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P-W League: Penn Wood adjusting to normalcy; Lower Merion retooling

06/01/2021, 11:45pm EDT
By Ryan Coyle + Dom Amoroso

Ryan Coyle (@ryancoyle35) &
Dom Amoroso (@DomAmorosoHoops)

The Plymouth-Whitemarsh league trucked on Tuesday night, with eight of the area’s top high school programs coming up to P-W to continue their early prep work for the 2021-22 season. CoBL had writers on both courts during both sets, checking out the action.

Here’s a loaded notebook from the night:

Final Scores
Lower Merion 65, Downingtown West 47
Plymouth-Whitemarsh 65, La Salle College HS 52
Devon Prep 55, Penn Wood 38
Archbishop Wood 63, Methacton 48

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Naeem Purnell (above) and Penn Wood are still recovering from missing almost their entire offseason last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Penn Wood happy to be back to normalcy

As the local basketball scene continues to come out of the pandemic, no program may be reaping more benefits than Penn Wood. Coming off of a 3-9 campaign, the Patriots are looking to bounce back for the 2022 season, and for Patriots coach Matt Lindeman it starts with getting the offseason regimen back. 

“This is our favorite time of year,” said Lindeman, who’s entering his fifth year in charge of the Patriots. “This is what we missed, the development piece.”

Like many programs last offseason, the Patriots who were coming off a 5A district one championship appearance,  did not have gym access in the spring and early summer months, and after returning to the court in July, were eventually shut down in the fall which then flowed into the statewide holiday shutdown in December.

“I felt bad for our kids because they just wanted to play, and it’s tough because this is what they love and they’re used to working out for 12 months,” Lindeman said. “The hardest part was staying in touch with guys. We had guys that had to work and guys that were out of shape. So some guys that showed up in January weren’t as good as they were the year before, but it wasn’t about wins and losses, it was about giving the kids something to do.”

Despite the very limited offseason, the Del-Val league did have a sense of normalcy in the shortened regular season. The five team league — which was down to four due to Academy Park sitting out — saw Penn Wood, Chester, Chichester, and Interboro all able to play against top notch non-league competition in the form of teams like Imhotep, MCS, and Executive Education while other conferences were limited to a league-only schedule. When the season began in January, the Patriots hit the ground running with a very tough schedule suffering defeat at the hands of Imhotep, MCS, and Holy Ghost Prep among others, on top of having the eventual district champion Chester in league play. 

The Patriots then graduated three key pieces of their 2019 District 1 5A runner up squad in Jerry Flynn, Saalih Moore, and Sayo Kenneth.

After an offseason and season unlike any other, the Patriots are happy to be back in the gym on a full time basis and hungry to get better. For rising senior guard Naeem Purnell, having the luxury of playing in two spring leagues has helped make up much of what was missed. 

“It was really tough because a lot of guys didn’t play much,” he said. “I didn’t play much my 10th grade year so going into 11th grade I played a lot more and we have this league to get ready for that.” 

Purnell is one of several key returning players for Lindeman. The 6-3 shooting guard is relied heavily upon on the offensive end thanks to his ability to get in the lane and finish, as well as knock down shots from downtown. Defensively, he displays the ability to guard multiple positions thanks to the length he has. 

Length is something that the Patriots do not have a shortage of, and rising junior forward Mehki Shillingsford is another reason why. Standing at 6-5, Shillingsford primarily plays in the four and five spots for the Patriots; cleaning the glass on the defensive end, running the floor in transition for layups, and has a low post package that he continues to improve. What also makes him a valuable asset and a prelude to what he could develop into is his ability to handle the ball on the perimeter when needed and knock down the occasional jump shot.

Despite a loss to Devon Prep on Tuesday, Lindeman is happy his squad is back together for a full offseason and is ambitious about the busy summer ahead.

 “I have so many guys that are 30 to 40 games behind experience wise,” he said, “so we’re trying to make that up as quickly as possible.” –– Dom Amoroso

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Lower Merion rising junior Sam Wright (above) is one of several fighting for a few eventual starting spots. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Lower Merion figuring out who’s next up after District run

The Lower Merion Aces, led by long time coach Gregg Downer, are coming off a PIAA District One championship victory over Abington this past season. 

Although the Aces are losing a few starters to graduation in Sam Davison and Zack Wong, they do return 11 pieces back to their lineup. Out of those 11 returning players, Downers knows exactly who his top three core players will be this upcoming season. 

Those three include rising 6-9 senior Demetrius Lilley, who holds offers from La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, rising 6-0 senior guard Jaylen Shippen, and rising junior sharpshooter Sam Brown. The trio combined for 38 points in their 65-47 victory over Downingtown West on Tuesday night. 

The question is for Downer and his squad is, who else will step up and contribute? That is what he and his coaching staff are trying to figure out through their offseason leagues.

“This is a great league,” Downer said. “A really great league and you really get a chance to see what you got. I am looking to see what role players are ready to step up. We know what our top three can do. But, on a night like tonight you saw what a guy like Sam Wright could do.”

Wright, the rising junior guard who was a self-described “off-the-bench shooter” on last year's district championship squad, certainly looked like he is in line to compete for a starting spot and contribute to a Lower Merion team that should be in contention to repeat. 

Wright had 13 points on 5-5 shooting, going 3-3 from deep, knocking down open looks off drive-and-kicks and showing the ability to drive to the hoop and finish at the rim as well. Wright knows he is battling for a spot as a key contributor behind the trio of Lilley, Shippen, and Brown and is trying to use this offseason to prove he is ready for a larger role. 

Having played during the spring for the Lower Merion baseball team, Wright’s first action of the offseason with his teammates on the hardwood was on Tuesday night and he didn’t seem rusty at all. Wright played within himself, knocked down his open looks, and was playing sound team defense.

“I really want to grow into a three-level scorer,” Wright said. “Last year I was mainly just a shooter, but I am working on driving more.”

Downer was particularly impressed with how the 6-2 Wright looked in the victory tonight and how he has grown throughout his first few years in the program.

“He is a great shooter, you saw that tonight,” Downer said. “Teams are going to have to account for him. He’s gotten bigger, stronger, and more athletic.” 

Also competing for minutes in Downer’s rotation is rising junior Justin Poles, a 5-10 guard, rising junior guard Andrew Coyne, rising senior Peter Gribbin and rising senior Henry Bard, a 6-3 Duke lacrosse commit who is currently injured.

Wright and his teammates are striving to continue to improve to try and defend their crown and catch the eyes of the coaching staff as they compete for those last few starting spots throughout the rest of their offseason leagues.

“This league is bringing me back into basketball a little bit,” Wright said. “It is really great to get back in the swing of things.” –– Ryan Coyle

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This shot and quite a few others dropped tonight for Archbishop Wood sophomore Jalil Bethea. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Quick Hits
–– After transferring to Bishop McDevitt following two seasons at Cheltenham, Justin Moore will be playing for his third school of his high school career this winter for another PCL school in Archbishop Wood after McDevitt was forced to close following this school year. The 6-1 guard didn’t light up the scoreboard, recording only seven points in Wood’s 63-48 win over Methacton, but he did a good job of running the offense and setting up teammates. Moore has a really quick first step and is able to get by defenders into the middle of the lane and kick out to shooters. Moore currently holds offers from Central Connecticut State and Drexel and has been hearing from James Madison and La Salle. The strong-bodied guard has no visits currently scheduled, but said he is looking to set up visits to a few schools in the coming weeks with the NCAA recruiting dead period now over. 

Jalil Bethea lit it up on Tuesday night for Archbishop Wood, en route to 25 points for the reigning PCL champions, knocking down seven of his eight three-point attempts. The 6-3 sophomore guard has a smooth outside high arcing shot that he is able to get off in a hurry. With Moore’s ability to get into the paint, Bethea should get a bunch of easy looks from outside and be in position to take over a large scoring load after the graduations of Rahsool Diggins (UConn), Marcus Randolph (Richmond), Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle), and Jaylen Stinson (James Madison). Bethea has good athleticism and long arms that helps him make plays on the defensive end of the floor as well. 

— Rising senior Cole Hargrove from Methacton impressed for the Warriors dropping 11 points, showing good form on his jumper and some crafty moves in the mid to low post area. The 6-7 forward has an athletic frame, is aggressive fighting for position on both ends of the floor, and is a solid defender showing some rim protection skills early in the first half when he sent a shot into the bleachers. 

— Senior forward Demetrius Lilley from Lower Merion and junior forward Jake Warren from Downingtown West had impressive showings as they both battled it out in the paint during Lower Merion’s 65-47 win over Downingtown West. Lilley had 24 points, including 2-3 from 3-point range. A big bodied 6-9 forward/center, Lilley should receive Power Five interest over the next few months if he continues to play like that. Warren showcased good touch around the rim and has a long frame measuring in at 6-10 with the ability to step out and shoot.

— Coming off a stellar sophomore season in which he was named second team all Catholic League, La Salle rising junior wing Horace Simmons announced that he will be taking his first unofficial visit to Princeton on June 11. The 6-6 wing led the Explorers offense with 14 points against Plymouth Whitemarsh. Simmons currently holds an offer from Drexel and also will be doing an unofficial to Penn that will take place at a later date. 

— Devon Prep displayed a very balanced blend of offense against Penn Wood in their 55-38 win. The returnees of last year’s Catholic League surprise all contributed in a nearly equal fashion. The backcourt of IV Pettit, Lucas Orchard and Ty Mishock combined for 34 points, showcasing how interchangeable the guard play of the Tide is in a system that breathes positionless basketball and being able to play anywhere on the floor. All three guards show the ability to dribble, pass, and shoot at a high level and play off each other very well. Rising junior forward Jacen Holloway also chipped in with 11 points and corralled multiple rebounds on the defensive end.

— Plymouth-Whitemarsh continued to show off its signature full court trapping against La Salle. The Colonials defense gave the Explorers guards headaches all night, forcing multiple turnovers and keeping them from getting into any rhythm. Rising senior guard Marshall Baker anchored the Colonials defense by disrupting the passing lanes for deflections and steals, and also led the way on offense with 13 points.


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