By Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
(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 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
Second-year head coach Derek Brooks’ Upper Dublin team looks different from last season.
His 2022 squad featured a host of senior football players who played basketball. When the Upper Dublin football team went on a deep state tournament playoff run, three senior starters — Colin O’Sullivan, DJ Cerisier and Griffin Pensabene — missed the offseason and the Cardinals’ first four games.
Once those seniors traded in their cleats for sneakers, Upper Dublin went 13-3 in SOL games and finished with an 18-7 record. But The Cardinals fell short in postseason play, losing in the SOL semifinals to Central Bucks East and suffering a first-round District 1 tournament loss to No. 12 West Chester Rustin.
Upper Dublin junior Ryan Mulroy, seen playing for the Penn Warriors this summer, is hoping to lead his squad to the state playoffs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)
The 2023-24 team is younger, leaner and stacked with full-time basketball players, which should fit Brooks’ share-the-ball philosophy. Led by junior guard Ryan Mulroy, the Cardinals are looking to compete for an SOL title, get over their District 1 woes, and qualify for the PIAA state tournament.
“We got a really good group of kids who work hard,” Brooks said. “They are high IQ players, they are skilled, and they are committed. It’s a fun group to coach. I don’t know where we’ll end up ultimately, but I feel good about our chances this year.
“Our goal last year was to get to states, that’s the same goal this year.”
Mulroy highlights Upper Dublin’s squad. He’s their best returning player and unquestioned leader. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard is a handful for defenders. He can score from outside, at the rim, and create for his teammates.
Getting his younger teammates into open gyms and being a calming presence in the face of adversity is critical to qualifying for states. The first team All-SOL Liberty guard has logged considerable minutes at the varsity level and has learned the best leadership approach from past teammates too.
“Gotta show up to the open gyms,” Mulroy said. “Every practice has to be like a game. You have to take it seriously. It’s gotta be competitive, diving on the floor, making the right plays, bringing energy to practice. That’s what we need if we want to take the next step.”
“Just picking your team up, I think that’s the most important [thing]. I had times my freshman and sophomore year where I wasn’t having the best game and those seniors and juniors were always picking me up and making sure we stayed locked in the game.”
Upper Dublin’s roster has three seniors returning who contributed last year and will help Mulroy lead this young squad: SOL Liberty Division honorable mention honoree Brady Fogle, a solid defender who can provide scoring; Anthony Oliveria-Schultz, who hawks rebounds; and football player Chris Kohlbrenner.
Junior Idris Rines will provide some size for this Flying Cardinals squad. Brooks is excited about the prospect of Rines playing an entire season. His size makes him an imposing presence in the post. He’s also flashed a catch-and-shoot ability when given the opportunity.
“For the most part we are a 2025 and 2026 group and we have some talented 2027s as well,” Brooks said. “We are lucky enough, very fortunate to be in a position where we can compete this year but also be excited about the next three, four years.”
The bulk of Brooks’ squad is a promising crop of sophomores headlined by Kobe Bazemore, Brandon Altman, and Noah Cohen.
“They are so smart and skilled for their positions,” Brooks said. “Once they physically catch up to everyone else, they are gonna be really effective players, and they already are effective players at their size. Those three have been phenomenal.”
“They are coming to our open gyms and they are really working hard,” Mulroy said.
While the basketball skill, drive and IQ have increased with this year’s roster, the Cardinals’ physical strength has dwindled. Brooks wants his younger and leaner side into the weight room before the season starts.
His assistant coach and brother, Sean Brooks, is spearheading the Cardinals’ weight-lifting program. Derek is impressed by how his young team has responded, embracing the offseason grind. But there’s always room for improvement.
“We can get physically overwhelmed offensively and defensively,” Brooks said. “But if every guy on our team added five to 10 lbs of muscle, their game would exponentially grow just because of what they’d physically be able to do.
“A lot of our guys are skilled and smart so the weight room is certainly important. We’ve put a major emphasis on it, we’ve seen improvements, but we gotta make sure we do a better job.”
The second-year head coach is expecting an up-and-down season, but he’s confident that his team’s commitment to themselves will lead them to their ultimate goal, qualifying for the PIAA state tournament.
Brooks doesn’t want to hark on the past and their upset loss in the District 1 tournament. He was proud of his team’s effort and how they gelled together once they regained strength.
Now he has a roster of “full-time” basketball players bent on making a run in districts led by a budding star and established leader in Mulroy.
“I just want to win a district playoff game, that’s all I really care about,” Mulroy said.