Darius Kinnel (above) is one of three senior starters for St. Joe's Prep. (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.)
Return three players who last season landed on one of the Philadelphia Catholic League’s esteemed all-star teams and no wonder St. Joseph’s Prep hopes to make some things happen.
Compete for the prized postseason championship contested at Penn’s historic Palestra in a league flush with hammers that’s probably the best circuit in all of Pennsylvania.
Reach the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, when Stephen Vasturia, Miles Overton and Chris Clover led the Hawks to the Class AAAA state semifinals before they fell to Chester.
Deliver head coach William “Speedy” Morris his 1,000th victory.
If shots fall consistently, a healthy percentage of 50-50 balls are won and a lineup featuring four returning starters, a sizable transfer and a youngster with all sorts of promise doesn’t get nicked up, perhaps Morris’ talented Hawks can make all sorts of noise before the season comes to a close.
“We hope to vie for the [Catholic League] title, but you never know,” said Morris, who recently underwent knee replacement surgery. “It’s going to be tough.”
With the likes of reigning PIAA Class 5A champion Archbishop Wood, four-time PIAA Class 2A/3A champion Neumann-Goretti and state qualifiers Archbishop Carroll, Archbishop Ryan, Conwell-Egan, West Catholic, along with Father Judge, La Salle College, Roman Catholic and improved Bonner-Prendergast, every Catholic League game played is a virtual street fight.
Quite simply, it's always been that way.
“It’s awesome,” Morris admitted. “It’s an awesome league.”
And Prep, which last season finished 15-8 and fell in the Catholic League quarterfinals to Roman Catholic 56-55, believes it has the personnel in place to be a factor.
Ask Morris what the keys to success are and he’ll offer the obvious: “Beating the other teams.”
“It’s about we, not me,” Morris added. “If we play together, if we do that, we’ll be OK.”
“Just us focusing on getting better as a team,” said 6-8 senior Ed Croswell, the La Salle recruit who joined the Prep program prior to last season after playing on a Math, Civics & Sciences outfit that in 2016 reached the PIAA’s Class A championship game. “If we do that, we can do anything we want.
“Like every day in practice getting better as a core, not as an individual,” continued Croswell, who averaged around 14 ppg and was tagged a second-team Catholic League all-star. “We can make a lot of noise and we can reach states.”
After a full year at Prep, Croswell believes he’s much more comfortable with his surroundings — both off the basketball floor and, obviously, on it.
“It’s about adjusting to the team,” Croswell said, of adapting to Prep and playing in the Catholic League. “We have the chemistry together. It wasn’t just running up and down the court like before, it was more execution of plays. You had to be smarter with the choices and decisions you made.
“And you had to be ready to play every game.”
La Salle commit Ed Croswell (above) will move out to the '4' with the addition of Jacob O'Connell. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Just playing for Morris was something the talented Croswell also needed to adjust to, although he’s learned plenty since pulling on a Hawks uniform for the first time.
“It’s more sets. You’ve got to execute every time,” Croswell admitted. “Even if you can’t execute at the offensive end, rebounding and playing defense you can contribute. That’s what Coach is teaching me.”
Yet while adjusting to Prep’s demanding classrooms, Morris’ approach to the game and the Catholic League grind, Croswell also needed time to fit into a Prep lineup featuring guards Kyle Thompson, Darius Kinnel and Gabe Arizin. The good news is all three of those players will work Prep’s perimeter yet again.
Thompson is a 6-0 senior who last season was a first-team Catholic League all-star after averaging around 15 points per contest, while the 6-0 Kinnel joined Croswell on the Catholic League’s second group of all-stars after scoring at a 13 ppg clip. Both are D-I prospects.
Arizin, meanwhile, is a 6-2 junior and the grandson of Philly hoops icon Paul Arizin.
So, having a trio of quality guards with all sorts of experience should be a plus for the Hawks.
“It’s big. It’s always big,” Morris said. “Darius and Kyle are very, very good, should have big years. Gabe Arizin is really improved, and he should be a big help.”
While promising 6-0 sophomore Trevor Wall moves up from the junior varsity program and likely will spell any of the Hawks’ veteran guards, the really big news at Prep is the addition of 6-10 junior Jacob O’Connell. Connell is a transfer from Eastern Regional in Voorhees, N.J.
Count Croswell, who spent much of last season as the lone warrior on the backboards, among those extremely pleased to have another available big in the Prep lineup.
Particularly since he’ll spend more time playing similarly to the way the La Salle coaching staff projects him to play once he transitions to Dr. John Giannini’s Explorers.
“I still have to stay aggressive,” Croswell admitted. “I think it just gives me more energy that I can keep going and going and going all game. Last year it was just me [on the glass] and I played real hard. With Jacob coming over, he’s a big piece that can help me. Now I’m working on my jump shot and my perimeter play a little bit more, so I can step out. … I’m just gonna be a player.”
Although Croswell was part of the lineup that several days after Christmas delivered Morris his 700th victory at the high school level when the Hawks defeated St. Georges (Del.) Tech 67-48 in a showcase at Widener University, another milestone could be attained sometime this season.
Morris, in fact, needs just 10 victories to collect his 1,000th win at any level.
“If it happens, that’s great,” said Morris, whose record as a high school coach with stops at Roman Catholic, Penn Charter and Prep is 709-205. He also went 281-220 with the La Salle men and women. “It’s a nice number. You’ve got to play them one at a time.”
And play them one at a time is what the Hawks will do against their perennially grueling Catholic League slate, as well as a nonleague schedule that includes Cheltenham, Bishop Shanahan, Malvern Prep, Germantown Academy, Haverford School and several others.
“We can’t have any injuries. We’ve got to stay healthy,” Morris insisted.
“We can’t afford to lose any of those starters.”
Maintaining collective health may be critical to the Hawks’ 2017-18 campaign, but once Morris sends his lineup on the floor Croswell believes there’s another key in play.
“We’ve got to play defense. We’ve got to get better at defense,” Croswell added. “Defense is the key — and us being tough, a tough team. I think we can win some games if we just play defense.”
With four starters returning, including several all-Catholic League performers, there’s a number of things the Hawks might accomplish in addition to winning games with their defense. In fact, Prep hopes to compete for a Catholic League crown, reach the state playoffs and celebrate yet another milestone with their legendary skipper.
Check back in February.