Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
After a year where the City 6 became the City 5 and the Big 5 took a season off, things are getting back to normal around the City of Brotherly Love.
All six of the region’s Division I programs are gearing up for a full 2021-22 season, including Penn, the only one of the group that sat out the entire 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic (along with the rest of the Ivy League).
Even though most of the area’s D-I squads played close to a full season last year, there still are more than the typical amount of questions and unknowns surrounding the group this year. As it’s been often in recent seasons, Villanova seems like the one sure thing, while the rest have reasons for optimism and doubt in almost equal measure.
With some of the area’s biggest stars back for another year and a large group of youngsters raring to make their mark, the selection pool for this year’s City 6 Preseason Awards seemed bigger than ever. Without further ado, our picks:
Villanova's Collin Gillespie returns for another season after his senior campaign was cut short by a knee injury. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
City 6 Preseason Player of the Year
Collin Gillespie (Gr./Villanova)
The worst thing to happen in Villanova’s 2020-21 season is now bad news for the rest of the Big East this time around.
It seemed all but sure that Gillespie would wrap up his college career last spring; the senior point guard and three-year starter was the driving force behind another top-10 squad on the Main Line, with another Final Four run a serious possibility. Then came the torn meniscus suffered with two games left in the regular season, the Sweet 16 run made with Gillespie watching from the sidelines.
By mid-April, he’d made his decision not to rush into a professional career on a recovering knee but instead heal up over the summer and play one more season in the Blue & White — eliciting a sure groan from the rest of the Big East, Big 5, and beyond. For the 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard is more than just Villanova’s heart and soul; he’s also one of the top point guards in the country.
Before his injury, Gillespie was averaging 14.0 ppg, 4.6 apg and 3.3 rpg, ranking in the top 20 in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.88:1). He was named co-Player of the Year of the Big East Conference and was a third-team All-American selection by both the NABC and the USBWA.
He’s already played in 118 college games with 87 starts, scoring 1,264 points with 361 assists. If he plays in 31 games for Villanova this year, that’ll be more than anyone else in the program’s illustrious history.
To cap off his high school career at Archbishop Wood, Gillespie led the Vikings to their first-ever Catholic League and PIAA state tournament championships.
There can be no such firsts at Villanova, but you can be sure he wants a few more trophies in the case before finally wrapping up his college career. And if we’ve learned anything from covering Collin Gillespie over the last eight years, it’s this: betting against him is typically a bad idea.
City 6 Preseason First Team
Jordan Dingle (Soph./Penn)
Dingle was instantly impressive as a true freshman two years ago, starting 20 out of 25 games and averaging 13.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 2.3 apg while shooting 41.6% overall and 33.9% from 3-point range, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. A strong, athletic, versatile 6-3 guard out of Blair Academy (N.J.), Dingle withdrew from Penn last year so he could maintain his sophomore eligibility; with a deep 2020 class now gone, he’ll be one of the main pieces for a promising Quaker squad.
Jordan Hall (Soph./Saint Joseph’s)
It was an interesting offseason for Hall, who originally announced in March he’d be leaving St. Joe’s for personal reasons unrelated to the program, but later in the summer decided he’d be better off near home, returning to Hawk Hill. That’s much to the relief of Billy Lange and Co, who are thrilled to have the smooth, ultra-versatile, 6-8 guard who averaged 10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 5.7 apg in an impressive freshman year, getting onto NBA radars as a result. They’re expecting big things out of him in Year Two. So are we.
Taylor Funk (R-Sr./Saint Joseph’s)
No doubt last season’s breakthrough player was Funk, a 6-8 stretch-forward out of Manheim Central (Pa.), who’d very much had an up-and-down first three seasons at St. Joe’s. Funk impressed as a freshman, averaging 11.8 ppg in 2017-18 and shooting 39.4% from deep, but averaged just 8.6 ppg and shot 29.4% from deep over 40 games between his sophomore and junior years. But he got himself in the best shape of his career and had a monster 2020-21, averaging 17.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg, making 48.2% overall and 35.4% from deep; if that wasn’t a fluke, he’s a near-lock for a spot on this team come March.
Jermaine Samuels (Gr./Villanova)
Some of the players Jay Wright has brought into Villanova during their run of dominance the last decade or so have been instant stars; others, like Samuels, took a little while to develop. But the 6-7 wing out of Rivers School (Mass.) has steadily improved each season, from averaging 1.1 ppg as a freshman to 6.4, 10.7, and then 12.0 ppg last year, along with career-bests in rebounds (6.4/game), assists (2.5/game), field-goal percentage (.481), 3-point percentage (.371) and free-throw percentage (.828).
Camren Wynter (Sr./Drexel)
It’s been a special few years in University City for Wynter, an unheralded 6-2 guard from Long Island by way of DME Academy (Fla.) who’s been one of the best to put on a DU uniform in recent memory. Wynter’s junior year was his best yet (16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds, shooting .459/.827/.415), but his career averages (14.1 points, 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds) show the overall quality of his time in University City. He’s back for at least one more year as Drexel comes off a CAA title, and has a chance to finish in the top five on Drexel’s scoring list and in the top three in assists.
Camren Wynter averaged 16.2 points and 5.2 assists per game last year, leading Drexel to a CAA title and an NCAA Tournament appearance. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
City 6 Preseason Second Team
Khalif Battle (Soph./Temple)
In his first season at Temple after transferring in from Butler, Battle only played 11 games, but led the Owls in scoring (15.0 ppg) while chipping in 6.4 rpg and 2.4 apg, though the 6-4 off-guard only shot 34.9% overall and 31.5% from deep. If his last five games of the year were any indication (20.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, .421 FG%, .400 3PT%), Battle’s got the ability to lead the City 6 and/or AAC in scoring.
Jhamir Brickus (Soph./La Salle)
The Coatesville product known as ‘Jig’ scored more than 2,000 points in high school but his solid 5-11 frame scared away some programs, who weren’t sure if his abilities would translate. Well, Brickus proved it with a freshman year that saw him average 8.8 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.0 rpg and 1.8 spg while shooting just shy of 50% overall and 33% from 3-point range. The Explorers need a true leading scorer to emerge, and Brickus could be that guy.
James Butler (Gr./Drexel)
The other half of Drexel’s big 1-2 inside-out combination is Butler, a 6-8 forward from Lake Braddock (Va.) who’s in his fourth year on the court with Drexel and sixth year of college overall after starting out at Navy. The muscular, skilled forward started all 85 games for the Dragons over the last three years, averaging 12.8 ppg and 9.2 rpg as a junior while shooting 56.9% from the floor.
Caleb Daniels (Sr./Villanova)
A Tulane transfer who’d been a big-time scorer for the Green Wave, Daniels fit right into Villanova’s multi-faceted attack last year after sitting out the 2019-20 season. Starting 24 out of 25 games, the 6-4 Daniels averaged 9.6 ppg and shot 38.6% from 3-point range, going for 15-or-more points on five occasions.
Justin Moore (Jr./Villanova)
A 6-4 guard out of powerhouse DeMatha Catholic (Md.), Moore improved his scoring average from freshman (11.3 ppg) to sophomore (12.9 ppg) year, but his 3-point shooting dropped from 39.6% to 31.0%, even as his overall shooting percentage rose from 41.8% to 44.1%. If his shooting returns to form, Moore could certainly become ‘Nova’s leading scorer in his third collegiate season.
Jeremiah Williams (Fr./Temple)
There was a lot to like about Williams in his first season on North Broad, as the 6-5 point guard out of Simeon (Ill.) jumped right into a starting role, averaging 9.3 ppg and 4.1 apg with an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2:1. His shooting numbers (.434/.646/.324) need a bump, but he’s got the tools to do so, and a lot more experience under his belt.
Damian Dunn (R-Fr./Temple), Sherif Kenney (Jr./La Salle), Jack Forrest (Jr./Saint Joseph’s), Jake Forrester (Jr./Temple), Melik Martin (Gr./Drexel), Max Martz (Soph./Penn), Christian Ray (Jr./La Salle)
City 6 Preseason “Freshman” of the Year
Erik Reynolds (Fr./Saint Joseph’s)
When Reynolds committed to St. Joe’s last year, there was a common refrain amongst those in the know: the 6-2 guard out of Bullis School (Md.) was, according to various rankings, one of the best to commit to the program in at least the last decade. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Hawks’ staff has high hopes for Reynolds from the get-go, a major reason why he’s our choice for Preseason Freshman of the Year.
This is going to be a difficult season for freshmen across the country to get playing time, thanks to the extra year of eligibility afforded all players from the last college hoops season. And St. Joe’s backcourt has a number of pieces with multiple years of collegiate experience. But don’t be surprised when Reynolds gets a chance for significant minutes early, and if his shot is falling, those minutes shouldn’t go anywhere.
Preseason All-”Freshman” Team
Khalil Brantley (Fr./La Salle)
Jordan Longino (Fr./Villanova)
Trey Patterson (Fr./Villanova)
Clark Slajchert (Soph./Penn)
Jahlil White (Fr./Temple)
Jonah Charles arrived at Penn in 2019, but hasn't played a game for the Quakers after suffering a knee injury and then losing last season due to COVID-19. Charles impressed at the 2019 Red & Blue Scrimmage and is looking to finally step on the court this season, and make an impact. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
City 6 Preseason Breakout Player
Jonah Charles (Jr./Penn)
When it comes to our definition of a ‘breakout player,’ it’s usually someone who’s already played a season in the city, and who we now project to take a big step up in production from one year to another. Charles is a bit of a different case — a junior at Penn academically, he’s yet to take the court thanks to a preseason injury as a freshman and the Quakers taking the COVID year off. But before he got hurt, he was able to play in the 2019 Red & Blue Scrimmage, giving Penn fans a tantalizing glimpse of a sharpshooting 6-2 combo guard with a college-ready body.
With Penn needing to replace much of its production from two years ago, Steve Donahue’s going to rely on several “newcomers” — even those in their second or third year of college — to step in and play like veterans right away. Don’t be surprised if Charles plays like the veteran he should be at this point, and immediately becomes one of the more productive guards in a young-but-promising Quaker rotation.
Keep an eye on…
Xavier Bell (Soph./Drexel)
After averaging 4.0 ppg as a freshman, the former Kansas ‘Mr. Basketball’ award winner has looked good in practice and came on strong at the end of last season, starting the final seven games with four double-digit outings, including a 16-point, five-rebound effort at Hofstra.
Jhamir Brickus (Soph./La Salle)
Brickus put up the best numbers of anybody in this group (see above), but he could go from ‘strong freshman year’ to ‘City 6 standout’ in the span of an offseason, on a La Salle team that desperately needs a consistent leading scorer.
Nick Jourdain (Fr./Temple)
A mobile 6-8 combo forward originally from Immaculate Conception (N.J.) before a year of prep school, Jourdain started his freshman year slow but averaged 6.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg over the final four games of the season, showing his 3-point range as well. He’ll battle with btransfer Sage Tolbert for minutes in the Owls’ frontcourt, and it’s a battle he could win.
Max Lorca-Lloyd (Jr./Penn)
Lorca-Lloyd chose Penn over a number of high-major programs, and (as planned) spent his freshman year biding his time behind A.J. Brodeur. Now, the 6-10 junior should be ready for a large role in the middle, changing the way the Quakers play on both ends.
Amari Williams (Soph./Drexel)
A 6-10 forward from England, WIlliams saw action in 15 games last year but has changed his body and is much more prepared this year. Gives the Dragons a real interior presence on defense that they haven’t had in several seasons.