Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of 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 2022-23 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
Malvern Prep tied for the Inter-Academic League title last season. It goes down as a championship, split with Penn Charter, technically a title defense of its outright 2019-20 title, though the COVID pandemic meant that most of the group that went unbeaten in league play had well moved on by last season. But a tie isn’t good enough this time.
Andrew Phillips (above) returns to Malvern Prep after an All-Inter-Ac junior season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“We’re just going off last year, just a little pissed off going into this season,” senior wing Andrew Phillips said. “We feel like we should have won the league outright, and we’ve got more business to finish.”
A repeat is in sight, though no sure thing. That’s the reality of the situation for the Friars, who have several reasons to be optimistic and several major question marks to answer in Paul Romanczuk’s second season.
Start with the good: Malvern Prep’s got a strong 1-2 punch in junior guard Ryan Williams and Phillips, who averaged a respective 16.8 and 15.5 ppg, the only two members of the team in double figures; they were both first team All-League selections, a group of five who all return for another season.
Williams, a 6-foot-3 guard, has been a burgeoning Division I prospect during his underclassman years and is now fulfilling that part of his potential, reeling in offers from Temple, Penn, Fairfield, Drexel, Albany and Towson in the last year. Still 16 years old until the spring, he’s come a long way in finding his voice and taking a step forward as a leader, as well as complementing his already-strong 3-point shooting (37%).
“I think the most progress I’ve made is probably playing more forcefully,” he said. “I’m not going to get rid of the floater, it’s a great shot and it’s great for [when opponents have] bigs, but I think with guards now…I’m going to work on getting to the rim quicker and finishing higher above the rim, instead of just trying to rely on my floater.”
Phillips, who gave up football after his junior season to focus on basketball this summer and into the fall, is a 6-4 wing/forward who plays something of a small-ball, playmaking ‘4’ man, not quite a point guard but a good rebounder with a solid frame and a good handle who can cause all sorts of mismatches.
Also back from last year’s starting lineup is 6-3 senior wing Hayden Pegg, while reserve forwards Charlie Oschell (6-5 senior) and Tague Davis (6-4 junior), both baseball standouts, return as well.
Romanczuk expects to go with an eight-man rotation, with four candidates to play significant minutes: junior Ryan Pegg, Hayden’s brother, and Achilles Tucker-Turner, younger brother of former Friars standout Deuce Turner; freshman guard Rowan Miller, who’s been a preseason eye-opener; and junior forward Luke Miller, who impressed in the few summer events Malvern Prep was allowed to participate in, when Davis and Oschell were doing baseball activities.
“I think it’s difficult in the high school game to play more than eight guys, with it only being 32 minutes,” Romanczuk said. “That’s what early practices and early games are for, out of those nine, who are the seven or eight who are going to get the majority of the playing time? We’re not going to be a team that plays 10 and is pressing you all game, that’s just not going to happen.”
The Friars' leading scorer a year ago, Ryan Williams (left) might take on the role of point guard for Malvern Prep as a junior year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
There are, as mentioned, some real questions the Friars need to answer. They’re mostly due to the departure of a four-man senior class that included 6-9 forward Tyler Lauder, starting as a freshman at D-III powerhouse Babson, plus starting point guard Joey Vandergeest and reserves Chase Reardon and Robbie DiFabbio.
Lauder gave the Friars a real shot-blocking and rebounding presence in the middle, and that’s a variable they won’t have in play this season. They also don’t have a true point guard, Vandergeest holding that fort down last season out of necessity and doing it well. Williams could be an option, or it could be one of the juniors, or even potentially Miller, the freshman.
“I didn’t know who our point guard was going to be last year, so we’re in a similar position there,” Romanczuk said. “At least this year in Ryan Williams I have a guard who handled the ball a lot for us, and it’s, do I want him handling the ball a lot when he’s going to be asked to score and do all those things?”
Even if the Friars can answer all those questions, the Inter-Ac is no sure thing.
The Quakers, their co-champions, return their entire starting lineup, a deep group of seniors and sophomore Kai Shinholster, who got a few D-I offers of his own this summer. Springside-Chestnut Hill, with Marquette signee Al Amadou in the middle, finished two games back at 6-4 last year but certainly has the talent to jump past both and claim the title on its own. None of Episcopal, Haverford or Germantown Academy will be a pushover, either.
Malvern Prep is hoping that its second year with Romanczuk can bring home an outright title. They should benefit from a full offseason working with the former Penn standout and Archbishop Carroll head coach, who’s no stranger to success at the prep level as a head coach. They were successes the Friars’ players might have heard about prior to last year, but now they’ve gotten to experience it for themselves.
“I know he’s not allowed to do much for us during the fall (workouts), but his leadership, he’s taught me a bunch of stuff going into the season,” Phillips said. “We’re happy to have him at Malvern.”