Bryce Spriggs (above) and Friends' Central finished third in the Friends' Schools League a year ago. (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.)
Friends' Central coach Ryan Tozer said there was something missing from his team last season. He said at times the group lacked a competitive edge.
After a bit of a disappointing 13-14 campaign in 2016-17, the goal for this season is for the Phoenix to put together a consistent effort night in and night out.
“We’re coming off a season where we did not look good, and I don’t think we competed very hard,” said Tozer, who is in his sixth season at Friends' Central. “I want you to be able to see, if you come out and watch us, you see a disciplined team, a hungry team that just has not quit in them, that just competes on every possession. That’s all I’m worried about. If all our guys are going to go out and compete hard, we’ll have a chance to win.”
Friends' Central lost to Shipley in the semifinals of the Friends School League and ended its season with a 71-46 loss to the Perkiomen School in the first round of the PAISAA playoffs.
While Tozer’s team finished third in the nine-member Friends School League with a 6-2 record, Friends' Central has a ways to go if it wants to catch up to the league’s top two teams this season.
The Phoenix lost to Shipley by 35 in the team’s first meeting of the season before a 14-point loss in the semifinals. They lost to Westtown, the eventual Friends School League and PAISAA champion, by 23 in the teams’ only meeting.
“We struggled last year,” Tozer said. “Never really started to gel towards the end of the season. Never really developed any chemistry before the season started and it was just a tough year. Didn’t play well, didn’t coach well. That year’s behind us and we’re hungrier this year.”
The Phoenix have two departures from last season’s 13-win squad. All-league point guard Antone Walker graduated and is now at Wesleyan University. Justin Steers, a 6-foot-6 forward with Division I interest, is playing his senior year at Rocktop Academy.
Friends' Central comes into this season optimistic it can replace the lost production. Tozer returns three starters from last year’s group. Senior forward Toure Mosley-Banks, junior guard Bryce Spriggs and sophomore guard Omar Nichols all return to the Phoenix’s starting lineup. Also returning is sophomore guard B.K. Kothari, who came off the bench last season.
Junior forward Myles Robinson, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, is back for the Phoenix. Friends' Central went to the league championship game during Robinson’s freshman season in 2015-16. The 6-foot-3 forward has some guard skills, but he can also bang down low.
Tozer described Robinson as fearless. His high motor and aggressive style of play should keep the Phoenix competing at a high level this season.
“If they see me being aggressive, then the team wants to be aggressive,” Robinson said.
“He bring toughness and it’s infectious,” Tozer added. “We got a guy out there like Bryce and Myles who are just tough as nails, and it just spreads.”
The Phoenix have several other key additions. Sharpshooting sophomore guard Mason Mosley comes over from Westtown. Twin brothers Josh and Jordan Friday, two 6-foot-5 forwards, give Tozer a boost of the depth in the frontcourt he hasn’t had recently after transferring from Lawrenceville Prep (N.J.).
The addition of the Fridays and the return of Robinson should help Mosely-Banks, who would have had to play the ‘4’ and even possibly the ‘5.’ The 6-foot-4 small forward said he’s excited to play in his more natural spot outside.
“Having them, I can finally be a certified perimeter player,” Mosely-Banks said. “Normally, we didn’t have the height, so I had to play down low, play out of position, so it’s good finally being able to play like a wing, something I’m really good at.”
Along with playing with more energy, Tozer, Robinson and Mosley-Banks agreed that the Phoenix will have to communicate better and play more cohesively this season.
Mosley-Banks, the lone returning senior on this year’s team, said this will come in practice as well as off the court, by doing things like going out for pizza together to build a level of trust among the team.
“We’ve always been talented, it’s just different levels of chemistry,” he said. “This year we’ve got to really work on the chemistry and coming together because we have the talent. It’s just how we use it.”
The Phoenix last won the Friends School League in 2011, when they captured their second straight title and went to four consecutive championship games. Their last title game appearance was two seasons ago, when the team went 18-10 and 9-1 in the league.
Tozer said if the Phoenix are to get back to their winning ways, it will start with an unselfish attitude.
“We have much more depth this year,” he said. “We’re going to establish roles and guys just have to buy in. If guys buy into their roles and we can play as one, we’re going to be a tough out every night.”