Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Valley Forge Military College head coach Rich Casey is confident his team will take another step forward this season.
The Wayne, Pa. junior college head coach completed the signing of the five-man class at the end of last week, and it's a group that has him feeling very good about the future.
Imhotep guard Khalif Tinley, Future’s Dominic Morales, Math, Civics & Sciences’ Keith Griffin, J.P. McCaskey’s Tyler Owens and Ridley’s Ameer Staggs will all become Trojans this fall, as the program looks to build on a 7-18 record from a year ago.
“It’s our second strong class,” said Casey, who took over as head coach and Director of Athletics in June 2013; he’s had past stops at Manor College, Archbishop Ryan, University of the Sciences and ran the 76ers summer camps for six years. “First year we inherited a lot of nice kids, they just weren’t college basketball players, with the exception of one.”
That “one” was 6-foot-8 forward Ronald Gombe, who’s going to be a redshirt sophomore at Canisius this year.
A member of NJCAA’s Division II, Valley Forge competes in Region 19, along with schools like Burlington County College, Essex County College, Manor College, Community College of Philadelphia and Lackawanna College.
Last season, Casey had to rely almost entirely on freshmen. Forward Carnell McGirt, who was a role player at Roman Catholic in high school, broke out as a college freshman, averaging 17.9 ppg and 12.3 rpg; while Brandon Thompson (Conestoga) led the team with 18.9 ppg, shooting 43.3 percent on 3-pointers.
Now that his team has plenty of college experience, Casey is hoping his team will turn a lot of close calls into wins.
“We suffered a lot of injuries last year and lost seven games by five points or less, so it was kind of a learning experience,” he said. “We needed smart and strong guards, and we feel like we’ve got a great crew that came in.”
The collective resume of this freshman group is certainly fairly impressive. Morales was the leading scorer in Philadelphia as a junior at 27.2 ppg, and finished his career with over 1,400 points scored. Tinley (pictured above) was one of the top defenders in the Public League, helping Vaux to a state championship as a sophomore and then starting for Imhotep for two seasons after Vaux shut down; his senior year, the Panthers won the Public League championship and made it to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals.
They’re not the only two that had successful prep careers. Staggs was a starting forward on a Ridley squad that won its first Central League title in seven years and then made it to the District 1 AAAA semifinals, while Owens’ J.P. McCaskey squad made a run to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals.
“I would rather go after a kid that came from a championship program off a bench, knowing that he knows what it took to get there, because that’s our ultimate goal,” Casey said. “Getting the kids that are starting and playing at winning program is a bonus for us, they know what it takes to get us to where we want to be.”