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.)
It was somewhat early in the spring that Central Bucks East matched up with West Catholic at the Mayfair Rec Center for a Northeast Basketball League (NEBL) contest, that time of the offseason where the results are about as meaningless as they come, programs just starting to turn the page from the season before and coaches figuring out what they need to spend the offseason focusing on to prepare for the year ahead.
“They came in, they were looking big,” CB East senior Joey Giordano said of a Burrs squad that features now-Temple commit Zion Stanford on a roster that has hopes of a Catholic League championship this winter.
“We weren’t that confident going into the game, but we started playing, we started clicking, and even their coach was like ‘these kids shouldn’t be hanging with us,’ and then we ended up winning that game,” Giordano continued. “The points were so spread out, we were just playing together as a team, it was crazy — and from that point on I knew we were going to have a special year this year.”
CB East guard Joey Giordano is one of four seniors on the Patriots. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Patriots have developed into an annual contender in the Suburban One League under 13th-year head coach Erik Henrysen, doing so without many four-year varsity starters but a continuing rotation of athletes who come up through the school’s freshman and junior varsity teams before emerging as varsity standouts as upperclassmen, many of whom have gone on to play small-college basketball.
Last year’s senior class, which led CB East to a 16-9 record (11-5 SOL Colonial) and lost to Perkiomen Valley in the opening round of the District 1 6A playoffs, was seven deep, making up the majority of the varsity minutes and production. Three of them — Tyriq Toney-Bailey (Del Val), Liam Cummiskey (Moravian) and Nick Rivera (Cairn) — are playing college basketball; Aidan Weaver is playing baseball at Duke, while Brett Young, Joshua Lyzinski and Ryan Linehan round out the graduates.
Giordano, a 5-foot-11 guard, and 6-5 forward Kyle Berndt are two of the few varsity holdovers, the pair going from deeper reserves to the Patriots’ leaders in the span of the end of the season to that Mayfair league. They’re half of a four-man senior class, along with a pair of 6-foot-tall guards in Nick Condo and Nolan Jacob, reunited after Condo and Jacob were on the JV squad a year ago.
“It’s really exciting, just to be able to play with [...] the senior class,” Berndt said. “Just coming up with those guys, and finally being able to have our last year, is going to be amazing.”
The junior class will comprise the rest of the rotation, with a mix of varsity and JV experience. Jake Cummiskey, who hit two buzzer-beaters in the district playoffs as a freshman, returns for his third year as a varsity contributor, while guard Tyler Dandrea and wing Dhruv Mukund also were on the varsity roster last year. Coming up from the JV squad are their classmates, Justin DiRoberto, Bryce Lolas and Ryan McDonald, plus New-Hope Solebury transfer Miles Demby, a 6-5 forward.
Two sophomores, 6-6 Caleb Lyzinski and 6-2 Nolan Behm, will push for minutes as well. It’s a big group, and Henrysen expects to use most of them regularly.
“We would expect all nine, 10 guys that are in our rotation to have significant roles,” Henrysen said. ““I think the competition’s there; how that pans out, we still have to kind of wait and see, but there will be opportunities for 10, 12 guys.”
CB East junior Dhruv Mukund saw varsity action last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Offensively, the Patriots will start with Giordano, a strong outside shooter, and Berndt, an outside-in scorer who has numerous Division III programs involved in his recruitment; Dandrea has come on strong this season, as has DiRoberto, as two others who can go for double-digits on a regular basis.
“Yeah I feel like we’ve got multiple guys, especially on the offensive end that can get it going at any time,” Berndt said. “Tyler Dandrea, Justin DiRoberto, they’ll be two big guys that’ll help us out, as well as Nick Condo, all three of them can get it going.”
Considering this year’s Patriots don’t have anybody with the size of the 6-6, 230-pound Weaver, they’re going to need a group effort on the glass and on the defensive end. To that end, one junior who seems to have locked in a spot in the starting lineup is Mukund, a 6-3 forward who brings good length and athleticism and doesn’t mind sticking his nose in on the glass and playing tough around the rim.
“We’ve pretty much slotted Dhruv into that starting role almost day one and he’s been doing a great job of battling underneath,” Henrysen said. “He’s an undersized big guy but he can bring the ball up if we need him to.”
The Patriots will play a local non-league schedule, with games against a few other Suburban One League opponents — like the season openers against William Tennent and Quakertown, both at Pennridge — but will take one trip down to Tempe, Ariz. for the Cactus Jam, which will give them three games against TBD teams from around the country between Christmas and the New Year.
Henrysen is optimistic heading into the season that the Patriots can defend their SOL-Continental title and also challenge for the overall Suburban One championship with the likes of Plymouth Whitemarsh and Cheltenham, among others.
“We’re playing good team basketball, and I think there’s a continuity [that] has grown, where the guys really play for each other,” Henrysen said. “We don’t have many guys that are just out there on an island playing for themselves, guys really enjoy creating for one another on the offensive end and we’re starting to build a little bit of an identity on the defensive end.”
Even with that positive offseason, even with the year-to-year success that Henrysen’s built, the fact remains that this CB East squad is still full of question marks when it comes to the 22 varsity games that make up the season, when those wins against Catholic League and out-of-state squads over the summer don’t mean a thing besides the lessons they taught.
“I don’t think a lot of people really know what to expect from this group,” Giordano said. “They haven’t seen us play together, which is going to be exciting [...] people are going to get a little taste of us this year, it’s going to be good.”