Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed can be found here.)
They seemed to have that special kind of communication, the ability to know where each other was on the court without looking. It was mid-September, in an offseason event, and the Radnor Raptors were cohesive, athletic, and very formidable against St. Joe’s-Hammonton (N.J.) that day.
Point guard Danny Rosenblum (above) is part of a key junior core for Radnor. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Granted, it was a tournament preseason game, which might not amount to much. But to the Radnor basketball team, a young group that went 4-8 overall in the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season, it was a good sign.
The Raptors haven't had many winning records in the Central League since they went 9-7 (15-9 overall) and finished fifth during the 2008-09 season, when many of this team’s junior nucleus were being introduced to basketball. Head coach Jamie Chadwin would like to build on recent momentum and enter the top four of a league that's been tough to break into.
The Raptors have eight players back from last season, led by 6-foot-5 junior forward Jackson Hicke, 5-11 junior point guard Daniel Rosenblum, 6-5 junior forwards Charlie Thornton and Nick Monty, 6-1 senior guards Mason Hill and Pierce Justice, 5-11 senior guard Eric Volmer and 6-4 senior wing Clifford Smith.
Hicke, Rosenblum and Thornton started as sophomores.
“We have four seniors, but this junior group has played together for a while, and our senior group I like as well,” Chadwin said. “The biggest compliment these guys can get, and they show it every day, is that they like playing with one another.
“They share the ball, whether it’s the extra pass, or whether knowing that a guy has a matchup advantage and [being] encouraged to go at it. They get that and they celebrate each other. There’s really not much ego that separates this team. It’s a collective ego, which is good. That’s really the fun thing with this group.”
This could be one of Radnor’s best teams in a while. Chadwin has tempered expectations based on the valid point of not knowing what the rest of the Central League looks like, with traditional power Lower Merion always at or near the top, Conestoga, Strath Haven and Haverford. Garnet Valley ran the league last season.
Charlie Thornton (above) is one of several 6-5 wings on Radnor's roster, giving them some real perimeter length in the Central League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“I don’t think people view us as a secret, since this group has played opposing teams during the summer and this team doesn’t feel it can sneak up on anyone,” Chadwin said. “I don’t think we’re ever where I want us to be defensively, but that just might be where I set the bar.
“Offensively, we’re probably further along at this point of the year than in the past. Part of that is the byproduct of these guys playing together a lot, so they have a good feel for one another where that offensive chemistry is pretty good. Some of the things we’ll have to work on is down the stretch, in time-and-score situations where the right play is made.”
Chadwin said a good summer has aided that process along, although more work will need to be done for that area of the Raptors’ game to come to fruition. The Raptors’ spacing and timing was sound this summer, which is something Chadwin is counting on to carry over into the season. It makes it easier when the ball is moving, forcing the defense to take longer to recover.
Finishing is the tough part.
Chadwin likes his primary rotation. Rebounding may be an issue.
A good attitude and confidence in one another appear to be team strengths.
“That comes from a lot of us playing with one another since elementary school,” Rosenblum said. “Our chemistry is really good and we have enough talent to win. I think we can sneak up on some people. We’re all committed this year and we believe in each other.
“It’s just getting in the gym and working outside of the school practices. We’ve been very competitive since we were young. We started very well when we were freshmen, but this group through middle school, we were almost undefeated every season. We know what it takes to win. We’re going to be giving up size, but we’ll make up for that by playing fast.”
The Raptors know their history. They produced a 15-11 overall (9-7 Central) season in 2019-20, but there are sprinkled a few 1-win, and 2-win Central League seasons over the last decade.
“Me, Jackson, Danny and Nick have been playing together since second grade, so I think we can be really good,” Thornton said. “There’s definitely a lot more confidence. I trust everyone on our team. We can all knock down shots. Everyone can make plays.”
Jackson Hicke (above) picked up his first offer last week, from D-II West Chester. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Hicke may cause some problems for opposing teams. He’s 6-5, moves well and has depth on his shot. He’s coming off a very good summer, and showed flashes of being exceptional at the City of Basketball Love Interstate Shootout, where he dropped 32 points on Haddonfield using a combined mid-range jumper and four 3-pointers. D-II West Chester offered him his first scholarship this past week.
He has the skills and physical tools to potentially be one of the leading scorers in the Central League.
“I know Lower Merion, Conestoga, teams like that, are typically on top in the Central League and I know Radnor is not,” Hicke said. “I think we can make a good push to win the Central League this year. If not this year, then definitely next year. But I still think we can make some noise this year.
“We know where we like to be. We know where we like the ball. Our core has played together for so long, it helps a lot knowing the guys around you, especially in the big games.”
Radnor may perhaps play in a few this winter.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.