KeShaun "Champ" Hammonds and Constitution are coming off a runner-up finish in the PIAA 2A classification. (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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Every time they gather for some sort of basketball event, whether it’s an open gym or a preseason showcase or even just a skill-oriented session, Constitution players continue to feel the burn.
Geez, even as cross country season stretched out and Rob Moore had his players training and running distance events and a different type of burn pushed and prodded the Philly-based Generals to dig deeper, thoughts of an ill-fated journey March journey to Hershey swept through minds.
Every one of the seven Generals who played in last year’s PIAA Class 2A championship game at Hershey’s Giant Center continues to feel the lasting sting from that ill-fated outing.
Every one of the nine players still listed on Constitution’s roster — even those who might not have suited up — remains burdened by a 68-63 overtime loss to Sewickley Academy that might have turned out differently had all-state lead guard Tamir Green canned a contested trey late in regulation.
All of them, however, have a solution and that’s to make a return trip to southcentral Pennsylvania and right what they’ve felt was a wrong that’s continued to linger and linger and linger.
In other words, that long-lasting burn has turned into needed fuel — both physical and emotional kindling, if you will — as Moore’s determined Generals continue to prep for an extremely promising 2017-18 season they hope winds up right back at Hershey’s Giant Center.
“Losing, it like motivated us because we’ve got a lot of young players,” said 6-0 senior guard Jahmir Williams, who rolled in from Archbishop Carroll during the season yet never stepped on the floor until Constitution’s state tournament run began to unfold. “This year, we’re looking to be back at it and win everything — Pub, City, States. Nobody really was down, other than during the states.
“Now everybody’s like motivated,” added Williams, who scored two points and grabbed two rebounds in 11 minutes of action at Giant Center. “I feel like we’re better than the team we had last year.”
“That feeling of losing has made us work harder,” continued 6-2 sophomore guard Keshaun “Champ” Hammonds, a returning starter who banked two points and snared one board in 13 minutes.
“We just want to do everything better than we usually do.”
“There’s definitely a level of hunger amongst these guys,” admitted Moore, who also coaches cross country at Constitution and builds his players’ endurance by having them run 5Ks.
While Moore genuinely believes his club has enough talent and more than enough depth to piece together another strong season — Constitution finished 19-10 last year — he also feels as if his team can be part of a return engagement at Giant Center. Maybe even against Sewickley Academy.
Moore certainly knows what it takes to make back-to-back jaunts to state championship games, having piloted Constitution to the 2014 Class AA championship before guiding the Generals to the 2015 Class A crown. Of course, those squads featured Ahmad Gilbert and Kimar Williams.
Constitution also collared the 2012 Class A title at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, riding Savon Goodman and Daiquan Walker to a convincing 68-49 victory over Lincoln Park Charter.
This group, with first-team all-state selections Green and double-double machine Maurice Waters gone, will sport a much-different makeup. Yet the results figure to be typical Constitution results — win games while playing a difficult schedule and compete for and capture championships.
“I have more guys in the mold of Haneef Vaughn and Abdul King, just gritty guys that are just gonna get out there and do the small things,” Moore admitted. “I don’t have any kids going to UNLV or Arizona State or Minnesota on this team, but I do feel like I have four or five kids on this team that could be playing Division I basketball at some point. So, obviously that’s a plus.
“No one knows about those kids, we’re just trying to get the most out of it.”
What Moore, lead assistant Ron McGee and the rest of the Constitution staff hope to do is use their depth in the backcourt and their overall numbers to crank up the pace offensively, get in a lot of grills defensively and tucker out their adversaries just by going out and getting after it.
If somebody needs a breather, somebody else steps on the floor and the high heat continues.
“We’re gonna really get after everybody,” Moore admitted. “I think one of the things you’re gonna see happen is we’re not dependent on those two guys to score the basketball any more, so we’re gonna have a variety of guys stepping up on any given day. That’s the important thing in what we’re gonna do this year that’s gonna look a little bit different than last year.
“We’re gonna be a little bit harder to defend, because you’re not gonna say, ‘We’re gonna stop Tamir, and if you stop Tamir and keep Maurice off the glass …’ I just have a bunch of guys that at any given time can go for 20. I have six guards that I feel can start for mostly any other team in the area. There’s some exceptions like Imhotep, but I have six guards that can just get out there and play basketball.”
In addition to Williams and Hammonds, Constitution’s backcourt rotation figures to include 6-0 senior Hakim Hudson, 5-11 senior Tyree Mitchell, 6-1 senior Raquon West and 5-9 junior Abdul Riggins.
Williams may be the key to Constitution maxing out and reaching many of its big-picture goals. Hammonds, meanwhile, should be much more comfortable in his second varsity season as he gets comfortable as one of the Generals’ young yet experienced leaders.
“Jahmir’s gonna bust out this year,” Moore said. “Nobody knows who he is, because he’s never played a year of high school basketball. So, nobody knows who he is, but because of his strength and size at the guard position he’s been our most consistent player and he’s been able to dominate.
“He’s gonna shock some people. I have a few guys and nobody knows who they are, but when they come out people are going to be really surprised.
West, who came over from Upper Darby prior to last season, could wind up playing on the wing, where he’ll be competing for playing time with returning 6-3 junior Jihad Saunders, 6-3 junior Jabari Merritt, 6-4 senior Jahlil Davis and possibly 6-3 sophomore Amir Sharif. Merritt transferred from Roman Catholic, Davis relocated from Tacony Charter and Sharif left Mastery Charter South.
Burly 6-5 senior Leeron Wills-Worthy, 6-8 sophomore Korey Bridges and 6-5 freshman Maurice Montgomery will provide needed bulk inside for Moore’s Generals. Bridges is the younger brother of Villanova standout and former Great Valley star Mikal Bridges.
While Constitution will play in the Public League’s hammer division yet again — Imhotep Charter, Math, Civics & Sciences, Martin Luther King, Audenried and Mastery Charter North are the other five entries — the Generals will begin the season in Erie with a game against Mount Vernon (N.Y.) and follow that up by squaring off against host Erie McDowell or Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
Games against Philly Catholic League foes such as La Salle College, Archbishop Carroll, West Catholic, Cardinal O’Hara and Lansdale Catholic also are planned, as is a scrap with Woodrow Wilson (D.C.), a squad that last season fashioned a gaudy 29-4 mark.
Constitution also will be returning to the Ohio border to meet two-time PIAA Class A champion Kennedy Catholic — this time during the holidays — for a four-team event also involving Erie’s new consolidated high school and Philly’s Sankofa Freedom.
“I just want to get my guys as ready as possible,” Moore admitted.
Use that lingering burn from last season’s state near-miss and turn it into positive energy — as well as another deep run In the Class 2A version of Pennsylvania’s state basketball tournament.
“It’s definitely motivation for us,” Williams admitted last month at CoBL’s Nexxt Level Shootout in South Jersey. “Everybody on our team wants to win everything. Last year is still out there, but it’s still helping us. Every time anyone mentions states, it just makes everyone go harder.”
“We’re gonna give it our all, because we just want to win,” Hammonds added.
“Our main goal is to win every game by double digits. Every game,” Hammonds continued. “I don’t like losing and they don’t like losing. We’re all brothers and we all want to win.”
Moore knows his players are anxious to get started, even if practice doesn’t begin until next month.
He, too, wants to bring an end to the lingering sting that’s pestered his team for seven-plus months.
“I think that’s on everybody’s mind. I think it has been since last year,” Moore said. “I’m excited about the season. We’ve been in the gym, working out, getting better.
“I think we’ll be really prepared for the season.”