Dylan Blair (above) and Downingtown West are playing in multiple spring/summer leagues, as well as weekend events. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Dom Amoroso (@DomAmorosoHoops)
CHESTER SPRINGS, Pa. — Coming off an early exit in the first round of last year’s District 1 6A, Downingtown West is in for an action-packed summer ahead of them. Playing in the West Chester summer league as well as Plymouth Whitemarsh’s spring league, Rider University’s team camp and both Philly Live events later this month, the Whippets have plenty of opportunities to play in front of coaches at the next level and grow.
For rising juniors Dylan Blair and Jake Warren the opportunities this summer are bottomless, also playing with Philly Pride’s 16U squad on the Under Armour circuit and both feel that the busy summer schedule has benefited them in multiple ways.
In Tuesday night’s 59-35 win over Spring-Ford at the West Chester summer league, both showed growth in different areas and are looking forward to the coming summer. Coming off of a 10-3 campaign, the Whippets will have a major opportunity to play in front of Division I coaches for the first time in two years later this month, when the last two weekends of June become live periods for high school team camps.
“I’m excited for the live period.” Blair said. “I’m looking forward to giving my guys their first opportunity or taste of what it's like to be in front of coaches in a packed gym, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Warren — whose older brother Josh Warren, a 2016 Downingtown West grad, played at Cornell — stands at 6-foot-9 and is skilled in ball screen offense situations, where he is a threat to roll or pop. On this night, he anchored the West defense by corralling double-digit rebounds and blocking multiple shots; that’s something he has worked on and is starting to own up to on a game-by-game basis.
“As the biggest kid on the team you have to be that anchor,” Warren said, “and tonight I think I did a good job of that, especially when we’re in a 2-3 or a 3-2 and I’m down the middle most of the time and preventing penetration. I think we did a good job of that collectively on defense tonight.”
While he already displayed the ability to protect the rim, being able to clean the glass at a high level is something Warren knew he needed to improve on coming into this offseason and playing against a higher level of competition is helping it develop.
“Obviously I can rebound the ball because I’m usually the biggest kid out there,” he said. “But now, especially playing better teams and a better high school schedule, and having a tough AAU schedule, is something that has made me work on it and I feel like I have to rebound at a high level. I’m also working on my athleticism and my timing and I think it’s paid off.”
Currently, Warren has interest from St. Joe’s and several Division II programs, but he is primarily focused on a bigger goal this summer.
“I just want to win.” Warren said. “I just want our team to win. We’re going to be playing well if we’re winning games, right? If we’re playing well and winning them, we’re going to get more looks.”
For Blair, a 5-10 guard who is the son of D-II West Chester University men’s head coach Damien Blair, being able to have a good supporting cast in both situations has provided opportunities in different ways. On the circuit, where he plays with the likes of his high school teammate Warren along with several other prospects, he takes pride in his ability to get his teammates involved in the offense.
“I play with a lot of high level, talented guys and it allows me to get in the lane and kick to them. It makes my job a lot easier and I can then focus on hitting my shots when the ball comes to me.”
At West, he’s also focused on a similar but also different aspect of the game.
“I pride myself as a leader,” he said. “I want to lead us so we’re in a good spot over the live period and then hopefully when we get to the season we’re in a good spot.”
Blair’s supporting cast at West is similar in that they allow him to also dish the ball out for catch and shoot opportunities. Aside from Warren, he is also accompanied on the perimeter by Joey Suarez ‘23 and Matty Zincone ‘22, who can both get in rhythm from beyond the arc.
The Whippets have a long summer of work ahead and are hoping the work pays into a Ches-Mont title and district run and one Whippet in particular feels confident about their chances.
“I feel really good and I feel like we’re a frontrunner.” Warren said Anything can happen. Basketball is basketball but at the end of the day if we come out and execute, I think we’ll be really happy at the end of the season.”
— In their summer league debut, Exeter out of District 3 did not dissapoint. The Eagles return most of their 2021 squad and feature rising senior guard Colin Payne who led the team last year with 14.8 points per game and shot 83% from the free throw line. In their two wins against Owen J. Roberts and Devon Prep, the 6-3 shooting guard had a combined 40 points in both games with 26 against Devon Prep, displaying his ability to get downhill and finish at the rim as well as knock down the three ball consistently, even with a hand in his face.
— Rising junior guard Lucas Orchard impressed for Devon Prep with 22 points in the win against Owen J Roberts and 15 in the second game against Exeter. With the ability to do a little bit of everything, the 6-3 guard exhibited his scoring ability at all three levels by knocking down open shots from deep, utilizing the one dribble pull up when attacking the paint and getting cut off by a defender, and finishing around the basket.
— Another key asset for Downingtown West will be 5-10 rising junior guard Joey Suarez who chipped in with 12 points exclusively from downtown in the win over Spring Ford. Suarez generated offense early on for the Whippets and has the ability to pull from well beyond the arc.
— Rising sophomore guard Luke Fryer was a lifeline of offense for Owen J Roberts. The crafty 5-8 point guard got into the lane with ease to get buckets at the rim and displayed a nice jump shot off the dribble from downtown. He led the Wildcats with 18 and 15 against Devon Prep and Exeter respectively.