Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
(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.)
Kevin Green (above) is part of a talented trio of senior guards for Pope John Paul II. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
If having one standout guard can be a difference-maker, then having three is a true game-changer.
The trio of JP Baron, Kevin Green and Jaden Workman are trying to prove that for Pope John Paul II for the second season in a row.
“I’m very blessed to coach three really dynamic guards,” Panthers head coach Brendan Stanton said last month. “They can all create for themselves, create for others. They can all pass, shoot and dribble. It’s sort of been the secret sauce for what we’ve done the last couple of years.”
All three have that versatile skill set, but they each bring something a little different to the table. Green, at 5-11, is a flashy finisher, who loves to utilize a crossover and get into the lane; Workman, at 6-1, is a steady point guard who’s calm under pressure, with length that helps him defensively; Baron, at 6-2, is the most muscular of the three, a 3-level scorer who’s come into his own the last year.
The three seniors return to Pope John Paul as the returning starters from last season’s team that won its second Pioneer Athletic Conference championship in school history and second consecutive District 1 Class 4A title, as the Panthers finished 15-2 and made it into the first round of the state playoffs.
They will have to replace a couple multi-year starters: 6-0 guard Liam McCarthy and Justin Green, the 6-foot-5 wing (and Kevin’s older brother) who did so much on the court for them the last few years, helping them into the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals as a junior, when they went 20-5 before COVID shut the season down. Green spent much of his senior year on the sidelines due to injury, but his effect on the program was noticeable.
“I tell him all the time that the reason we won the PAC championship this year with him missing two-thirds of the season was because of everything he did leading up to that,” Stanton said in April. “Building the culture, how locked in everybody was and how the kids expected to win, and when he joined the program I don’t think that was the identity at all.”
Senior guard J.P. Baron (above) is the son of Gwynedd Mercy head coach John Baron. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
On the court, Baron, Green and Workman, put pressure on opposing defenses from a number of angles, and hope to bring just as much importance off it. In their veteran roles, they aim to provide leadership for the less experienced players in order to help Pope John Paul continue its success in 2021-2022.
“I feel like all three of us are going to become great leaders for this team,” Baron said. “We have the most experience on the team coming back from starting last year. We had a great run last year, so I think our experience can really help the young guys this year and hopefully have a good season.”
Junior guard Trey Rogers is one player without a ton of experience who the Panthers will rely on for his shooting ability. Sophomores Chase Mondillo, Caleb Zavertnik and Dominick DeMito will also be in the mix to contribute.
While not young players, seniors Luke Sykes, Dylan Russ and Aidan O’Brien will step into much larger varsity roles. Sykes is a 5-9 guard who can defend and do a bit of creating and shooting to back up the starters. Russ, at 6-feet tall, assumes the undersized big role for a Pope John Paul squad that lacks height. O’Brien, also standing at 6-0, is the secondary small-ball big for the Panthers.
This Pope John Paul team is definitely not tall, which has the potential to cause problems. However, Stanton is confident the collection of players and their strengths can allow the Panthers to overcome the height deficiency.
“One thing that has been kind of a calling card for us is: We have to guard you, but then you have to guard us,” he said. “Our ability to play small, have five guys out on the floor that can all pass, shoot and dribble and make good decisions can really stretch out teams that play bigger and play bigger guys against us. So we’ll be a funky team this year for sure. But it has its advantages and disadvantages.”
Jaden Workman (above) has been a three-year varsity contributor for the Golden Panthers. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The disadvantages are fairly obvious. Pope John Paul will struggle to guard PAC posts like Spring-Ford’s Gavin Schauder and Methacton’s Cole Hargrove — both listed at 6-foot-8 — individually. The team defense will look to minimize the damage from the bigs they face by being disruptive as possible.
Rebounding won’t come easy either, and a team effort will be required. Fortunately for the Panthers, Russ has the ability to box out bigger opponents at a high level, and Baron and Workman can grab boards as 6-foot-2 guards.
“I think we’re a pretty tough team,” Workman said. “I think we can play physical and get rebounds a lot. We take pride in being a smaller team and playing physical every day. Our coach gets on us if we’re not getting rebounds and boxing out in practice, so we’re just used to doing it by now. It just seems second nature to us.”
The benefits of playing small, especially on the offensive end, can be incredibly helpful when Pope John Paul is clicking. Baron, Green and Workman bring the threat of scoring, shooting and playmaking at all times. Russ can bang inside defensively, but set screens and pop out for open shots to space the floor on offense. Surround that with willing and capable shooters, and the Panthers scoring attack has the chance to be quick, potent and explosive when it’s flowing.
“We’re all very crafty,” Green said. “We all get in transition and push it.”
Making sure the players are fitting together to run the offense to its full potential will be the key for Pope John Paul early in the season. But if the surrounding players complement the team’s key talent in Baron, Green and Workman, the Panthers should be contenders in both the PAC and District 1 once again.
“We have three really good guards,” Stanton said, “and guards generally help you win a lot of high school basketball games. We’re excited about that.”