Tyree Pickron (above) and Wood are the top-ranked team in the 5A preseason rankings. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
(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 2016-17 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Well, here we go again.
Back for the second year, City of Basketball Love is going to take another deep rip at splicing together preseason rankings for each of Pennsylvania’s six classifications.
If that seems like a bigger venture than last season, it is since PIAA has upped the number of classes for the first time in 30-plus years — jumping from four to six.
That’s right, six.
And while we’ll spend today revealing Class 5A — Classes 4A, 3A, 2A and A were unveiled earlier this week — check back periodically for the remaining classifications as we crescendo toward the season’s Dec. 9 start.
Should be fun.
As one of PIAA’s freshly minted classifications, this 5A thing opens up all sorts of possibilities for those programs that outgrew 4A and might have been a tad smaller than those groups that wound up in the big-school 6A.
Regardless, this classification should be incredibly competitive.
Although we could have gone in a number of directions, we’re going to anoint another Philadelphia Catholic League program as our preseason No. 1 squad and that honor falls to John Mosco’s Archbishop Wood Vikings.
While Wood was unable to escape Archbishop Carroll in last season’s PCL quarterfinals and wound up finishing 14-10 — and determined lead guard Tommy Funk hustled off to the U.S. Military Academy — there’s all sorts of talent scrapping for playing time during Mosco’s heated practice sessions.
In fact, six of Wood’s top seven scorers return.
We’ll start with a trio of seniors — 6-1 wing guard Colin Gillespie, 6-3 wing Matt Cerruti and 6-2 combo guard Keith Otto — but 6-3 junior Tyree Pickron and 6-10 junior big man Seth Pinkney also will be part of Wood’s talented mix.
While 6-6 junior forward Karrington Wallace, 6-3 junior guard Andrew Funk and 6-4 sophomore wing Julius Phillips will log plenty of PT, another youngster that’s already impressed is innovative 5-8 freshman Zahree Harrison.
So, needless to say, it should be an interesting season for the folks in Bucks County.
Once the first full week of games is played, we’ll be back with weekly updates of our rankings, beginning on Dec. 19 and appearing on Mondays the rest of the way.
Brief glimpses of our preseason top 10s appear below, with PIAA district and last season’s final record displayed in parentheses. Only those schools competing for PIAA state championships are eligible for ranking purposes.
NR — not ranked; OW — others to watch.
CITY OF BASKETBALL LOVE’S PRESEASON STATE-WIDE BOYS’ BASKETBALL RANKINGS — CLASS 5A
1. Archbishop Wood (12, 14-10)
Notables: One thing Mosco has done since moving to Wood following a lengthy stretch as an assistant at Neumann-Goretti is concoct a rugged schedule that will test his Vikings repeatedly. This season is no different since Wood will open at the always-beastly D.C. Classic, follow immediately with a visit to Abington and play a number of other hammers before PCL play begins after the holidays. With the likes of Pickron, Pinkney, Gillespie and the rest of a deep, talented rotation ready to start pounding the basketball, the Vikings certainly will be challenged from start to finish. So, if Mosco’s bunch winds up in Hershey in March, they’ll have earned their shot at bringing state gold back to their suburban Philly campus.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-11 at Gonzaga (D.C.) College Classic.
2. Bangor (11, 26-3)
Notables: With a record-setting 2015-16 season now in the rear-view — along with a 58-44 loss to Plymouth-Whitemarsh in the second round of states that Bangor led at halftime — Bron Holland’s tested Slaters might be even better this time around since his club returns four of its five starters. Those four — 6-2 Reece Jones, 6-4 Seth Benton, 6-4 Dylan Benton and 5-10 Anthony Schiavone — filled a huge highlight reel for a program that hadn’t prevailed in states since 1988 (when Bron Holland was still playing) and lost only to state qualifiers PW, Parkland and Salisbury. Brawny 6-3 senior Colton Holland also returns, but so do 6-3 sophomore Isaiah Jones and 5-9 sophomore Ben Holland. Defending Colonial League champs are just one of a handful of quality District 11-5A programs. Stay tuned.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 vs. Easton.
Seven-footer Seth Maxwell is a force to be reckoned with for Ken Bianchi's Comets. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
3. Abington Heights (2, 23-3)
Notables: Those outside northeastern Pennsylvania might expect Ken Bianchi’s Comets to flame out from time to time and struggle through a difficult season, but all this suburban Scranton program does is win … and win a lot. Bianchi, in fact, has more than 700 victims tucked away in his impressive ledger. Well, despite several graduation departures, expect few things to change in 2016-17 for an Abington Heights club that returns impressive 7-0 senior center Seth Maxwell. While Maxwell averaged more than 11 points per outing last season, he also bagged seven treys. Whoa!!! Bianchi’s other returning starter is 6-5 junior Jackson Danzig, but 6-4 sophomore George Tinsley is a rising talent who will help offset the loss of Tim Toro. Tom Rothenberger, a 5-7 senior, also brings needed experience.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 at Holy Cross.
4. Upper Merion (1, 16-8)
Notables: After slugging it out season after season in the perennially competitive Suburban One League, Jason Quenzer’s surging Vikings have shifted allegiances and now call the Pioneer Athletic Conference home. With the talent Quenzer watches every day in the gym, it wouldn’t matter where these guys play. Sporting plenty of size across an imposing frontcourt, 6-8 senior and Holy Cross recruit Matt Faw is the Vikings’ headliner. But Faw won’t go into the fray all by himself since 6-7 senior Ethan Miller and 6-4 senior Chris Carita also return. As for the backcourt, 5-9 senior Aidan Newell is one of those slick combo types who can facilitate and finish. And should Upper Merion need a deep look buried, that task likely will fall to 5-10 senior Andrew Persaud. Dangerous squad.
Season-opening game: Dec. 13 at Methacton.
5. Whitehall (11, 13-11)
Notables: We weren’t kidding about District 11-5A being filled with a handful of land mines and Jeff Jones’ Zephyrs, featuring an experienced group, buoyed by a terrific summer and no longer forced to fight for their postseason lives against some really big schools, is another Lehigh Valley outfit that figures to make lots and lots of noise. While 6-2 senior Charles Hudson (12.3 ppg) and 6-0 junior Mikey Esquilin (10.8 ppg) get plenty of attention, Jones has other veterans such as 6-2 senior Logan McGinley (12.7 ppg), 6-1 senior Jackson Buskirk (8.9 ppg), 6-5 senior Zach Gilbert (7.9 ppg) and 5-11 senior Kayden Walschburger (5.7 ppg) that are capable of filling it up for a Whitehall side that will push it and get after people defensively. Still in the rugged East Penn Conference, so these guys will get tested regularly.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-10 at Wilson Area Tip-Off.
6. Northeastern (3, 21-3)
Notables: While Jon Eyster’s Bobcats watched plenty of talent depart following a perfect run through YAIAA’s Division II, they still have plenty of guys who can ball as they shift into a YAIAA-I setting that will be considerably more strenuous. Although Eyster’s latest group won’t wow anyone stepping off the bus, the strength of this club resides within an electric backcourt containing the likes of 6-2 junior Antonio Rizzuto and 5-11 junior Fred Mulbah, athletic two-way players who can torment opponents at both ends of the floor. More pop will come from 6-2 senior Brandon Coleman. Will be an interesting season in Manchester as Eyster’s Bobcats — without Kobi Nwandu, Jeff Reynolds and Donovian Maxfield — duel for YAIAA-I supremacy with Spring Grove, Central York, Dallastown and York.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-10 at Northeastern Tip-Off.
7. Hampton (7, 17-10)
Notables: While Joe Lafko’s Hampton side isn’t the biggest group, his latest edition has a number of available athletes and at last one bona fide finisher in 6-2 senior guard Antonio Ionadi. One of western Pennsylvania’s top scorers a season ago, Ionadi connected at a 22.3 ppg clip for a Talbots outfit that fell in the opening round of the PIAA’s Class AAA tournament to Erie Strong Vincent. What’s helped return Hampton’s profile to its lofty level — unfortunately Lafko doesn’t have any of the Luther brothers available — is a successful spring and summer. Slick 5-10 senior lead guard Mark Shehady will work alongside Ionadi in the Talbots backcourt, while 6-3 senior forward Kyle Reese will be one of the anchors up front.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-10 at North Hills Tip-Off.
Colin Daly (above) is the only returning starter for a Carroll squad full of fresh faces. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
8. Archbishop Carroll (12, 23-4)
Notables: Paul Romanczuk may not have the household names rolling off southeastern Pennsylvania tongues just yet — 6-4 senior Colin Daly is the probable exception — but he probably does and we don’t know just yet since Carroll always seems to be in the Philadelphia Catholic League, District 12 and PIAA championship discussion. Perhaps we can help. While Daly’s classmates — 6-6 Jesse McPhearson, 6-4 Khari Williams and 6-1 Jimmy Lake — got run last season as Carroll reached the second round of states, 6-2 junior transfer (Academy of the New Church) Justin Anderson and 5-10 junior Jahmir Williams also are in the early mix with a number of others as the Patriots ready for their season-opening weekend in Erie. Another youngster who merits mention is talented 6-3 freshman A.J. Hoggard.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-10 at Erie McDowell Tip-Off.
9. Highlands (7, 23-6)
Notables: Imagine being up to your belly button in postseason play when a pair of significant contributors suddenly leave the team and say they’re transferring. Well, that’s what happened last season at Highlands yet Tyler Stoczynski’s Golden Rams still reached the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals. Talk about some unexpected turbulence. Fast forward to the 2016-17 campaign and an experienced Highlands group led by an upbeat quartet of seniors — 6-2 Mitch DeZort, 6-4 Brayden Thimons, 6-1 Ryan Boda and 6-0 R.J. Reiger — is anticipating another quality run. Since 6-1 junior Romello Freeman and 6-0 senior Dom Martinka saw their PT go up following those abrupt departures, Stoczynski does have some depth in place.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-10 at Pine-Richland Tip-Off.
10. Meadville (10, 21-5)
Notables: Stoked by a disappointing conclusion to a terrific 2015-16 campaign, Mark McElhinny’s Meadville Bulldogs may be poised and ready to erupt yet again later this week when they tip it up at home. A high-powered outfit fueled by high-octane 6-2 senior guard Armoni Foster (21.5 ppg), McElhinny’s bunch will be seeking some payback after falling in the District 10-AAA final to Strong Vincent and the opening round of states to New Castle. Bottom line is Foster can light it up. Also back is 6-6 sophomore Lashon Lindsey (10.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg), an athletic presence up front who rejected two-plus shots per outing as a first-year performer. While 6-0 junior Isaiah Manning will add experience, McElhinny received a nifty surprise and a talent boost when 5-9 point guard Simeal Wofford checked in from Strong Vincent.
Season-opening games: Dec. 9-10 at Meadville Tip-Off.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Allentown Central Catholic (11, 11-12), Bishop Shanahan (1, 15-9), Blue Mountain (11, 21-7), Bonner-Prendergast (12, 13-12), Cathedral Prep (10, 16-10), Chartiers Valley (7, 20-6), Chester (1, 22-8), Chichester (1, 14-8), Great Valley (1, 16-8), Holy Ghost Prep (1, 19-8), Manheim Central (3, 14-9), Mars (7, 23-7), Martin Luther King (12, 15-13), Mastery Charter North (12, 27-4), Mechanicsburg (3, 11-11), Milton Hershey (3, 25-3), Montour (7, 13-10), Penncrest (1, 12-10), Pottsville (11, 28-1), Simon Gratz (12, 16-11), Solanco (3, 11-11), Spring Grove (3, 25-4), Strath Haven (1, 19-5), Upper Moreland (1, 9-14), West Scranton (2, 17-10), Wissahickon (1, 10-12), York (3, 12-11).
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