CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2022-23 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 9. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season click here)
It’s time to start preparing for another season of hoops.
Today — Monday, Sep. 26 — marks six weeks before the first official games of the 2022-23 Division I season, the first games of the CoBL coverage calendar in what will be our 10th season of operation. As is tradition, that means it’s time to announce our preseason City 6 awards, our picks at which players are set for big seasons ahead, and which under-the-radar players and newcomers to keep an eye on.
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be running a plethora of season preview content from team previews and player features to in-depth looks at the storylines to follow, games to watch and stats to track this season, from Division I through Division III; our small-college coverage will start with the beginning of their practices on Oct. 15.
Be sure to bookmark our season preview page to keep track of all the content that’s about to hit the site, not to mention the dozens upon dozens of high school previews we’ll be running between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1.
Without further ado, this year’s selections:
Preseason Player of the Year
Khalif Battle (R-Soph./Temple)
Temple's Khalif Battle is CoBL's 2022-23 City Men's Preseason Player of the Year as he returns from an early-season injury in 2021-22. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
In two seasons at Temple, Battle has only played 18 games (11 starts) due to his transfer, an injury, and the COVID pandemic. But what the 6-foot-4 scoring guard has shown in those games has been tantalizing indeed: 17.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest, shooting 42.3% overall and 37.9% from the 3-point range.
He made it just seven games into the 2021-22 season before a broken bone in his foot sidelined him the remainder of the winter, stopping what had been a scorching-hot start. The Trenton Catholic (N.J.) product scored 19-plus points in all but one outing, averaging 21.4 ppg and 3.9 rpg while shooting 53.8% overall and 48.8% (21-of-43) from 3-point range.
This year, Battle should have the strongest supporting cast he’s had yet, with backcourt mate Damian Dunn back for a third year together, and a number of other underclassmen returning after significant roles a season ago. But they’re still going to need their most experienced and most talented scorer to shoulder a big load, and Battle’s shown so far that he’s capable of doing so.
Jordan Dingle (Jr. | Penn)
Dingle put up strong numbers in his freshman season at Penn, averaging 13.5 points and 3.4 rebounds on 41.6% from the floor in 2019-20, then took the pandemic year away from school, retaining his sophomore eligibility. The muscular 6-3 lead guard took a big step forward anyways last year, averaging 20.9 ppg (on a more efficient 44.6% shooting) to lead the City 6 and Ivy League, finishing with the highest scoring average by any Quaker since Keven McDonald (22.3 ppg in 1977-78). He enters this year only 119 points away from 1,000, and is on pace to be the program’s all-time leader and could be its first-ever 2,000-point scorer if he keeps it up.
Eric Dixon (R-Jr. | Villanova)
Speaking of sizable steps in progression, nobody took a bigger one last year than Dixon. The 6-7 forward out of Abington redshirted his first year at Villanova (2019-20) and then averaged 3.0 ppg in a 21-game reserve role during the pandemic season. But he started all 38 games last year, averaging 9.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg, shooting 49.8% overall, including an intriguing 17-of-35 (48.6%) from 3-point range. The Wildcats have proven they can develop talent, and though Jay Wright might be retired, chances are strong that Kyle Neptune and staff haven’t gotten the best out of Dixon just yet.
Damian Dunn (R-Soph./Temple)
Dunn not only averaged 14.9 ppg and 4.2 rpg during his second redshirt freshman season — he’s going into his fourth year in college, but retains his sophomore year eligibility thanks to the pandemic and an injury — but also hit a couple buzzer-beating game-winners last year for the Owls, giving a young team a go-to scorer when Battle was sidelined. The 6-5 guard from North Carolina is still a streaky shooter, but there was a 14-game stretch last year from late November into February where he averaged 18.1 ppg and shot 36% from 3-point range, a rate double what it was during his first season of eligibility.
Erik Reynolds II (Soph. | Saint Joseph’s)
The Hawks’ staff had high hopes for Reynolds when the Bulls School (Md.) product arrived on campus last year, and he earned a starting role from day one. He was good from the get-go but got better as the season went on, averaging 9.4 ppg and 1.8 rebounds/assists in 12 November/December games, and 13.8 ppg, 2.6 apg and 2.4 rpg in 17 January-March games; on the season, he averaged 12.1 ppg, 2.3 apg and 2.1 rpg while making 41.7% of his shots and 33.6% of his 3-pointers. With the team’s top two scorers gone from a year ago, Reynolds’ responsibilities will shoot way up.
Cam Whitmore (Fr. | Villanova)
The Wildcats have seen some impressive freshmen during their ascendancy to new-blue-blood status, including Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman, neither of whom needed much time adjusting to the college game, and both of whom left early for the NBA. Next up in that line seems to be Whitmore, a 6-7, 232-pound wing out of Archbishop Spalding (Md.), who comes in as a consensus five-star prospect and ranked No. 14 in the 2022 class in the 247Sports composite rankings. Whitmore is a powerhouse athlete and three-level scorer who’s already drawing attention at the next level, and he could be in contention for National Freshman of the Year honors after earning Most Outstanding Player and winning a gold medal with USA Basketball at the FIBA U18 Americas championship.
La Salle junior Jhamir Brickus will be leaned on as Fran Dunphy takes over the program. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Jhamir Brickus (Jr. | La Salle)
The most recent pride of Coatesville basketball, ‘Jig’ has been steady through his first two seasons at La Salle, his sophomore year numbers (8.9 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.6 rpg) almost identical to his freshman-year ones, though his 3-point percentage crept up from 32.9 to 35.8%. The 5-11 lead guard is now playing under Fran Dunphy for the first time, and he’ll be leaned on to help guide the program through the transition
Caleb Daniels (Gr. | Villanova)
Daniels could certainly end up on the first team by the end of the year, as the sixth-year grad student is the senior member of the Wildcats, and already has 120 collegiate games under his belt between two years at Tulane and two years of playing at ‘Nova. He’s coming off a steady 10.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg season where he shot 42.4% overall and 37.3% overall as the team’s sixth man.
Zach Hicks (Soph./Temple)
A 6-7 wing and outside shooting specialist out of Camden Catholic (N.J.), Hicks’ college career got off to a slow start, as he scored a total of 22 points in his first 10 career games. Then he exploded for 35 points on a program-best 10 3-point shots (on 16 attempts) against Delaware State, the first of 10 games that season he finished in double-digits. Hicks averaged 11.6 ppg over the final 18 games of the season, shooting 41.0% from 3-point range; his numbers were 8.3 ppg and 4.1 rpg and 37.4% from deep on the season. Now it’ll be about how he rounds out his game.
Justin Moore (Sr. | Villanova)
Under normal circumstances, Moore would be a shoo-in for preseason First Team, and perhaps the pick for preseason Player of the Year. Unfortunately, the 6-4 guard out of DeMatha (Md.) with 1,205 points to his name in a ‘Nova uniform went down in the Elite 8 in March with a torn Achilles tendon. With his status up in the air heading into the season — the Inquirer’s Mike Jensen wrote in July that “early 2023 sounds like it remains something of a fair target” — it remains unclear just at what level he’ll be able to produce for what’s otherwise going to be yet another top-20 program on the Main Line.
Ejike Obinna (Gr. | Saint Joseph’s)
After playing in 75 games for Vanderbilt over three seasons but never quite producing consistently down there, Obinna found himself in the right situation at St. Joe’s, which just happened to be in the need for a bruising big man and some leadership in the locker room. The 6-10, 240-pound post averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.9 rpg, making more of his shots from the floor (57.4%) than the foul line (48.8%); he also had nine double-doubles, doing it every time he grabbed double-digit rebounds.
Amari Williams (Jr. | Drexel)
There’s been quite a bit of turnover on the Dragons’ roster, with four of their top five scorers departing to graduation or transfer, and it’s going to be a new-look Drexel this year, for sure. But there’s a lot to like in the middle with Williams, a 6-10 forward from England who went from averaging 1.1 ppg as a freshman to 9.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg as a sophomore, with 57 blocks in 28 games, while making 52.1% from the floor. This should be a big, physical Drexel squad, and Williams should be the tone-setter.
Cameron Brown (Sr. | Saint Joseph’s), Max Martz (Jr. | Penn), Josh Nickelberry (Sr. | La Salle), Clark Slajchert (Jr. | Penn), Brandon Slater (Gr. | Villanova), Jahlil White (Soph./Temple)
Preseason Breakthrough Player
St. Joe's sophomore Erik Reynolds II appears primed for a breakout season on Hawk Hill after a strong debut in 2021-22. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Erik Reynolds II (Soph. | Saint Joseph’s)
There’s no doubt that Reynolds had a strong debut season on Hawk Hill, averaging double figures while scoring more than 15 points on 10 occasions and topping 20 on four, with a season high of 27 points on just 14 shots in a win over Rhode Island. So it’s not that he’s an unknown quantity or anything like that headed into this season.
Despite that, Reynolds is our pick to rise to ‘star’ status in the city, though there are several other plenty-deserving candidates in the city. With Jordan Hall and Taylor Funk, the Hawks’ top two scorers, now in the NBA and at Utah State, respectively, and a host of newcomers that have to adjust to the college life, Reynolds is going to have the ball in his hands a great deal and will have to be the tone-setter for Billy Lange’s squad. If all goes well, he’ll be the face of the team for the next three years.
Khalil Brantley (Soph. | La Salle), Zach Hicks (Soph. | Temple), Hysier Miller (Soph. | Temple), Lamar Oden, Jr. (Jr. | Drexel), Nick Spinoso (Soph. | Penn)
Preseason Rookie of the Year
Cam Whitmore (Fr. | Villanova | Archbishop Spalding, Md.)
There are some exciting freshmen in the city, including Archbishop Wood product Justin Moore at Drexel and three-star big man Christ Essandoko at St. Joe’s, but nobody coming in has anywhere close to the hype of Whitmore. During that FIBA Americas 18U championship, he averaged 18.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 1.7 apg, including a 30-point, 12-rebound effort against Brazil in the championship; for the tournament, he hit 63% of his shots and was also 10-of-22 (45.5%) from beyond the arc. He’s a truly impressive mix of skill, power, athleticism, and shot-making, and should have no problem handling the physicality of the Big East from the get-go.
Mark Armstrong (Fr. | Villanova | St. Peter’s Prep, N.J.), Christ Essandoko (Fr. | Saint Joseph’s | Winston-Salem Christian, N.C.), Justin Moore (Fr. | Drexel | Archbishop Wood, Pa.), Cam Thrower (Fr. | Penn | Harvard-Westlake, Cali.), Christian Winborne (Fr. | Saint Joseph’s | Gilman School, Md.),