By Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
(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.)
The Haverford School boys basketball program hit a high in 2019 when it went undefeated, claimed back-to-back Inter-Academic League titles (the former being the first since 1999) and won the first PAISAA title in school history.
The Fords’ mission to get back to the top of the Inter-Ac continues this season after making strides within the league last year.
A difficult graduation hit followed 2019 with seniors Jameer Nelson Jr. (George Washington/Delaware/TCU) and Christian Ray (LaSalle/Delaware) leaving for college. Jameel Brown, a breakout freshman star on that 2019 team and now a sophomore at Penn State, transferred to Westtown for his senior season.
Haverford School senior Billy Rayer averaged 7.8 points last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Haverford went 2-8 in the Inter-Ac in 2020, then 7-2 in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, 2-8 in 2021-22 and improved to 4-6 last year. The 13 wins in 2022-23 were the most by the Fords since that 28-0 championship squad in 2019.
“It’s just about staying consistent,” senior leader Billy Rayer said. “A lot of that stretch was COVID. It’s just getting back to the routine that helped us win it in the past. I think the past two years I’ve been here we’ve gotten back to that, and this year we’ll see the end product.”
Rayer, a 5-foot-10 point guard, averaged 7.8 points per game last season with an outside touch. His decision-making and playmaking skills have improved in recent years, and head coach Bernie Rogers said his best attribute is his willingness to take coaching.
Rayer and fellow senior Connor Scanlan, a three-sport athlete committed to Fairfield for baseball, will be the leaders after the graduation of Luke Rasmussen (Lafayette), who averaged 11.8 points last year.
The Fords have a ton of intriguing talent in the younger classes, led by junior K.J. Carson, sophomore Emmanuel “Manny” Butts and freshman Silas Graham, which gives Rogers versatile options to tinker with.
“It’ll depend on how teams guard us,” Rogers said of the offensive scheme. “We have to get Manny more touches underneath and on the perimeter. KJ scores the ball well for us, too. I think the best thing will be having five players on the court that can handle the ball and make each other better.”
Carson, a 6-foot combo guard, was the third-leading scorer last season at 10 points per game. Butts, a 6-8 forward, started 14 games last year and averaged nine points and 5.5 rebounds before a health issue ended his season. Graham, a 6-2 combo guard, started as an eighth grader last season and averaged 11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 steals; he missed three games due to a service trip to Puerto Rico, and the Fords lost all three.
Emmanual Butts saw playing time with Haverford School last year as a freshman and is expected to have a bigger role this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“We have KJ and Billy back,” Rogers said. “Having Manny fully back will help. KJ, Billy and Silas got a lot of playing time last year, so hopefully we can build off that.”
The Fords will be without junior Duke Cloran, who tore his ACL and is out for the year. Twin transfers and 6-5 junior wings Jacob and Leo Becker, who relocated to King of Prussia from New York, will be key in replacing Cloran. Junior 5-11 guard Evan Large will also play a bigger role.
“That’s a tough blow for us,” Rogers said. “(Cloran) could do a little bit of everything, so it changes our dynamic a bit. Good thing we have more preseason practices so we can figure out how we’re going to play without him.”
Haverford trailed Penn Charter (8-2), Malvern Prep (8-2) and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (6-4) in the Inter-Ac standings last season before falling in the PAISAA Tournament to George School, which went to the championship, by three points.
All the top teams took graduation hits and also returned talent.
Penn Charter graduated Mark Butler (Lafayette) and Isaiah Grimes (Georgetown football), but returns junior Kai Shinholster, who was second-team All-Inter-Ac last season and has offers from Drexel, Mississippi State, Penn, Radford, St. Joe’s, Saint Louis and Temple.
Malvern Prep graduated Inter-Ac MVP Andrew Phillips (Lafayette) and returns Northeastern commit Ryan Williams for his senior year.
Springside Chestnut Hill graduated Alasanne Amadou (Marquette) and Jaren Morton (VMI), but returned Camden Burns for his senior year.
The Fords know that story all too well and feel it’s time they return to the top of the league.
“Our league’s very competitive, so it’s trying to talk out to our guys being ready to play at all times,” Rodgers said. “Don’t slip up one game because we aren’t focused.”
The Fords tip off the season Nov. 30 against the Hun School (N.J) before facing Bonner-Prendergast and Friends Central.
The first five-game Inter-Ac gauntlet consists of games at Penn Charter (Jan. 5), vs. SCH Academy (Jan. 9), at Malvern Prep (Jan. 12), vs. Germantown (Jan. 16) and at Episcopal (Jan. 19).
The second gauntlet consists of: vs. Penn Charter (Jan. 26), at SCH Academy (Jan. 30), vs. Malvern Prep (Feb. 2), at Germantown (Feb. 6) and vs. Episcopal (Feb. 9).