Naheem McLeod (above) and Plymouth-Whitemarsh begin the season atop the PIAA Class 6A rankings. (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 continue today with Class 6A, 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 anticipate in Class 6A, we’re going to give the preseason No. 1 nod to Plymouth-Whitemarsh in a really, really tight call at the top.
Especially since Jim Donofrio’s Colonials have so much back from a team that made a sparkling run to the state quarterfinals — only to run into eventual champ Reading.
Reading will begin the season among our others to watch.
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.
CITY OF BASKETBALL LOVE’S PRESEASON STATE-WIDE BOYS’ BASKETBALL RANKINGS — CLASS 6A
1. Plymouth-Whitemarsh (1, 25-6)
Notables: Returning virtually everyone from a talented squad that last season reached the state quarterfinals, Jim Donofrio pieced together an extremely challenging schedule meant to test his Colonials at every turn. So when you pop experience and tough slate into the same equation, that can only mean that P-W is taking dead aim at winning lots of difficult games and championships. Identical 6-2 senior twin guards Ahmad and Ahmin Williams will hound opposing backcourts relentlessly, while 6-1 senior Ish Horn is a slashing type who knows how to finish at the rim or from the perimeter. While the backcourt is a strength — seniors Danny Cooper and Jason Paul add depth off the bench — so is a frontcourt featuring 6-4 senior Alan Glover and 7-2, 230-pound Naheem McLeod. McLeod’s game, which has all sorts of Division I coaching staffs intrigued, continues to add dimensions as he gets more and more comfortable with his incredibly huge frame.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Sankofa Freedom.
2. Abington (1, 24-5)
Notables: Start talking about Abington hoops and one name that always generates plenty of discussion is Eric Dixon, the powerful 6-8 junior with the wide array of skills who is back for his junior campaign after landing all-state honors last season. Let’s just say skipper Charles Grasty will put the ball in his hands a lot. Yet while Dixon garners all sorts of notice from opposing coaching staffs, the same is true for 6-3 senior guard Robbie Heath and 6-6 junior Lucas Monroe — both of whom are remarkably athletic. Senior twin guards Brandon and Brian Coffman probably will fill out the starting lineup, but Grasty also can turn to senior Xavier Crawford and 6-4 J.P. Nolan to provide different looks. Another squad with a loaded schedule — Abington is headed for the same Montverde (Fla.) Invitational that Imhotep won last season — the Ghosts are hoping to be galloping late in March.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 at own Ghosts Basketball Classic.
3. Hazleton (2, 21-4)
Notables: Unable to showcase its talents in last season’s state tournament — the PIAA only invites one squad from Districts 2 and 4 and Williamsport advanced — don’t be surprised to see Mike Joseph’s deserving Cougars spend the year taking out all sorts of frustration on opposing teams. And with the front-line group Joseph has in place, things could get mighty painful for the other guys before those 32 minutes are up. We’ll start with a trio of seniors — 6-8 Josh Samec (12.5 ppg/9.0 rpg), 6-5 Jeff Planutis (15.6/4.6) and 6-5 Joey Grula (10.7/4.6) — and wrap up the returning starters with 6-5 junior Da’Mir Faison (10.5/5.0). The rest of Joseph’s early-season rotation likely will include 5-11 junior guard Ryan Wolk and 6-1 senior forward Scotty Shamany. Interesting club flush with talent that should have Hazleton’s sizable gymnasium abuzz all winter — and packed.
Season-opening game: Dec. 11 vs. Scranton Prep.
4. Coatesville (1, 23-6)
Notables: While hopes of a long stay in last season’s state tournament never materialized — especially after Chuck Moore’s Red Raiders finished second in the District 1 tournament — those lofty expectations have carried over since an opening-round loss to Carlisle and are firmly in place. And since Moore’s outfit returns plenty of high-octane experience, why should his Coatesville club think otherwise? Packing a pair of lightning-quick sophomore guards in 5-11 Jhamir Brickus and 5-8 Dapree Bryant, the Red Raiders can turn those two loose on opposing backcourts along with 6-0 senior Haasan Young and 6-1 senior Avery Young. Should the Red Raiders choose to use their bigs, they’ll likely look first to 6-9 Eastern Kentucky recruit Tyrel Bladen. Other frontcourt possibilities include 6-3 senior Johnny Clifford, 6-3 senior Kahtero Summers and 6-4 junior Tione Holmes.
Season-opening game: Dec. 10 vs. Archbishop Carroll at West Chester.
Lynn Greer III (above) is back for Roman Catholic after missing the second half of his freshman year due to injury. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
5. Roman Catholic (12, 20-6)
Notables: With a talented trio ready to lead the way while generating all sorts of energy and showcasing their abilities, Roman Catholic is hoping to exert its influence within a ridiculously deep Philadelphia Catholic League and hopefully into March. And second-year skipper Matt Griffin definitely will put the basketball in the hands of 6-4 senior and Towson recruit Allen Betrand, 6-6 junior Seth Lundy and slick 6-3 sophomore Lynn Greer III as often as humanly possible within a 32-minute window. Newcomers Hakim Hart and Semaj Mills certainly figure to pitch in — Hart is a 6-5 junior and Mills is his 6-0 classmate — while 6-0 junior Louie Wild, 6-5 senior John Kelly and 5-10 junior Nasir Lett are likely to fit into Roman’s early-season rotation as well. As if Catholic League play isn’t demanding enough, Roman also will spend several nonleague weekends in Washington and Miami. Nice.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Riverdale (Md.) Baptist at Gonzaga (D.C.) Classic.
6. Pine-Richland (7, 28-2)
Notables: Since football season is still going on at Pine-Richland — the Rams will play in Saturday night’s Class 6A championship game — there’s obviously no firm date in place as to when Jeff Ackermann will have his full complement of players. When they are finally all together, however, look out. Still juiced by a run to last season’s state final, Pine-Richland is maintaining its high expectations since all-state 6-5 senior forward Phil Jurkovec and 6-6 junior Andrew Kristofic will be back in the fold at some point. Jurkovec, Pine-Richland’s touchdown-throwing quarterback, is a Notre Dame football recruit. Also returning are 6-0 junior Greg Shulkosky and 6-2 junior Dan Petcash, the younger brother of deep-shooting Boston University freshman Andrew Petcash. Andrew Petcash also landed an all-state nod last season following a big senior campaign. Still plenty of talent on hand — eventually — to make all sorts of postseason noise.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Summit Academy at Pine-Richland Tip-Off.
7. Cheltenham (1, 19-8)
Notables: Hoping to take yet another sizable step forward as his hoops program continues to mature, John Timms is going to put all sorts of difficult challenges in front of his Panthers throughout the 2017-18 season — and he believes his talented club will be up for the continuous grind. With 6-7 La Salle recruit Jack Clark back for his senior season, Cheltenham has a multi-tooled player who can finish around the rim and trouble opponents with his work on the perimeter. Complementing Clark will be another veteran starter in 5-10 senior Ahmad Bickley. While 6-6 senior Kyin Healey, 6-3 junior Amir Lewis and 6-3 junior Tim Myarick likely will flesh out the starting lineup, Timms also can turn to 5-8 sophomore Zahree Harrison, a transfer from Archbishop Wood.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at own Panther Tip-Off.
8. State College (6, 21-5)
Notables: Since spending last season collaring an assortment of championships — Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division, Mid-Penn Tournament and District 6 — Joe Walker’s Little Lions have been talking about accomplishing even more in 2017-18. With five of their top six point producers back, including all-state 6-6 senior and Princeton recruit Drew Friberg, the Centre Countians have the goods on hand to back up those words. Others returning to the State High lineup are 6-5 senior Ryan McNulty, 6-5 junior Tommy Friberg, 6-0 junior and Penn State football commit Keaton Ellis and 6-5 senior Brandon Clark. Clark, the son of former Penn State football great Bruce Clark, also will play for the Nittany Lions as a wide receiver and not a D-Lineman. Walker doesn’t just have a starting five, however, as expected depth should come from the likes of 6-3 senior Max Benner, 6-0 senior Ben Shaffer, 6-2 sophomore Nate Lusk and 6-3 sophomore Johnny Friberg.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at own Skip Coleman Tip-Off.
9. St. Joseph’s Prep (12, 15-8)
Notables: With four starters returning and a big man ready to see what the Philadelphia Catholic League is all about, the outlook at St. Joseph’s Prep is mighty, mighty bright, as these guys believe they have the talent to accomplish quite a bit. Along the way, they’re also hoping to deliver head coach Speedy Morris the 1,000th victory of an illustrious coaching career that has spanned the high school and college levels. Prep should get terrific guard play all season long, as 6-0 senior Kyle Thompson, 6-0 senior Darius Kinnel and 6-2 Gabe Arizin are returning to the Hawks’ backcourt. While 6-8 senior and La Salle recruit Ed Croswell often found himself working the backboards alone, the arrival of 6-10 junior Jacob O’Connell means Prep will have another big body on the glass. Trevor Wall, a promising 6-0 sophomore, will add depth at any of the guard positions. Talented squad that should get past the Catholic League quarters, the round when last season ended for Morris’ Hawks.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Girard College at Penn Charter.
10. Lower Merion (1, 21-9)
Notables: Public address announcers do a double take when a Lower Merion representative strolls to the scorer’s table and hands over a lineup flush with juniors, but that’s likely what longtime skipper Gregg Downer has in mind. He’s got a lot of them, they’re got all sorts of ability, so why not? Three of those juniors — 6-5 Jack Forrest, 6-2 Steve Payne and 5-11 Darryl Taylor — logged all sorts of starting minutes last season as the Aces collared a Central League championship, then fought back through the District 1 consolation bracket and earned a state playoff berth. Two more juniors — 5-11 Theo Henry and 6-2 Matt O’Connor — likely will join their classmates on the floor for the opening tip. Additional depth at Kobe Bryant’s alma mater — the Aces call Kobe Bryant Gymnasium home — will come from 6-5 junior Josh Martin, 6-1 junior Sam Oshtry, 6-0 senior Harrison Klevan and 6-5 senior Isaiah Morgan.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at West Chester Rustin.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Abraham Lincoln (12, 23-6); Allderdice (8, 19-9); Butler (7, 19-10); Carlisle (3, 21-9); Cedar Crest (3, 15-8); Central Bucks West (1, 15-8); Central York (3, 18-10); Chambersburg (3, 13-9); Conestoga (1, 20-8); Dallastown (3, 14-9); Downingtown West (1, 17-12); Erie (10, 0-0); Garnet Valley (1, 15-10); Harrisburg (3, 20-7); Hempfield (3, 21-10); La Salle College (12, 11-12); Latrobe (7, 19-5); Manheim Twp. (3, 14-10); McDowell (10, 13-10); North Allegheny (7, 14-9); Penn Hills (7, 19-4); Pocono Mountain West (11, 23-5); Reading (3, 30-3).
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