Dan Arkans (@danarkans)
(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.)
Friends Select boys basketball head coach Percell Coles remembers a time when teams would come into their gym laughing and giggling.
Sometimes, opponents’ best players wouldn’t even compete.
Coles called it “vacation time” for opposing teams. It bothered him to the core.
One game against Westtown changed all that midway through last season. The Moose waltzed into Friends Select in January and the Falcons stunned them 47-45, a win that reverberated throughout Philadelphia.
“It was a great win for us and the entire program,” Coles said. “We never had a win like that before. Being able to knock them off — a great ballclub — it shows how great we can be. It gave us a lot of confidence.”
It was the biggest win in Coles’ 10 years with the Falcons. They ended up going 6-3 in the Friends School League, qualifying for the league semifinals for the first time since 2000. There, FSS lost to Academy of New Church, one of the vaunted big three in the Friends School League.
Junior Isaiah Marshall is one of several returning guards this season for Friends Select boys basketball. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Last year it was a happy moment,” junior point guard Jay Chiles said of the win over Westtown. “I know it was a long time since someone had beaten them in our league. It was a great moment for us. It led a spark through the whole team that we can prove ourselves.”
Building on last year’s 17-5 season and berth in the FSL semifinals will be no small task with the loss of 6-foot-8 big man Christian Kirkland, who is now playing at Youngstown State.
Still, Coles thinks he has the pieces to replace him at least on the defensive end with “stretch-4” Owen Coughlin, who transferred from Wissahickon and will repeat his sophomore year, and 6-5 senior Scottie Aaronson.
“That’s a tough replacement to fill,” said Coles of Kirkland. “We will have two guys that fill up the stat sheet as far as rebounds and playing defense. On the defensive end, they should be able to replace Christian.”
What the Falcons do return are a lot of speedy guards led by junior Chiles, junior Isaiah Marshall and 6-1 sophomore guard Pierce Blackwell.
“We lost Christian, but we are all still great players,” Chiles said. “We have Owen coming in. He’s a great big. He can be physical. We have other pieces around us. We all have motors. The loss is not that great. We are still going to be fine.”
One reason they are going to be fine is the depth does not stop there. Coles is expecting big things from freshman Reggie Moore.
“He’s going to be a big-time player,” Coles said. “He’s a great point guard. He plays with a lot of poise. He plays like an upperclassman.”
Coles said he expects Moore to start at times, but most likely he will come off the bench to provide a spark. Filling out the starting lineup will most likely be 6-4 sophomore forward Ahmeil McLaurin, who will do all the dirty work for the Falcons.
“He fits in perfectly,” Coles said of McLourin. “He’s very coachable, understands personnel. He does all the little things. He knows how to execute plays.”
Senior Tiko Morris and Laron Smith provide depth off the bench.
While Friends Select did lose a Division-I talent in Kirkland, Coles hopes its style will be more aesthetically pleasing this season. The Falcons won’t rely on one player, but better ball movement and of course a whole lot of defense.
“I’m big on defense,” Coles said. “We practice all day on defense. Defense wins championships. I stress that to them all the time. We take it on the defensive end.”
The Falcons’ win over Westtown not only is a program-builder, but also a sign that the top three of ANC, Georges School and Westtown can be dethroned. It gives hope to the entire league and puts the bulls-eye directly on Friends Select.
“I feel teams look at us like we can beat any team,” Chiles said. “Don’t doubt us. We will come in and fight and give our best.”
According to Coles, Friends Select is up to the challenge. The Falcons are ready to take another step in the program’s development.
“The goal is to make it to the (FSL) finals,” Coles said. “We made it to the final four. We want to move up. Hopefully, we will get a championship in the next year or two.”