Mike Webb (above) and Springfield (Delco.) will have to come together quickly with many multi-sport athletes. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Matt Chandik (@MChandik26)
(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.)
Springfield coach Kevin McCormick has been around for a while, so when he recently said that this is the most unusual offseason that he’s ever seen since taking over as the Cougars’ boss, it’s somewhat jarring. Don’t believe him?
“Between the end of last year and the start of this year, we will not have played one game with the entire team there,” McCormick said. “Not one.”
That’s shocking in itself, considering the abundance of games available throughout the multitude of spring and summer tournaments available, but it doesn’t take long to see how that came to be. Springfield is a team loaded with multi-sport athletes, and those other commitments add up quickly.
Point guard Kyle Long, a two-time All-American lacrosse attackman committed to defending national champion Maryland, helped the Cougars win their second straight PIAA championship. After that, he came back to the football team after taking his junior year off, joining the likes of Ja’Den McKenzie, Frankie Durham and Kevin Deal on a team that made it to the District 1 Class 5A championship game before bowing out to Unionville last week.
Another commitment here, something else popping up there, and that’s how the most unusual offseason in McCormick’s tenure came to be. On the flip side, if there was a good year for it to happen, it’s when you’re boasting a 10-man senior class on the heels of making the PIAA Class 5A tournament.
McCormick will temper his expectations, at least in the early going, since his team hasn’t played together. With that in mind, it’s a long season, and the expectation is that the Cougars will be a tough out for anybody, particularly in the postseason.
“We’re not going to be on our ‘A’ game in December, but we’re going to be tougher as the year goes on,” McCormick said. “Their confidence is going to go up.”
It starts in the backcourt for Springfield with Long and fellow senior Mike Webb. Long is a four-year varsity contributor who started on the point last year in the run to the state playoffs. He has superior athleticism, competitiveness and vision, and those traits that made him such a highly sought-after lacrosse recruit translate over to the basketball court.
“Kyle sees things faster and reacts faster than everyone else,” McCormick offered. “He’s got super feet, he’s a great communicator on the court and he’s the engine that keeps us going.”
If Long has been a steady year-round force at Springfield for four years, Webb is the opposite. He attended Penn Wood as a sophomore and was home schooled last year before transferring in midway through last year before averaging 8.5 points per game for the Cougars. Those are numbers that figure to skyrocket after a year in the system, and Webb isn’t shy about bestowing lofty expectations on himself and the Cougars.
“I feel like Kyle and I are the best backcourt in the whole league,” Webb said. “Our offense is built around the guards and we’re both athletic, skilled competitors, and we want to win. It doesn’t matter if we score 20, 10 or zero, I just want to win at the end of the day. If we win, I’m fine. I feel as though I’m the best player on the court, and I have no problem competing with anyone who disputes it.”
Webb thrives on attacking and finishing at the rim. He’s got an excellent handle and is always in attack mode. Once he gets to the rim, he’ll also have a good supporting cast around him to dish off to. McKenzie is a big body who excelled as a running back and linebacker, and he plays like it on the court. He thrives on contact and does well around the rim, but he also has the athleticism to run up and down the court if Springfield wants to open things up.
Expect Durham to play a ton after a broken ankle in a JV football game sidelined him for the year last year. McCormick lauded him for his speed all over the floor, but Durham is a catch-and-shoot threat and one of those scrappy, tenacious defenders that every coach loves.
There’s a little more uncertainty after that, but chances are if someone steps on the court, it’s a senior. Mike Conran, a 6-1 guard, skipped basketball last year to prepare for baseball, where Springfield made another run to the state tournament. (Pro tip: if there’s a Springfield sports team, chances are it went pretty far last year.) Conran is another plus-athlete with good basketball IQ that helps fill a role, while Deal is a big body who also plays with a football player’s mentality. The standout defensive end will be tasked with doing all the dirty inside work. He also skipped hoops a year ago, opting to focus on rugby, the sport he’ll likely play collegiately.
Mike Tulskie, Long’s favorite target last spring on the lacrosse field, is a high-energy guy who gives the Cougars a spark off the bench. Fellow Cardinal O’Hara transfer Dan Devaney hasn’t played since his freshman year, but he’s another energy guy for Springfield.
“We have to keep it even keel because we lost some really good basketball players to help us get to where we were and we need people to fill their roles,” McCormick said. “It’s a different team than I’ve had in the past 10 years, so I’m leery to put expectations on them, but our goal is to get to districts. Once you get there, who knows what can happen? We were an 11 seed last year and we got to states.”
Webb is a little bit more effusive in his praise, and his expectations are loftier, too.
“I expect to win everything,” Webb said. “It would mean everything. We’ve got the squad to do so. Everyone knows what they need to do. We’ve got a great coach who’s experienced and intelligent. He puts us in positions to perform and that’s what we’ll do this year.”