Donta Scott (above) and Imhotep are the class of the PIAA 4A field. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
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.)
Since the first two attempts went remarkably well, let’s go for three.
With yet another high school basketball season about to get underway, City of Basketball Love is going to unload a series of 3-point attempts and hopefully cash in as we unveil another set of preseason rankings over the course of this week.
Each of Pennsylvania’s half-dozen classifications will be represented for the second consecutive season, making this a formidable undertaking.
And while we continue today with Class 4A, check back for the remaining classifications as we crescendo toward Dec. 8 and opening night across the Keystone State.
Should be fun.
Once the first full week of games is played, we’ll be back with weekly updates of our rankings, beginning on Dec. 18 and appearing on Mondays the rest of the way.
As for a quick peek at what to expect in Class 4A, we’re hardly pulling a stunner here by anointing reigning champion Imhotep Charter as our preseason No. 1. Andre Noble’s Panthers were absolutely dominant in March’s championship game at Hershey’s Giant Center, parlaying a combined 44 points from Daron Russell and David Beatty into an 80-52 victory over Erie Strong Vincent. Imhotep led 48-26 at the break.
Last year’s state championship was the fifth in Imhotep history, but the first since Noble’s Panthers completed a three-peat with a win over Archbishop Carroll in the 2013 final.
As for Strong Vincent, the Colonels were consolidated with Central and Erie Tech into a single high school [the Erie Royals] that will compete at the 6A level.
Brief glimpses of our preseason top 10 appear below, with PIAA district and last season’s final record displayed in parentheses. Only those schools competing for PIAA state championships are eligible for ranking purposes.
CITY OF BASKETBALL LOVE’S PRESEASON STATE-WIDE BOYS’ BASKETBALL RANKINGS — CLASS 4A
1. Imhotep Charter (12, 31-2)
Notables: Sparkling all-staters such as Daron Russell and David Beatty may have left for their NCAA Division I destinations, but skipper Andre Noble still has a bench full of fiercely competitive talent just waiting to stamp their own marks on a remarkably successful program. Returning junior all-stater Donta Scott may stand 6-7, but he’s capable of playing every spot on the floor — and doing so at an incredibly high level. Other veterans still in Imhotep red include the likes of 6-1 senior Bernard Lightsey, 6-4 junior Dahmir Bishop, 6-8 sophomore Elijah Taylor, 6-6 Jamil Riggins and 6-6 junior Chereef Knox.
Season-opening game: Dec. 11 vs. Frankford.
Northwestern commit Ryan Young (above) leads a BeCaHi squad with some serious size. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2. Bethlehem Catholic (11, 21-7)
Notables: Just a week or so after capturing its first District 11 championship in 15 seasons, Ray Barbosa’s Golden Hawks watched an unheralded Nanticoke side extinguish their state tournament hopes in a 58-56 setback. Some nine months later, Barbosa & Co. are ready to get back after it with a tall tandem inside and several perimeter snipers that enjoy tormenting opposing defenses. Returning all-state selection Ryan Young, a 6-10 senior double-double machine headed for Northwestern, will team up with his 6-8 junior brother, Kyle, in the Becahi frontcourt. Also back is 5-11 junior combo guard Justin Paz, 6-1 senior swingman Dameon Robinson and much-improved 5-11 senior guard DeAndre Gardner.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 vs. Martin Luther King at Archbishop Carroll.
3. Quaker Valley (7, 25-4)
Notables: Might take these guys some time to find their groove — several members of the QV basketball team will be in Hershey playing in Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A final — but that’s hardly a problem for head coach Mike Mastroianni since his Quakers hope to be playing in late March. Although 6-2 senior Ricky Guss and 6-1 junior Ethan Moore will be among those in helmets, 6-5 senior guard and Drexel recruit Coletrane Washington will be busy displaying his all-state skills finding teammates and hoisting jumpers. Other pieces available for a talented Quakers program that last season reached the state semifinals include 6-4 junior Danny Conlan, 6-7 senior Alex Skowron, 6-3 junior Christian Johnston, 6-1 Jackson Zernich, 5-11 junior Kyle Wolf and 5-10 soph K.C. Johns.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Sto-Rox at Moon Tip-Off.
4. Berks Catholic (3, 22-8)
Notables: Snip Esterly may have been lamenting his Saints’ collective youth last December — and their various struggles — but by the end of the season Berks Catholic was in the middle of another Berks County championship game against Reading. Now that many of those youngsters are a year older and wiser, they’ll be facing yet another formidable slate filled with hammers in an effort to get them ready for February and March. While 5-8 junior Luis Garcia, 6-2 junior Casey Jack and 6-4 shot-blocking senior Keba Mitchell return to the BC starting lineup, they could be joined in the lineup by 6-1 senior Tre Dabney and 6-7 junior Luke Painton. Loss of 6-3 junior Bryce Calloway to Wilson West Lawn is significant, but Esterly has been at this long enough that he’ll figure something out. Good squad.
Season-opening game: Dec. 11 at Pottsville.
5. New Castle (7, 26-3)
Notables: While Ralph Blundo likely will put yet another collectively small unit on the floor, the remarkably successful New Castle skipper also will have his youngsters wound up into a frenzy so they’re flashing pressure all over the place. Hey, it’s been working for quite some time now. Even popped the Red Hurricanes into the state quarterfinals a season ago — until they collided with eventual finalist Strong Vincent. Blundo does have a go-to guy in place, as all-state senior guard Marcus Hooker will enter his senior season with more than 1,000 career points. Hooker, like his older brother, Malik, will play football at Ohio State.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Union Area.
6. Middletown (3, 22-6)
Notables: No telling when skipper Chris Sattele will have his talented Blue Raiders ready to go since five of his returning top six will be knocking heads with some of No. 3 Quaker Valley’s gridders in Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A football final. Still wearing pads yet big parts of Middletown’s run to the state quarters — and a matchup with Quaker Valley — are 6-3 senior guard Ryan Hughes, 6-2 guard Chris Plummer, 5-10 senior Tyreer Mills and 5-10 senior Tre Leach. Also back are 5-10 senior Kyle Truesdale and 6-2 senior David Alcock. Highly entertaining squad to watch.
Season-opening game: Dec. 12 vs. Northern Lebanon.
7. Scranton Prep (2, 23-4)
Notables: May not have the experienced guards he’s had the past few years, but Andrew Kettel can toss a couple of big fellas at opponents since he’s got 6-5 senior Wes Simons and 6-8 junior Leo O’Boyle ready to go up front. Both played sizable roles as the Cavaliers collared yet another District 2 championship and rolled into the second round of the state playoffs. Unfortunately, Prep encountered eventual champ Imhotep Charter and it did not go well. Young group, too, with just four seniors on the roster.
Season-opening game: Dec. 9 at Meyers.
8. GAR Memorial (2, 19-8)
Notables: After reaching the District 2 championship game and advancing to the second round of the state playoffs, we’ll see if the Grenadiers can sustain the momentum they were riding at the of last season. If energetic 5-10 junior guard Will Johnson gets going — Johnson averaged 17.4 points per game last season and buried 41 treys — he’ll provide all sorts of energy for Jerry Altavilla’s Grenadiers. So will 6-5 senior forward Herman Suazo, who returned to the game last season for the first time since junior high school. Additional pop will come from senior guard Khalil White and senior big man Anthony Hawk. Won 13 of 14 at one sizzling juncture a season ago.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at Delaware Valley.
9. Tyrone (6, 14-10)
Notables: Return of three double-digit senior scorers — 5-11 Dylan Thomas (15.8), 6-1 Parker Mitchell (14.2) and 5-11 Jake Meredith — likely has Tyrone’s passionate basketball fans ready to roar each time the Golden Eagles take the floor. More noise may arrive when Thomas buries one of his area-code jumpers (he made 77 treys last season) for a Tyrone side that was bumped from the postseason in the District 6 semis by eventual champ Central Martinsburg. More help will come from 6-1 junior Andrew Ferguson.
Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at Bellwood-Antis.
10. Grove City (10, 20-7)
Notables: With Strong Vincent no longer part of the District 10 basketball picture, maybe Grove City can collar a championship if the Eagles make it back to a second title game in as many years. Still have some pop available, as 5-10 junior Marcos Cintron, 6-2 senior Brayden Martin and 6-5 senior Martin Beatty return from a club that fell to SV in the 10-4A title game yet rebounded by beating Central Valley in its state opener.
Season-opening games: Dec. 8-9 at own Kiser Classic.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Bishop McDevitt (3, 17-9); Conwell-Egan (12, 10-15); Danville (4, 17-9); Huntingdon (6, 14-11); Overbrook (12, 10-13); Sharon (10, 15-11); Susquehanna Twp. (3, 9-16); West Philadelphia (12, 15-10).
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