Kieves "Deuce" Turner is back to lead a young and talented Malvern Prep core that now has lpenty of experience. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(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.)
Kieves “Deuce” Turner described last season as the start of a new beginning for Malvern Prep.
“Really, really young” is the description fifth-year head coach John Harmatuk used for his 2016-17 squad.
Turner was one of five freshmen on the Friars’ roster last season along with Rahdir Hicks, Spencer Cochran, Isaac White and Jarod Wade. Hicks and Turner were starters from the opening game, while Cochran and White earned bigger roles as the season progressed.
The young core mixed with three seniors, three juniors and two sophomores went 10-13 in 2016-17 and finished fourth in the six-team Inter-Ac with a 5-5 league record. They lost to the Phelps School in the first round of the Pennsylvania Independent School Association playoffs.
“They’re a special group of kids,” Harmatuk said of the 2020 class. “Now they’re sophomores. I think our expectations are a little higher than they were. I didn’t know what to expect last year, which made it fun to coach, but these kids play hard, they’re tough.”
After the departure of Will Powers (walk-on at Holy Cross) in 2016, the Friars needed someone to help replace the offensive production of the 1,000-point scorer. Unfazed by the challenge, Turner rose to the occasion as a freshman.
Turner became the Friars’ leading scorer, averaging nearly 19 points per game in Inter-Ac play. His performance earned him second team all-league honors.
“He just has a natural ability to score,” Harmatuk said. “Super athletic, super competitive and he really, really works hard at his game. You could tell he was going to be special from the beginning.”
Hicks, who plays with Turner for Rip City AAU, was the Friars’ point guard from the opening game last season. The 5-11 guard, who is reclassifying and will be a freshman again this season -- something allowable in the non-PIAA league -- led the team in assists in his first year.
Turner and Hicks have played basketball together for most of their lives. They said it made the adjustment to varsity basketball last season much easier.
“The chemistry is already there,” Turner said. “You already know how each other plays and you know what each other likes to do.”
Senior captains and three-year starters Tommy Wolfe and Ray Baran are key departures from last year’s team, but everyone else is back. The five sophomores are joined by juniors TyGee Leach and Connor Leyden.
There was doubt earlier this preseason about the availability of senior forwards Billy Corcoran and Brady Devereux, who both have promising baseball futures. Corcoran is committed to pitch at Pittsburgh, and Devereux is committed to pitch at Wake Forest.
Without those two, Harmatuk would have had to rely on freshman big man Fran Oschell. However, the senior forwards are back, rounding out a roster that has a year of experience playing together.
“A lot of people are excited, especially around campus,” Hicks said. “We have the bulk of our team back, so everybody’s excited.”
Harmatuk’s philosophy since he arrived at Malvern Prep, and even dating back to his days as a high school coach in Texas, is to play with pace.
At times a bit undersized, the Friars like to push the ball up the floor. It helps that the strength of their team is in the backcourt.
“We play fast,” Harmatuk said. “We run, shoot a lot of threes, play up-tempo, defensively pick up full court. We’ll probably end up switching at every position. If we can get the game going as fast as it can, that’s best for us.”
Scoring the ball hasn’t been a problem for Harmatuk’s teams since he got to Malvern Prep. Defense is where the Friars have struggled. He is hoping that is an issue the team can improve on this season.
While the return of Corcoran and Devereux should help some of the questions about defensive rebounding and rim protection, the Friars will be the smaller team more times than not this season.
“We have to find ways to get extra possessions through our presses and things like that,” Harmatuk said. “Defensively that’s going to be hard. We want to run, so we have to make sure five guys defensive rebound and then run. Any way we can scrape together extra possessions, that’s our key.”
In December last season, the Friars followed a four-game losing streak with four consecutive wins, only to lose three in a row right after. The young lineup had to learn how to play together last season. Team chemistry improved as the year went on.
Germantown Academy has won at least a share of the the Inter-Ac the last five years, including four outright titles. Episcopal Academy tied with GA for first place last season, but both lose teams their top two scorers from last season.
Haverford, which finished third last year, is the likely favorite to win the Inter-Ac after returning its entire roster. But with a year under their belts and plenty of time to gel, the future looks bright for the young Friars, who could make a push up the league standings.
“We had a lot of young guys who had to go out there and play,” Turner said. “We didn’t come together well until the end of the season. Our record was not what we expected, but we’ll improve over the next few years.”