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 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
It was a win that reverberated around not the city, but resonated within the Friends’ Schools League.
When Friends’ Select beat Westtown School in January, it was the FSL’s equivalent of David taking down Goliath’s older, larger brother. Westtown was the seven-time-defending league champs, loaded with Division I prospects. They had a documentary crew follow them around one season. Heck, the Inquirer wrote a story in 2017 which highlighted how amazing it was that Friends’ Select was only losing to Westtown by five at one point, in the first half of a game it lost by 37.
To a whole group of schools who never thought they really had a shot, it was a sign.
“I don’t know if the kids think this way, [but] everybody as a coaching staff looked at them as inspiration,” Abington Friends coach Jon Wessel said. “They took down Westtown, they made this run, they cracked the ‘Big 3,’ so to speak, in the Friends’ League. [They] showed us that it’s possible to do that [...] they shook the league up, and that’s something that we would love to do.
“The bottom half of the league are building, building, building, and we’re right there with them.”
Junior Zamir Parker-Barnes is at Abington Friends after a standout season at Frankford last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Wessel’s Kangaroos are aware that in the landscape of the modern-day Friends’ Schools League, they’re not going to be the most talented group. Westtown and George School, the only two boarding schools in the FSL, have used that to their advantage, bringing in future Division I talent from near and far. Academy New Church, under 30th-year head coach Kevin Givens, has long produced college ballplayers.
But that doesn’t mean AFS has an empty roster, either. Junior Zamir Parker-Barnes, who transferred in from Frankford this summer, is an athletic 6-5 wing guard who instantly becomes their top offensive option. He’ll step into the role vacated by Ife West-Ingram, now a freshman at Rider University.
“He knows what he’s capable of, and he knows how incredibly talented he can be,” Wessel said of Parker-Barnes. “For us and for him it’s tightening up those other things, what’s he doing off the ball, what’s he doing defensively, how’s he being a leader? All those types of things are what we’re working on with him, the sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned.”
Parker-Barnes gave a lot of credit to senior guard Jared Shanken for helping acclimate him to the school, to get him ready for the increased academic load as well as getting adjusted to the rest of the basketball team. Though he played against the likes of Imhotep Charter and other regular state title contenders in the Public League, the FSL is a new gauntlet to prepare for.
“I’m ready for the challenge, I’m excited,” he said. “There’s no other words, I never back down from a challenge, that’s what I look for, I’m just ready.”
Senior point guard Kaydin "Fudd" Ford is a four-year varsity contributor for AFS. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Parker-Barnes might be the star, but he’s got talent around him.
Senior point guard Kaydin Ford, nicknamed ‘Fudd,’ is a four-year varsity contributor who’s one of their on and off-court leaders, along with Shanken, another returning starter. The junior class is deep, led by Parker-Barnes plus Cheltenham transfer Kamani Healey (6-4), Jason Green (6-2) and Ethan Bell (6-2); 6-4 senior wing Namisse Mussonge gives them more experience on the wings.
Keep an eye on freshman guard Jake Scherzer as well, a sharpshooter with good physicality for his age, who looks ready to make an impact after serving as a swing player as an eighth grader.
“I think we have a lot more depth and a lot more guys on the same page, trying to do what we’re doing,” Wessel said. “They understand what we’re at in terms of positionally, where we’re going, the style we’re going to have to play to be successful.”
The last time Abington Friends was league champs, 11 seasons ago, Steve Chadwin was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame tenure at the school, Wessel one of his assistants along with Josh Leopold, another AFS alum.
Leopold, who was four years behind Wessel at Abington Friends, also returns to his alma mater after helping Jamie Chadwin — Steve’s son — and Radnor capture the Central League and District 1 5A championship this past season.
“He’s just a workhorse, man,” Wessel said. “Every film, every little detail, it’s just so nice to have someone that probably could and should be a head coach somewhere on the bench with me at a place that we both care deeply about. I look at us as being co-head coaches, to be honest.”
“I feel like Jon focuses more on our offense as a coach, and Josh, he’s very hard on defense,” Parker-Barnes said. “He doesn’t play (when it comes to) defense. Offense will take care of itself, we’ve got a very talented team, but Josh will be like, ‘if we’re going to be the best team in the Friends’ League, or be up there, it’ll be defense.’”
Wessel tested his team early in the season, with non-league games against almost the entire Inter-Ac and a game at St. John’s (D.C.) before Friends’ League play starts in January. They’ll dive right in, going to Westtown on Jan. 3, with George School visiting them two days later.
If the Kangaroos are going to make that leap, they better be ready.