Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
Two years ago, Haverford College was one game away from reaching the Centennial conference championship. And before they had a chance to run it back, their 2020-21 season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Since then, first-team All-Centennial player Jesse Turkson, a significant part of the first 15-win Haverford team since 1977-78, graduated.
“We can't replace him,” Haverford head coach Patrick Doherty said about Turkson. “I think if we had played last year, he was on a trajectory to be an All-American. I thought he was going to be one of the best players in our conference.”
Now Doherty and the Fords are relying on new faces to try and replicate the success of the 2019-2020 season.
Nicholas Stewart (above) is one of two sophomores who've been leading the Haverford College men's team early this season. (Photo: Jerome Taylor/CoBL)
And two games into the season, the results have been promising. After breaking a school record by hitting 16 threes in their 84-69 win over Lebanon Valley, the Fords turned around and beat Immaculata 78-66 on Thursday. In both victories, sophomore guards Gabriel Franklin and Nicholas Stewart have played significant roles in their first collegiate action.
On Thursday, Franklin dropped 19 points (5-9 FG, 8-10 FT). His scoring savvy is what made him such an attractive recruit coming out of Hunter College High School (N.Y.), where he averaged 30 points per game as a senior — the most in New York City. When it came to deciding where he wanted to continue playing basketball, the 5-foot-10 guard was between Haverford and the University of Chicago, and Doherty is happy he chose the former.
In Stewart’s case, he decided earlier in the process after coming to a camp on Haverford’s campus as a junior in high school. Then taking an overnight visit as a senior, the Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) product knew that Haverford was where he wanted to be.
“Haverford, thankfully, was my first visit,” Stewart said. “After that night, I told myself, this is where I want to go. I canceled all my other visits and told coach Doh[erty] the next week.”
The sophomore duo has scored 72 points through two games, doing a good deal of their scoring from behind the 3-point line (12-22 from deep). And even though they still commit mistakes that young players make, Doherty is optimistic about their future in the Centennial Conference.
“I'll have more confidence in these guys the farther we go because right now they're playing well,” Doherty said. “They both want to be really good players, and they're eager, which gives them a chance.”
Their success adds even more depth to a team that is carrying seven juniors, including Nate Torres. The 6-5 forward scored seven points and had six rebounds in Thursday’s home opener, and he was one of five players to hit a three in the game. During the 2019-2020 season, Torres was third on the team in scoring (nine points per game), and guys like him, Ryan Trotter and Josh Love add experience to a team that before Saturday hadn’t played competitive basketball in 600+ days.
Josh Love (above) spent part of his COVID season hiking through the Arizona desert. (Photo: Jerome Taylor/CoBL)
“Josh [Love] and everybody else they're guiding the freshman and sophomores, we've never had this experience playing against other college guys,“ Stewart said. They tell us what to expect, how we should play… they're really big role models for us. They got us, on the court and off the court.”
The last time Love was on the court, he led the Fords from deep with a 43% three-point shooting percentage, even though he only averaged seven minutes per game. In his first game back on Thursday, he picked up where he left off, scoring 19 points while going 3-7 from deep. And while most people were stuck inside during 2020, the Bay Area native spent time in Arizona immersing himself in his other interest, which made getting back on the court that much sweeter.
“I went backpacking,” he said. “I was like, off the grid, out in the desert in Arizona. I wasn't touching the basketball.
“March to May, just taking my mind off things… doing a lot of hiking, canoeing, camping… the best decision I could have made [was] to go out and do that,” the environmental studies major added. “But now just coming back here playing a real game in like 600-plus days, it's the best thing ever.”
Now that he’s back on the court, the 6-8 forward wants to prove that he has more to his game than just the three-point shot he showed as a freshman.
“I want to be strong around the rim. I would love to get a dunk in this gym. Dudes were saying we've been on a dry spell [for in-game dunks] for about five years, I would love to end that streak in here,” Love said. “I also like the mid-range game... I think that's something I want to build on as a counter.”
After losing in the conference semifinals to John Hopkins in 2019-2020, Haverford was ranked sixth in the conference’s 2021-22 preseason poll, which wouldn’t qualify for playoffs. But Doherty and the Fords aren’t looking to be Centennial bottom-dwellers like they were in previous years.
“I don't know if [preseason rankings] are worth the paper they're printed on… they don't think we're a playoff team, and that's fine by me because that's something else for us to prove,” Doherty said. “There might be some people in the league that think it was just kind of a blip on the radar two years ago, and we're not real. So our job this year: show everybody that we're real, and we're trying to be competitive at the top of the league.”