King coach Sean Colson (above) is entering his fifth season with the Cougars. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
(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.)
One game does not define a team’s season, but for Sean Colson and Martin Luther King there was one that stood out amongst all the others last year. The Philadelphia Public League title game against Imhotep Charter was that single performance that the Cougars’ head coach looked at as a matchup of one team who had pulled out difficult situations in games of that magnitude prior, and another which had not.
The Cougars stifled the Panthers for much of the game, but could not make that necessary play to put the opposition away. Imhotep forced Martin Luther King into 23 turnovers and celebrated another Public League championship, winning 53-49 in overtime. Colson, who last led Martin Luther King to a Public League crown in 2014, noted there were things for his team to be proud of from that game but knew they let one slip away.
“I felt we probably should’ve won,” said Colson, now in his fifth season with the Cougars. “They are the better team with more talent but I felt we outplayed them that game. They made the plays to win and I don’t know if we were ready to win the Public League. We never took control of the game.”
Coming into that game, Martin Luther King (21-10) had tallied off 15 straight wins and it was a tough for Colson’s team to refocus after. They dropped the District 12 Class 5A title game to eventual state champion Archbishop Wood by 36 points. They pulled out a 10-point victory over Bishop Shanahan in the opening round of the PIAA 5A playoffs before their season ended in the next round in a five-point overtime loss to Abington Heights.
The Cougars lost two players to graduation: 6-7 forward Elijah Kiah-El is doing a post-grad year at Coastal Academy (N.J.) and Qadir Burgess enrolled at Wilmington University.
Colson does not want to fret on that loss to the Panthers and neither does senior point guard Denelle Holly Jr., who sees that game as a great learning experience.
“Offensively, we didn’t play too well, but defensively we had a good game,” Holly said. “Throughout different spots in the game, we had some players giving up but we learned that we need to keep on playing. Everyone thought we were going to just lay down but we fought.”
The 6-2 Holly, who has been receiving interest from Monmouth, Towson and UNC-Greensboro, will be Colson’s floor general this season and showed why he’s ready to take command of this team. He scored 23 points and dished out eight assists in a victory over Public League rival Constitution on Jan. 31. He also had strong performances against Math, Civics and Sciences (18 points) on Jan. 19 as well versus Del-Val Charter (13) in the Public League semifinals. Colson, who also coaches Holly on the AAU circuit with Philly Pride, has lofty expectations for his point guard.
“I think Denelle is going to be one of the best guards in the city,” Colson said. “He did a good job last year. The best is yet to come from him. He’s really going to shine.”
Senior guard Denelle Holly (above) is the leading returning scorer from last year's state tournament-worthy squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Holly will have an option in the post to help him out on both ends of the floor in 6-9 senior center Will McNair. McNair has transformed his body and game, and it has caught interest from local Division 1 schools such as Temple, La Salle and St. Joe’s. McNair displayed his overall improvement in an 11-point, 10-rebound, four-block performance against Del-Val in the Public League semis. As Colson described, last year he “probably couldn’t even say [Will] was a Division II prospect but now he’s being talked about as a Division 1 prospect after losing a lot of weight. He has good hands, runs the floor and has a few post moves.”
Two key pieces were lost in the offseason as juniors Jihad Watson (MC&S) and Mikey Robinson (West Catholic) transferred, leaving openings in the starting lineup. 5-11 junior guard Ricardo Montereiro looks to be an option to enter the starting five. After receiving time as the team’s top shooter his freshman year, he showed some signs of improvement like his 13-point game vs Frederick Douglass Academy (N.Y.) last year but had an up-and-down season as a whole. He “missed shots that he would normally make” as Colson said and “hopefully he gets back to how he helped us a ninth grader.”
Jerry Andrews, a 6-5 senior forward who transferred over from Constitution late last season, is going to the starting power forward alongside McNair. Colson stated how he’s not sure he saw “the best side from him last year because we had to just plug him in but he has worked very hard.” Andrews should have a much more defined role this season.
Another option will be 6-5 senior forward Isaiah Anderson, who Colson said “finally has his act together and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do. He’s really improved over the summer and this is his time.”
Junior Yasir Durant, a 6-1 guard, played on the Cougars JV team last season but Colson stressed he’ll be in the rotation. In five season at the helm of the Cougars, Colson has had two freshman make the team: Montereiro and Xzavier Malone (Fairleigh Dickinson). Add a third now as 6-0 guard Hysier Miller has not only made the team but “is going to be somebody who is going to challenge those older guys for minutes,” as Colson described. Junior guard Qawi Morris and fellow 6-5 junior Yves Casimir should also be competing for minutes.
The Cougars roster consists of several new faces and Holly said Colson has been working with him on how to be a leader and mentor to an inexperienced group.
“Right now, everyone is trying to feel each other out,” Holly said. “The chemistry is getting there. We’re not as good as we can be right now but we’re getting better every day. I need to show more leadership because we have a young group and I need to guide them and show them how to win.”
Martin Luther King will open its season against Bethlehem Catholic in a Play-by-Play Classic at Archbishop Carroll on Dec. 9 then they will meet the Panthers for the first time since the Public League championship five days later. They will also play at the Haverford School on Dec. 17. The non-league schedule also includes matchups with St. Frances Academy (Md.), Camden (N.J.), Thomas Jefferson (N.Y.) and Annapolis (Md.).
Colson and his team already have their eyes set on that initial matchup with the Panthers and after losing all three games last season to the PIAA 4A champions by an average of 8.3 points per game, the former Third Team All-Public League selection at Franklin Learning Center in 1992 boasted about one accolade his team has over Imhotep in the Public League playoffs.
“Since I’ve been here, we’re the only team to make it to the final four every year,” Colson said. “Imhotep is the best program in our league. They’ve won two championships since I’ve been here but they have also lost and gotten knocked off before the semifinals. We have either gotten to the championship or the semifinals every year since I’ve been here.”