Ron Morris (above) has coached Bensalem to an 11-1 (6-0 SOL National) record to open the season. (Photo: Kevin Cooney/CoBL)
Kevin Cooney (@KevinCooney)
The District One Class 6A playoff standings are out there for anyone to see. And as Sunday morning dawned, it had two old familiar names –– Lower Merion and Chester –– standing at the first and second spots.
The name in that third position –– Bensalem –– perhaps could catch you by surprise.
After all, the Bensalem program hasn’t been this much at the forefront of District One basketball since winning its last Suburban One League National Conference championship in 2002-03.
And when a team hasn’t been around for a long time, the most important thing you can do is keep the focus on the immediate tasks at hand
“We set goals at the beginning of the season,” Bensalem coach Ron Morris said. “But we’ve also stressed that we’ve got 22 one-game seasons. No game is more important than the rest. If we keep working hard and stay hungry, we can meet those goals. But we’re nowhere close to where we need to be.
Where they are, however, is pretty darn good. Bensalem is 11-1 and 6-0 in the SOL National –– 1.5 games ahead of William Tennent and 2.5 ahead of Council Rock South after Friday night’s 46-35 win over Council Rock North at Sheldon Per Gymnasium.
They have shown they can beat teams in a number of ways. Primarily. However, it is the defensive pressure they can force –– especially with Jeremiah Alexander inside and James Ashford at the guard spot coercing turnovers –– that make them dangerous for anyone as February beckons.
“Every time the ball is shot, we’re ready to go (get a rebound) and get in transition,” said Ashford, the junior guard who scored 17 and grabbed six rebounds on Friday night. “We finish our fast breaks well. We were able to work well as a unit, move the ball around, get good shots and play good defense.”
Don’t mistake the length of time that Bensalem has gone without another banner as a sign that the program has been brutal for the last 18 years. The Owls were normally one of those teams in the next level- good enough to make the District One playoffs and maybe win a game or two as a lower seed.
No, this is a sign of how the Suburban One National has been. During that time, three programs –– Pennsbury with Dalton Pepper and Lavoy Allen, Council Rock North with Arron Goodman and Aaron Morgan, Abington under Charles Grasley –– have put their stamps on eras within the conference. These were teams that played – and in Abington’s case, won –– District One championships and made trips to the PIAA playoffs.
“You knew as a team, you were going to get everybody’s test effort every single night,” said Jessie Krasna, Council Rock North’s head coach and a member of those Pennsbury teams in the 2000’s. “We had a future NBA guy [Allen] and a Division I player who has played in Europe [Pepper]. There were always a lot of great players in the league. And you had coaches who would go out and drive the hour and a half to scout teams through the year. Now, with the film exchanges, everyone has the same look at everyone.”
Bensalem head coach Ron Morris coaches his team during a timeout of Friday night's win over Council Rock North. (Photo: Kevin Cooney/CoBL)
So where does Bensalem fit into this category?
“These guys keep coming at you,” Krasna said. “They play so hard for 32 minutes and they are disciplined. It’s not just they are athletic and they play hard- they play smart basketball. It’s hard to beat a team that’s not just going to overwhelm you athletically, but with their mind.”
A lot of the credit for that goes to Morris, who worked for 15 years as an assistant under Mike McCabe, John Mullin and Sheldon Per at the school where he graduated from.
“We’re always trying to put positive thoughts in the kids head to make them believe in themselves,” Morris said. “We’re trying to capitalize on a great start and tell them to ride the wave and see where it takes us.
“You watch the guys from those teams and they were all great coaches. You have to study what they have done and learn from them and I’ve tried to do that. But you also have to self-reflect and learn what you did well and what you didn’t do well. You have to constantly be learning.”
Bensalem still has some areas where it could get better. To a man, they would admit Friday night’s win was not exactly a Picasso on the offensive end. But it is fair to say that as the race for the districts and Suburban One League turns towards home, they are in a position they haven’t been in a while –– and taking advantage of the opportunity.