Senior guard Justin Nichols (above, in July) will take over point guard duties for Pennridge this year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Name recognition has been a staple of Pennridge's boys' basketball program in recent years.
Since the mid-2010s, there was probably going to be a Post, a Yoder, a Croyle or some combination of the three on Dean Behrens' roster and no surprise, all three of them were winning lineages. This year, there is no Post and no Yoder or Croyle — on the boys' side, at least — so in a way, it's the start of a new era.
Don't tell the new names the expectations are any different though.
"I'm not going to guarantee guys varsity minutes but what I am going to guarantee is an opportunity," Behrens said. "We really, really like this group and I'm excited to coach this team. We've gotten better every open gym and every time we've gotten together. I've seen real progress but listen, I get on them. It's not like we're telling them how great they are."
With Colin Post (Wilkes) and Luke Yoder graduating after last year's 13-6 (6-4 SOL Colonial) campaign, the Rams have also said farewell to the last vestiges of their 2018 PIAA Class 6A runner-up team. Strong programs replace players all the time and Pennridge has done as well as anyone, especially in the Suburban One League, at refilling the ranks each winter.
Katie Yoder and Anna Croyle have their family trees firmly secured a few hallways over as part of the core of the girls' program but back on the boys' side, Behrens is anticipating quite a few new names as contributors. Luckily, they've had plenty of time to get started on that, taking part in Dock Mennonite's summer league and playing in a few fall shootouts around the area.
Justin McCormick (above, 10) is another one of a deep group of upperclassmen the Rams will utilize. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
"We have a next-man up mentality," guard Justin McCormick said. "Whoever is out there, we're going to play our hardest and we expect to win."
Just because there isn't a well-known name doesn't mean there aren't any the rest of the league will recognize. Justin Nichols got plenty of run last year and assumes the team's point guard duties while sharpshooter Matt Campione returns off a breakout sophomore year.
Pennridge won't be the biggest team in the Colonial, with CB South, Souderton and likely North Penn at least taller on paper, but the Rams have a couple things in their favor. Firstly, they can shoot.
Campione is the top marksman on the squad at the moment, but McCormick has shown a nice outside shot this offseason, Nichols is a competent shooter and the likes of Caden Fisher, Jake Buesing and Ryan Hass will put them up if they're open.
"We played a lot this summer, even if it was just some of us getting together outside at a court on top of the open gyms we've had at school," McCormick said. "We put a lot of work into building that chemistry."
Second, the Rams will scrap and battle. Behrens is expecting good things from forward Jude D'Agostino, who got his first look at varsity last season but could emerge as a frontcourt starter come December. Tyler Johnson and Tommy Cramer also tussle inside for boards and they'll need to play up a little if Pennridge plans to contend for a conference title.
The guards are also decent on the glass, which helps getting into offense and some transition but Pennridge's bread-and-butter will still be its halfcourt and sharing the ball.
"We know we're not the biggest team but all that means is every game, we have to go out and hustle every play on defense," Nichols said. "We know we can shoot the ball, so if we keep moving it, we have really good chemistry so we're going to find the open man."
Nichols and McCormick agreed this year's team can't try to be what it's not and instead, has to focus on their collective strengths and getting the little things right as much as possible.
Behrens hasn't seen this group in a full high school game setting yet, but he has liked a lot of what he's seen so far anyway. It certainly helps the Rams have had good success finding a one or in some cases, two-year starter from their JV ranks that steps in and fills an exact need they have.
"I think people are looking at us, because there's not a Yoder or a Post, that we're not going to be very good and that's fine," Behrens said. "Predictions don't mean anything. This group buys into playing together but just as important; gets along and seems to have fun together."