Athletic wing Greg Barton (above) leads Downingtown West into the 2017-18 season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Tyler Sandora (@tyler_sandora)
(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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
When Stuart Ross took over the Downingtown West program last year, he was inheriting a team which had finished 23-5, and graduated college-bound stars Ryan Betley (Penn), Josh Warren (Cornell), and Dom Guerrera (West Chester).
Previously a head coach at Kennett, Collegium Charter, and Penn-State Brandywine, Ross was only left with returning starters George Gordon and Matt Carson, and not tons of varsity experience on the bench.
“That wasn’t the tough part, losing those three guys,” Ross said. “The toughest part was transitioning from one style to another, getting used to my style of play. I always thought we had enough talent to be successful, so I knew it would take time.”
The Whippets were quick to respond to Ross’s style of play, molding their system around the new personnel.
The Whippets didn't end up qualifying for the Ches-Mont playoffs last season, but that didn't mean the end of their season. Ross was able to bring his new team into the District 1 6A tournament, falling to the 9-10 playback game, but clinching a state berth. In PIAA 6A state tournament, they fell to Harrisburg High in the first round, finishing the year at 17-12.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to do what we did last year,” Ross said. “I feel like they thought after Dom, Josh, and Ryan left, we would go back to being bottom-feeders of the league. I actually had some people tell me they were surprised how far we went last year.”
Now, entering his second year at the helm, Ross has gotten a chance to learn more about his team, and knows what it takes to get beyond the first round of the state tournament. Though the Whippets were a well conditioned team, the mementos might have gotten to them.
“The guys who played last year didn’t have an opportunity to play in districts the year before,” Ross said. “The physicality, working in the weight room, we’ve gotten stronger. Some of those games really showed that we had some younger guys, but the experience was the biggest part.
This year’s Whippets team starts with senior Greg Barton. A 6-6 wing, Barton is one of the most versatile players in District 1 -- he can play the ‘1’ through the ‘5’ and guard them all as well. A smooth lefty with bounce, Barton can shoot the midrange, but thrives in transition where he can beat opponents down the floor with speed and finish high above the rim.
Barton didn’t have any varsity experience as a sophomore, but was able to practice against the aforementioned stars during practice, learning from them; and is now ready to but that knowledge to use. Despite missing the July Live Period with a high ankle sprain, Barton is receiving high interest from D-II’s Lackawanna, Daeman, Bloomsburg, and Millersville.
“A lot of things they did, I try to do in practice today,” Barton said. “Things like talking on defense, they brought a lot of intensity to practice. Dom Guerrera, always was the hype man and he brought energy which was what he need. Ryan Betley taught me a lot. I used to have to guard him, it made me a lot better.”
The Whippet’s height doesn’t end there.
Seniors Matt Tremoglie (6-8) and Stuart McAvoy (6-9) will both play big roles in the front court. Sophomore Will Howard, also the quarterback of the football team, is 6-5 and is expected to contribute.
Downingtown West comes in as one of the tallest teams in District I, and Ross couldn’t be happier about it.
“Can’t complain,” Ross said. “That’s something we need to take advantage of. We talked about rebounding, and we want to be savages on the glass and win the battle on the glass every night. Having size is always an advantage we just need to make sure we put it to good use.”
As for the backcourt, senior point guard Davis Reardon, a 6-0 returning starter, will run the point for the Whippets. Jake Reese (6-2) and Jeremy Mattson (5-8) will play big roles in their senior years, and Jackson Lundberg, a 6-4 sophomore, will likely receive some minutes off the bench.
Naseem Roberson, a 5-10 junior, will also be looked upon for some minutes off the bench. The cousin of NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry, Roberson is in his first year with the Whippets after transferring from Maple Shade (N.J.) following a move into the area.
This year’s Whippets team is deep, and has been harping particularly on skill development this offseason, working in the gym all summer, developing great team chemistry in addition to getting better on the court.
Ross hopes all that hard work will pay off this year, and now that he's comfortable with the system and the players have gotten used to him, the Whippets hope to get back to the level of success they have had in previous years.
“We just want to compete every night,” Ross said. “We want to play hard defense and rebound every night and give great energy and effort every night and let the pieces fall where they do. If we stay committed to those things, we’ll be fine by the end of the year.”