Ryan Coyle (@ryancoyle35)
(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.)
Family. A word often associated with sports that is thrown around and placed on t-shirts, hoodies, locker room banners and more.
For some teams, it could just be a phrase that is thrown around without a true meaning. To the Penn Charter boys basketball program, it is more of a lifestyle.
Families have their ups, but they also have some downs, and sometimes even lose a few members of that family along the way.
Penn Charter senior guard Mark Butler, a Lafayette recruit, was the Inter-Ac Player of the Year last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
On Oct. 18th, the Penn Charter boys basketball team was caught off guard when their head coach since the 2018 season, John Owens announced he was stepping down due to health reasons, just one month before the Quakers were set to begin practice for what is expected to be an entertaining season led by a veteran bunch.
“It was a shocker and was very emotional when we found out Coach Owens stepped down because he was a key part of our group,” senior guard Mark Butler said. “He is the coach who gave me the opportunity as an eighth grader to start and lead the varsity team at such a young age. He believed in me from a very early point in my career. It hurt to see him go, but we can’t dwell on that and we have to go forward with our new coach.”
Anytime you lose a key member to a family, organization, or team it is sure to take a bit of a toll on all those involved. But, life always seems to go on and like Butler noted you can’t dwell on the past. Instead, you have to focus all attention towards the betterment of your future.
After the announcement from Owens, the Penn Charter administration turned to Dave Bass, current Penn Charter Lower School physical education teacher and former head coach of the Quakers girls program during the early 2010’s, to lead the way for the 2022-23 campaign on an interim basis.
Bass, a 1988 graduate of Penn Charter who starred in both basketball and track winning five Inter-Ac championships between the two sports, was previously serving in the role as the middle school head boys coach before he got the call about taking over the varsity squad for this year.
“I was asked to be the interim when John stepped down,” Bass said. “I love this school, I love this community, and I said I can do it for a year and I am excited that I get the chance to work with this talented bunch. With the team I was presented with, it was a no-brainer opportunity for me to help make an impact for our school.”
As Bass noted, he is serving in the interim capacity for this season, with the possibility of continuing to be the head coach going forward after the year, but he will have to re-apply and compete against other potential candidates when the time comes.
In the meantime, the Quakers bring back a loaded squad that went 19-5 last year winning the Inter-Ac championship in a shared role with Malvern Prep. The Quakers will be competing against the likes of Malvern Prep, Germantown Academy, Springside Chestnut Hill, The Haverford School and Episocopal Academy in what should be a really competitive league this season. Penn Charter is the rare and fortunate program that brings back everyone from last year’s championship team after having no seniors on last year’s squad.
With a change coming this late in the offseason, it is fair to wonder how Bass will deal with a group that he hasn’t had the chance to coach and work with at the high school level.
“Being connected to the school, I have had a chance to watch a lot of their games before,” Bass said. “I have a pretty good feel of what these guys play like and what they do well.”
Penn Charter 6-3 senior Isaiah Grimes will have to play big on an undersized PC squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Due to a rule in the Inter-Ac, coaches aren’t allowed to run organized workouts and practices in the fall, but he has had a chance to meet the team and have some brief discussions about his coaching style and some of the roles for his players during the upcoming year.
Bass didn’t get to conduct his first official practice with the team until Friday (Nov. 18), only 11 days before they tip-off their season against Germantown friends.
The Quakers return one of the most experienced groups in the area, headlined by Lafayette commit and reigning Inter-Ac Player of the Year in Butler. The senior guard is going into his fifth year as a starter at the varsity level and is expected to cross the 1,000 point threshold in his first few games during his senior campaign. The reigning MVP of the conference is ready for one last dance with his brothers.
“We have had this same core group since we started out together,” Butler said. “It isn’t normal to see teams stick together in high school sports today as long as we have, but I am glad that we have found a way. It is a little sad that it is coming to an end, but I am excited to be able to end my time at Penn Charter with the guys that I started with.”
Other than Butler, the rest of the senior class consists of two returning all-league performers in the Inter-Ac with Isaiah Grimes and Trey Shinholster back in the fold, as well as Keith Gee, Scott Doran and Colin Schumm expecting to be key members of the rotation as well.
The Quakers expect to implement a guard heavy approach again this season, with the 6-3 Grimes being the biggest player in their rotation and being forced to play bigger than his size, a role he has grown to excel in.
“I feel like our team relies on me to get rebounds and be a strong defensive presence,” Grimes said. “Being the biggest guy on our team at 6-3, I am forced into some hard situations when it comes to guarding the other team's biggest player and usually being undersized. But, I am used to that role and have embraced that to help us win.”
Grimes, a standout member of the Quakers football team as well, uses his blend of speed and athleticism to cause problems for opposing teams' big men though on the perimeter, turning what can be at times a negative situation into a positive one.
“I am able to use my speed and strength against some other bigs out on the perimeter because with our small lineup, we put them in difficult situations to guard us.” Grimes said.
Penn Charter senior guard Keith Gee is part of a 2023 class that has played together throughout their high school careers. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Shinholster, another guard in the small-ball attack is one of the go-to scoring options for the team and is simply put ‘a bucket’, according to Butler.
Gee plays the role of the main facilitator, floor general, and energizer bunny for the Quakers, frequently pressuring the opposing teams guards and taking them out of any offensive rhythm.
Trey Shinholster’s younger brother, Kai is a rising sophomore coming into this season with three Division I offers from UTEP, Robert Morris, and Hofstra, and his teammates are expecting him to make that sophomore year leap.
“Kai Shinholster comes back for us too and he had a really good freshman year and from what I have seen from him this offseason working out and through AAU, I think he is going to have a really big year,” Grimes said. “Since we had so much success last year with all our veterans, it is going to open up things for Kai to really take off.”
Other expected players to play a role for Bass in his first year at the helm of the program are junior Kevin Cotton and promising freshman Jayden Driver.
Bass knows taking over the team this close to the season isn’t exactly ideal, but with the mix of experience and talent that he gets a chance to deal with, he is expecting that the program continues their upward trajectory.
“When I had the chance to meet all the guys after I got the job, the first thing I told them was, ‘This is your team, your season, I am here to help where I can and guide you through it. I am going to need you guys just as much as you need me,’” Bass said. “I told them we are going to keep a lot of things the same from the past that they have done, make this transition easy on them and I am going to implement some stuff that I like and think could help us out as well.
“But with their experience and the talent that this group has, I am going to lean on them a lot and listen to what they have to say to help us be the best team we can be. They played really good basketball last year and I want to help them build off of that.”
With expectations not faltering despite the coaching change, Butler and company have had the same message between each other this offseason: Repeat as champions in the Inter-Ac, but this time win it outright.
“Our group chat name is ‘2022-23 Champs, No Sharing’, so that definitely has been the main goal we have talked about this offseason,” Butler said.
While there is still a lot of basketball left to be played still this winter, Butler, Grimes, Shinholster, Gee, Doran, and Schumm know the light is at the end of the tunnel for their playing days together. That point has been discussed amongst them in the groupchat, on the court, and in the hallways, but they are looking forward to making the most of this last run.
“It means the world having one last year to play with these guys and go achieve what we have been talking about,” Grimes said. “I don’t even look at these guys as teammates, but more so just my brothers and family. We always want to compete and expect to win everytime we are out on the court, but I want to make sure we have fun together this year and make the most of this last run.”
Bass knows he was handed the keys to a high-level program already, and he just wants to make sure he can make a positive impact on this group of young men in what might be his one and only season leading the program that he once donned the uniform for.
“I just want to help to continue to build this program up and continue on the tradition that I am very proud to be a part of in the past that is Penn Charter athletics,” Bass said.