Kayla Yoegel (@kyoegel)
Reading high school boys basketball, led by head coach Rick Perez, is coming off an exciting season that brought the group quite a bit of success. A 26-2 overall record and a state championship win over nationally-ranked Archbishop Wood gave the school its second PIAA 6A title.
Adding to the excitement and anticipation for next year, the Red Knights return many key pieces from the state title team, which makes this off-season a special one.
Ruben Rodriguez (above, last month with Team Final) and Reading return most of their rotation from the 2021 PIAA 6A championship squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“We've been working out over the last five weeks,” Perez said, “and it’s exciting when you have a lot of your returning core coming back, and you’re getting 100% attendance at 5 AM in the morning. It’s been a strong start so far.”
Seven of Reading’s top nine return, but the Red Knights do graduate 6-7 forward and first team all-state selection Moro Osumanu, who will be playing at D-II West Chester (Pa.). Also gone is 6-0 guard and defensive specialist Rene Rodriguez.
They return all-state, 6-2 junior guard Ruben Rodriguez who averaged 14.6 ppg last year, as well as 6-0 senior guard Joey Chapman, 6-6 senior wing Daniel Alcantara, 6-0 senior wing Xavier Davis, and 6-0 junior guard Myles Grey, all of whom were a part of the starting lineup at some point during the season; also back from the rotation is 6-1 junior guard Amier Burdine.
Having that type of experience returning from a state title team means expectations will be sky-high entering 2021-22. Perez was also quick to note that during the team’s state title run, there was an evident connection between his guys throughout the unorthodox season despite losing a number of contributors who transferred from the program.
“This year was a bit different. Teams were tops, Archbishop Wood was better, but our guys just found a way, they prevailed. This team just had an amazing resilience to them, their connection to one another was just different,” Perez said. “We had lost 11 transfers, many of them who would’ve played, and for us to be able to bounce back and guys be able to step up, it was just amazing to see that unveil itself.”
The cohesiveness that Perez detailed was apparent in the team’s victory over Central Bucks West in the West Chester summer league on Wednesday night. After they dropped the first matchup to Conestoga, the Red Knights came out in a full-court press and found themselves up by 21 at one point.
With around 15 minutes left in the second half, an almost five-second call forced the Bucks into a timeout, and Rodriguez’s “let’s go” could be heard throughout the gym and ignited the group going forward.
Rodriguez was one of the names Perez mentioned in regards to next year’s leadership, but he also emphasized how he wants the group to lead together.
“There’s a bunch of guys who are great leaders, and for us, we use more of a collective leadership approach,” Perez said. “These guys are still young men, so we don’t expect one person to lead all the time, it’s a collective responsibility for all of us.”
The Red Knights 2021 state title is the second in program history, followed by the team’s first in 2017, led by former University of Miami guard and current San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker. Perez noted that many of the current players on the Reading roster were in attendance at the Giant Center when the first title was won; however, he has different expectations for the ‘21-’22 squad going forward.
“There’s a different maturity level, there’s a different expectation of them. When we won in 2017, we returned a lot of guys, but not many who had played that many minutes, not like this year,” Perez said. “This year we returned two All-State players, we returned seven of our top nine, so they have gotten a lot more experience during that run, then before, so the expectations of each other are at a very high-level.”
With expectations high, Perez stressed the importance of this off-season: “I think it's just vital, it’s gonna be a challenge for them, do you get caught up in the hoopla as people are watching you or are you still gonna continue working with that hunger, with that desire,” he mentioned.
While the off-season for the Red Knights is important, and Perez wants his group to keep that “hungry” approach, he also emphasized his squad’s appreciativeness of being able to play this off-season after missing it last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are really gonna appreciate our ability to get out here and enjoy different environments. I think we’re just going to enjoy this process a little bit more given that it wasn’t present last year,” Perez said.
Henderson 44, Perk Valley 37
Conestoga 45, Reading 38
CB West 56, Conestoga 46
Reading 44, CB West 34
— After a slow start in the loss to Conestoga, Ruben Rodriguez found his rhythm in a victory over Central Bucks West. Rodriguez was slicing through both the man and zone defenses that the Red Knights faced and was finding teammates with ease. Along with a few no-look dimes, he finished with 11 points and several assists. Both his presence on offense and his energy on defense helped pace the group in the win.
— Perkiomen Valley rising senior Dawson Debebe showcased his athleticism in a 44-37 loss to West Chester Henderson. A 6-2 wing, Debebe was active on both ends of the floor as he was quick to get out in transition, could finish at the rim, and was disruptive on the defensive end. His buckets on offense often came from his aggressiveness to jump the passing lanes and get tips and steals. Debebe finished with nine, but look for him to be a key piece for the Vikings moving forward.
— Ryan Mackey, a 6-foot point guard from Conestoga put both his point guard skills and scoring ability on full display in a win over Reading and a loss to Conestoga. He finished with 13 in the win over Reading and 17 in the loss to Central Bucks West as he was scoring from deep and through traffic. On the defensive end, Mackey had good on-ball pressure for both of the opposing teams' point guards. He said he is hearing from D-III York and has had a couple of email conversations with other local D-III’s.
— Another significant player for Mike Troy’s Conestoga squad is Mike Walz, a rising senior who stands at 6-10 and currently holds offers from St. Joe’s, Lehigh, La Salle, Penn State, and William & Mary. After missing the Pioneers first matchup of the night because he was coming back from his Lehigh visit, in the group’s second game, he had a decent outing on offense finishing with 10 points. He also got his teammates involved often by kicking it out for open threes. Walz, who will visit with Billy Lange and staff at St. Joe’s today (Thurs., June 3), also has others planned with William & Mary, Drexel, Lafayette, and possibly Davidson.
— For Central Bucks West, 6-3 forward John Lee and 5-11 point guard Donte Mancini — both rising seniors — stood out as vital pieces to the future of the Bucks. In the win over Conestoga, Lee got off to a fast start as he had the team's first 11 points and finished the game with a team-high 15 points. Mancini finished with 13 in the win. Lee and Mancini worked well together in both games and will be a strong duo for the team moving forward.