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.)
DALLASTOWN — Parked in a sizable room just behind his school’s gymnasium — with his head coach sitting nearby — Brandon McGlynn talked about the expectations he has for himself just a few days before Dallastown High School opened yet another preseason basketball training camp.
Yet, an instant later, the amiable 19-year-old senior was chatting about the process and how determined he is to succeed given it’ll be his final season in Wildcats blue.
“I want to make counties, I want to win counties, I want to make districts and win districts,” the 5-10 McGlynn remarked, referring to capturing York-Adams and District 3 Class 6A championships.
“I want to go as far as we can,” McGlynn continued. “You don’t really think about it until it’s your last year, and that’s kind of bit me in the butt a little bit. You just really have to be grateful to be able to be playing, and you just have to take it day by day and practice by practice.”
Given the Wildcats (14-9, 8-6 in YAIAA Division I) were in so many close games a season ago — Dallastown won eight contests by nine points or fewer and lost seven outings by eight points or less — Mike Grassel’s remarkably athletic bunch was so close to really, really breaking out.
Heck, the last of those close losses (80-77) came on the road in the opening round of the District 3 Class 6A playoffs to a Carlisle squad that wound up reaching the PIAA’s Class 6A semifinals — with McGlynn (concussion) resting at home as his mother dispatched him regular updates.
So, with eight seniors on hand and all of them ready to crank up what they genuinely believe will be a high-octane attack flush with athleticism, maybe this will be the season when Dallastown can attain all of those objectives a grinning McGlynn spelled out with genuine enthusiasm.
If so, a state playoff berth would be the first in Grassel’s six seasons at the helm. It also would be the first such invite since 2011 — when McGlynn’s older brother, Four, landed an all-state nod.
Needless to say, Grassel’s optimistic seniors are hoping to end their careers in robust fashion.
“In a great way,” added determined 5-10 senior guard Braden Caldwell, a hoops fanatic who has done everything but squeeze a cot and a dresser full of clean clothes into Dallastown’s gymnasium. “A great way would be a county championship, making it to a district championship and making a run at states.”
“Night in and night out, we should be able to compete with anybody on our schedule,” Grassel admitted. “It’s just a matter of executing. One thing is we need to grow up — and they’re seniors now — but they need to understand and Brandon said it, ‘This is it. This is it.’
“Last year we took some losses to some teams that maybe we shouldn’t have. We play a lot of quality competition, and we always played to our competition and we’d also play down to our competition. We need to play to our level and make people come to us.”
One must for the optimistic Wildcats is redistributing the tangibles and intangibles provided last season by diminutive lead guard Donovan Catchings, who is now at Marywood University in Scranton.
While McGlynn, Caldwell and several promising youngsters have the ability to lead Dallastown’s attack and get the Wildcats into their transition game or half-court sets, it’s the leadership the 5-7 Catchings provided that must be replaced — and not necessarily by just one individual.
“I miss Donovan,” McGlynn said. “We were like twins pretty much on the court. I have to be more of a leader — he was a great leader and he told people what to do, and that’s something I need to step up to as well. Being able to make decisions down the stretch, so I can really help out my team.”
“Gelling together as a unit, I think that’s important no matter what year it is and who we have coming back because we did lose a key cog to the wheel in Donovan Catchings,” Grassel added. “We’re going to be different. We’re going to be a different team without Donovan and I realize that.
“Our coaching staff realizes that,” Grassel continued. “We have some plans to ease us into that, but he’s not here any more so somebody else is going to have to step up and do some of the things he did for us last year.”
While McGlynn and Caldwell return all sorts of experience to the Dallastown backcourt, the Wildcats also have a trio of returnees up front in athletic 6-3 senior Will Barton, 6-5 senior Ben Ward and 6-4 senior leaper Justin Atwood, who sports a vertical jump in excess of 40 inches.
Grassel’s rotation also will get athletic 6-0 senior wing Da’Trail Albert, who last season averaged 11 points per outing, back at some point.
Two other seniors — improved 6-5 Ben Writer and 5-10 shooter Max Teyral — likely will come off the bench for the Wildcats. A large group of athletic underclassmen also are expected to vie for minutes in a Dallastown system predicated on playing fast and getting after people defensively.
Yet even though those talented underclassmen figure to contribute at some point, adding former York High head coach Troy Sowers to the Dallastown staff should be a significant plus as well. Especially since Sowers captured six YAIAA-I titles, collared four YAIAA tournament crowns and hoisted three District 3 championships in five tries during his nine seasons at York High.
York also reached the PIAA Class AAAA title game in 2009.
“Any time I get an opportunity to bring somebody on board that’s going to help our program, I’m for it,” Grassel said. “People have asked me, ‘Are you worried?’ I’m not. I’m comfortable with myself. And, I wouldn’t bring somebody in if I didn’t know them. Troy and I are close. I think we do work well together and that will continue to grow as we continue to work with one another. I just want people in here to help our kids.”
Where Sowers might have a significant impact on the Wildcats is at the defensive end of the floor — and helping to turn those close losses into positive results, especially in postseason play.
“He just brings a different mentality, a mindset, and just puts it on us,” Caldwell added. “We’ve got to embrace that from him. … I feel like they work well together. Two different personalities, but they just gel and that’s everything we need as a team.”
And, this particular Dallastown team hopes to contend for a YAIAA Division I championship, make a significant impact on the District 3 Class 6A tournament — the Wildcats were the 12th and final team to reach the bracket a year ago — and qualify for the PIAA’s Class 6A 32-team field.
Take a straw poll — and yes, it’s early — and lots of people believe Dallastown can contend for that aforementioned Division I championship. Defending champ Northeastern, York High and Central York also figure to be in the middle of what should be a heated chase for the league title.
“Defense, gelling as a team and just having them believe,” Grassel said of what needs to happen for his Wildcats to get where they hope to get. “That goes a long way.
“If they believe walking into the gym that they should win — and I think Coach Sowers helps with that because it’s a mindset, and I think we’re finally getting the program to be in that mindset — that not only do we expect to win but we know we’re gonna take people’s best shots.
“People aren’t going to roll over for us, just because we return a bunch.”
In addition to its 14 league encounters, Dallastown will try to navigate a testy nonleague slate including matchups against Central Dauphin, York Suburban, Elizabethtown (Grassel’s alma mater), Manheim Twp., Hempfield, Warwick, Dover and either Governor Mifflin or an improved Lower Dauphin side.
Nonetheless, falling at Carlisle in the opening round of districts still bugs these Wildcats.
“We use that as fuel,” Caldwell admitted.
“We don’t want to end up in that same position as we were last year.”
With eight seniors knowing this is their final chance to generate some lasting memories — including reaching states for the first time since 2011 — all of them are bearing down.
“Anything can happen on any given night and we learned that last year with the close games, and we lost a few,” McGlynn said. “We definitely have to be a lot more disciplined at practice, which we are. It’s grind time. It’s go time. We need to focus on what we need to do — and we’ve been doing that.
“It’s been a lot different than last year.”