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Prepping for Preps '21-22: Shipley School (Boys)

11/09/2021, 11:00am EST
By Sean McBryan

Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)

(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. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)

Shipley Gators logo

The Shipley boys basketball squad will feature many transfer players. (Image: Shipley School)

The biggest news regarding Shipley boys basketball this summer was former NBA guard Alvin Williams agreeing to become the head coach.

The former Germantown Academy and Villanova standout played 10 seasons in the NBA largely with the Toronto Raptors, eventually becoming an assistant coach and Director of Player Development for the team. After retiring, he stepped into the media world as an NBA analyst. Williams held the all-time scoring record at Germantown Academy until Villanova freshman Jordan Longino broke it last season.

Now, Williams is trying something new as the head of a Shipley team that has a lot of new parts coming together in the Friends School League.

“I think it’s going to be more enjoyable [compared to coaching in the NBA],” Williams said. “I think it’s going to be more getting people to adjust to our philosophies, how we work with these kids. They’re going to have liberties, but there’s going to be a lot of discipline.”

The Gators went 4-2 in a COVID-shortened season last year under Phil D’Ambrosio, with the losses coming to George School and Westtown School. As a whole, the Friends School League played only 30 games last season.

In the 2019-20 season, Shipley went 5-5 in the league and 15-12 overall. The Gators finished fourth behind the Westtown (10-0, 25-6), Academy of the New Church (7-3, 15-6) and the George School (7-2, 12-7).

This season it will be a largely new team with a lot of talented transfers who will need to learn how to gel on the court.

The key players mentioned by Williams were Darrien Grady, Raijon DiSpensa and Iman Jackson, although, after the West Chester Big 64 event in late September, he admitted it would still take some time to identify the rotation. 

The Gators defeated Chester 43-30 and lost to Father Judge 41-24 at the event.

“This is evaluation time,” Williams said. “Everyone is being evaluated, including myself. This is my first year so I need to check myself and make sure I do the right things to keep the team in a good position.”

Grady, who transferred from Moorestown Friends to Shipley before last season, averaged 22 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in five games. The 5-foot-10 junior point guard put together a summer of solid play across many camps and events, showing the capability to facilitate and get to the rim when needed. 

Jackson comes to the Bryn Mawr school from Jenkintown and brings an all-around game that should help in fitting all of the pieces together. The 6-1 wing can do it all; as a junior, he averaged 11.8 points, 3.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game last season for the Drakes, who went 12-6 and were the District 1 Class 1A runner-ups.

DiSpensa, a 6-8, 200-pound wing forward, impressed at the Big 64 event, showing the versatility to be effective in the post and on the perimeter, a valuable tool at his size. The junior said he has been in contact with Brown, Penn, Lehigh, Lafayette and a few others. He’s up from the 185 pounds he played at last year, noting the need to play defensively in the post against schools like George and “the 7-footer from Westtown.” He averaged 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds last season.

He has some individual goals too, but overall wants the team to be able to mesh and win games.

“I want to make an All-Friends League team and help us win,” DiSpensa said. “I want to be one of the leading scorers on the team. Also, I averaged about one assist last season. I want to bump that up to about four or five because it makes it easier when everyone is involved.”

DiSpensa transferred to Shipley from Haverford last season. Bo Donaldson is in the same boat, coming over from Friends’ Central last season; Will Lange transferred from Episocopal Academy this season.

“I feel like we are up-and-coming,” DiSpensa said. “We have a lot of new transfers and are a relatively new team. Bo played five games last year. Darrien’s from Moorestown Friends. Will just transferred. I feel like the majority of our team is transfers. If we all come together, I think we can have a shot at states and do well in the Friends League.”

There’s no shortage of talent in the Friends League with Duke commit Dereck Lively II and Penn State commit Jameel Brown at Westtown, high-major 2023s guard Elmarko Jackson at Academy of the New Church and center Kachi Nzeh at George. The Gators will have their hands full.

Williams said everyone is starting on a clean slate and then he’ll move forward from there in determining the rotation. The ultimate goal of the season isn’t reflected in the win/loss column.

“The win and the score is not going to be the ultimate result we are looking at,” Williams said. “I think it’s the development. I think it’s preparing the kids if they choose to play at the next level. And also how to be a part of a program. Those are the things I’m really looking for. The wins will come as we solidify who we are and start creating our identity.

“We’re going to try and develop the players. That’s a big part of it. When I say player development, it’s not just skill. It’s the overall person and player. How do you think about the game? How do you approach the game? How do you play the game? There are a lot of elements that go into it.”

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