. “We had a very good year, 19-7 with four sophomore starting. But I also think they realize that they lost a couple of tough ones down the stretch that they would love to get back. I think that motivated them going into the offseason.”
Instead, it’s time for optimism with a clean slate; not only does Haverford return every scorer from last year’s talented squad, but several key pieces of the dominant GA and EA rosters of the past four years have finally completed their high school careers.
If everything clicks, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Fords could be bringing home their first league title since 1999, at which point the vast majority of this year’s roster had yet to be born.
“With five returning starters, I think we gained a lot of experience last year,” Rogers said. “I think the kids are pretty hungry to get better this season. They’ve been in big games, they’ve had their ups and downs, a year later they’re that much stronger mentally and physically.”
But for Rogers, this year is like any other year in terms of the expectations going in.
“I think every year we try to keep it the same,” he said. “Try to win every game. We have a chance to compete every night if we’re ready to play, play hard and play together.”
Christian Ray (above) led the Fords in scoring in his first year in the Inter-Ac. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Fords this year are led by Randolph — a 6-foot guard and recent commit to the University of the Sciences — as well as 6-foot-5 junior forward Christian Ray. In his first year since transferring from Octorara, Ray led the Fords in scoring a year ago with 17.7 ppg, while Randolph chipped in 16.2 of his own.
For Randolph, as one of the team’s featured seniors, he’s using his experience from last season’s adversity to lead the Fords back to the top of the Inter-Ac.
“I just think as a leader of the team, I’m able to say, ‘Guys, we’ve been through this before,’” he said. “‘We won’t do this, we know what to do, we know how to handle this.’ So that’s always a good thing to go back to as we go into our season in those kinds of important games.”
Ray said he also feels like he’s developing into a leadership role, with a full year at Haverford and a productive summer with K-Low Elite — the same AAU organization Randolph is a part of — under his belt.
“I feel like coming in last year, being my first year, I wanted to be the best leader I possibly could be,” he said. “But looking back at that, I think there’s definitely things I could expand on. Especially coming off of year with Lonnie Lowry, Kyle Sample and them at K-Low, they really think I’ve become a leader, and me and Kharon are trying to bring that back to Haverford.”
Gavin Burke and Jameer Nelson — two junior guards who each averaged just shy of 10 points in their sophomore seasons — also return in upperclassman roles as part of an impressive 2019 class at Haverford, alongside Ray and 6-foot-5 Asim Richards (4.2 ppg) in the frontcourt.
Six different seniors who contributed bits and pieces of last year’s success — including the likes of 6-foot-7 center Bobby Stratts, 6-foot-1 guard Nasir Smith, 6-foot guard Joe Dignazio and 6-foot-5 forward Will Yoh — add experience and depth for the Fords.
“We’ve got a lot of depth this year,” Rogers said. “Now it’s just a matter of everybody being ready when their number’s called.”
This year’s non-conference slate is set to challenge The Haverford School right out of the gates, with early tests against the likes of Neumann-Goretti, the Phelps School, St. Joseph’s Prep and La Salle College.
Having already played their first three games, the Fords earned a pair of wins — both in convincing fashion over Friends Central and the Hun School — before falling to the Perkiomen School by 12 on Tuesday.
All season long, there will be challenges just like these for the Fords. Rogers’ hope is that the experience not only from last season, but also from this year’s early tests, will set his team up for the long haul.
“We’re really challenging ourselves with a tough non-league schedule to get ready for our league,” Rogers said. “I think they’re ready for the challenge, I think our kids realize how long of a season it is, and I think they’ve realized that our non-league is going to help us get ready for that challenge.”
And with a legitimate chance at achieving something nearly 20 years in the making this season, the Fords have one goal for each of those tests they’ll face.
“We want to win Inter-Ac, states, all the little showcase games, we’re trying to win everything,” Randolph said. “Our expectations were high last year, they’re even higher this year.”
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