Rahdir Hicks (above) helped turn Malvern Prep back into one of the top teams in the Inter-Ac. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
“The most pivotal player in our program’s history since I’ve been there.”
It’s the first thing that comes to Malvern Prep head coach John Harmatuk’s mind when asked to describe Rahdir Hicks.
Of course, plenty of the credit for the Friars’ rise from the bottom to the top of the Inter-Ac over the span of Harmatuk’s seven seasons — capped by a perfect 10-0 league mark last season — belongs to Bucknell signee Deuce Turner, and several of Hicks and Turner’s teammates had their say in the matter as well.
But chances are that Malvern Prep’s first and only 2,000-point scorer –– Turner ultimately became the league’s all-time leading scorer last winter at 2,452 points –– never even arrives at Malvern without the urging of Hicks.
The pair had played on the same court for years. Hicks and Turner, both Coatesville natives, teamed up with the likes of Michigan State’s AJ Hoggard (Huntingdon Prep, W.Va.) and La Salle guard Jhamir ‘Jig’ Brickus (Coatesville) to form a dominant middle-school AAU outfit with Rip City.
When Turner then had to decide where he’d play his high school ball, Coatesville — a five-time district champ — and PAISAA powerhouse Westtown were certainly in the mix. But between his bond with Hicks, the academic opportunities and a familiarity with Malvern Prep (Rip City split its practices between the Friars’ gym and Coatesville), Turner’s choice was settled relatively easily.
“I didn’t say anything about basketball,” Hicks recalled when asked about his pitch to Turner. “It was more about school and the people I met at Malvern and how it was different than going to any other school. … Honestly, I remember talking to him about it a little bit but I don’t remember nagging him.”
Turner’s presence alone did far more than lift up Malvern Prep. It continued to challenge Hicks to consistently raise his game, with the hopes of being able to match his longtime friend.
After the 2016-17 school year, Hicks dropped back into the Class of 2021, redoing his freshman year as a Friar. He knew if he was going to remain the kind defensive stalwart he’d been since his first day with Malvern’s varsity team as an eighth grader, he’d have to be both stronger and wiser.
“[What makes him so good is] how smart he is. He beats people to their spots,” Friars coach John Harmatuk said of Hicks. “I’ve never seen somebody guard the ball like he does — he literally takes kids out of games. He’s 6-foot now, but he’s long and got big hands, so he’s kind of that Rajon Rondo-type, which translates defensively.”
When Hicks weighed in at only about 125 pounds four years ago, playing Division I basketball was far from inevitable.
But fast-forward four years, and Hicks will soon join his friend as just the second player of Harmatuk’s tenure at Malvern Prep to play at the highest level after committing to Towson in August.
Although Hicks began the recruiting process on the later side — he wasn’t able to play during summer 2019 due to a thumb injury and held just one other offer from George Washington — the 6-foot point guard quickly found a home with the Tigers and coach Pat Skerry.
“I wanted to go to a team where they would use their point guard not just as a facilitator to run the offense, but where we would get up and down the court and I’d be able to create for myself as well as my teammates,” Hicks said. “When I talked to the coaches, they said they emphasize spacing, driving-and-kicking, and then they said they’d utilize me in ball screens a lot, which I like.
“They [also] said I would have an opportunity to come in and play as soon as I got there, as long as I handled business and did what I have to do in practice, so that’s something I wanted to hear.”
Once again, Hicks is finding a new way to grow — and quite literally. At the start of the pandemic, he weighed 154 pounds and had never played above 165 pounds at any point in his career.
But with extra time on his hands, Hicks put on muscle and weighed in at 170 when he took to the floor with his Philly Pride team for nearly 20 games this fall.
It’s an adjustment, no doubt, but those extra pounds are something Hicks learned can make a massive difference long ago.
“When we played against really good teams that were older, I really had trouble getting around my man because if they got physical, there wasn’t anything I could do about it,” Hicks said, thinking back to the jump he made in his early high-school years. “Once I got some confidence that I was strong enough and could get wherever I wanted, that wasn’t holding me back anymore, so mentally and physically, it helped both ways.”
And while Hicks will have to remain Malvern’s standout on the defensive end, he’ll also have to take on more offensive responsibility with Turner, who’s now at Bucknell, no longer alongside him.
It’s an opportunity that Hicks doesn’t view as a burden — a year after averaging 11.7 points per game — but rather an exciting chance to show how far he’s come.
“Obviously, I’m going to have the ball a lot more in my hands this year, but [I want to] be able to make plays off the bounce and shoot off the dribble. Because we were so talented in past years…. a lot of my points came from attacking on close-outs or pushing in transition. But it wasn’t a lot of me up top and then being able to break down the defense and score, so I feel like I’ll do a lot more of that this year.”
That kind of offensive evolution is exactly what Hicks must bring with him when he takes his talents south to Towson next fall, finding ways to get to the rim against even tougher, more physical opposition.
Fortunately, knowing Hicks for the last seven years, Harmatuk has no doubt that’ll happen.
“To play at that [collegiate] level, you have to be a junkie and love the game,” Harmatuk said. “He’s going to put in the work, he’s going to want to be in the gym, he’s going to want to be in the weight room. ... Getting stronger will allow him to finish better. He’s going to have to learn how to finish over bigger and stronger guys — I think that’s the biggest thing he needs. Defensively, running the team, all that — he’s ready to go.”