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Prepping for Preps '17-18: PIAA Class 5A Preview

12/07/2017, 9:30am EST
By Josh Verlin

Andrew Funk (above) is one of four Division I-bound seniors on defending 5A champ Archbishop Wood. (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 5A, 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 5A, we’re going to pick up where we left off as reigning PIAA champion Archbishop Wood is going to start the season at No. 1 — Wood demolished Meadville 73-40 in March’s title game — especially since five players that were part of the Vikings’ nine-man rotation are back.

What made Wood’s first state title even more satisfying is John Mosco’s program had never been in a state tournament prior to last season. Now they’re looking to repeat.

As for Meadville, the Bulldogs graduated most of their starting lineup and will begin the season among our others to watch grouping.

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.


1. Archbishop Wood (12, 28-3)

          Notables: Close an historic season on a sparkling 22-game winning streak and one cannot help but collide with a state championship celebration. Well, that’s what John Mosco’s Vikings accomplished last season, pocketing their first PIAA and Philadelphia Catholic League titles mere weeks apart. Although Class 5A player of the year Collin Gillespie has bounced off to Villanova, Wood has a handful of regulars back led by 6-3 all-state choice and Quinnipiac recruit Tyree Pickron. Also back are 6-11 senior Seth Pinkney, 6-4 Bucknell recruit Andrew Funk, 6-7 Central Connecticut State recruit Karrington Wallace and 6-5 junior Julius Phillips. Plus, freshman Rahsool Diggins may make an instant impact.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 9 vs. South Shore (N.Y.) at Archbishop Carroll.

2. Bonner-Prendergast (12, 16-9)

          Notables: Jack Concannon’s Friars may have finished eighth in the Philadelphia Catholic League standings last season, but the arrival of 6-3 junior Isaiah Wong from Notre Dame (N.J.) — Wong is a big-time recruit who has all sorts of Division I coaching staffs salivating over his skill set — and 6-9 junior Tariq Ingraham from Salesianum (Del.) caused the expectations among the Bonner-Prendergast crowd to soar almost immediately. Especially since 6-8 Rider recruit Ajiri Johnson, B-P’s lone returning starter, was poised to have a terrific senior campaign. Other players scrapping for minutes include 5-11 junior Mike Perretta, 6-1 sophomore Donovan Rodriguez, 6-0 senior Yohance Garner, 6-2 junior Chris Haynes and even promising 6-2 freshman James Welde.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Overbrook.

3. Abington Heights (2, 25-4)

          Notables: Ken Bianchi may not have had his deepest squad a season ago, but the longtime Abington Heights skipper guided those Comets to the state semifinals for the first time in the suburban Scranton school’s sparkling hoops history. Hey, there’s a reason why Bianchi has celebrated 747 victories during a coaching career that stretches back to when a certain COBL staffer was in second grade. Bianchi also has plenty of talent available in his Abington Heights program, and the trio of 6-5 senior Jackson Danzig, 6-5 junior George Tinsley and 6-2 junior deep threat Trey Koehler are capable of carrying the Comets a long way. By the way, Danzig and Tinsley were all-state selections last season.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Holy Cross.

Denelle Holly (above) and Martin Luther King lost in the Public League championship last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

4. Martin Luther King (12, 21-10)

          Notables: Perhaps those close scrapes that didn’t fall King’s way last season will become satisfying victories. At least that’s what demanding skipper Sean Colson is hoping as his fifth King squad preps for yet another promising season. While the Cougars lost a few players, they also return starters such as 6-2 senior Denelle Holly Jr. and 6-9 senior Will McNair from a club that lost in overtime to Imhotep in the Philly Pub League final and in two overtimes to Abington Heights in the second round of the state playoffs. While Holly and McNair are terrific places to start, Colson’s rotation also could include 5-11 junior Ricardo Montereiro, 6-6 senior Jerry Andrews, 6-5 senior Isaiah Anderson, 6-1 junior Yasir Durant, 6-0 freshman Hysier Miller and several others. Tough schedule awaits, too.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 9 vs. Bethlehem Catholic at Archbishop Carroll.

5. Mars (7, 17-10)

          Notables: Although Rob Carmody’s resourceful Fightin’ Planets dropped a two-point decision in last season’s WPIAL semis to Hampton, they rebounded nicely and sidelined that same Hampton squad in the opening round of the state playoffs. Even collared another state victory before encountering eventual finalist Meadville in the quarterfinals. While that was last year, this time around Mars partisans will be part of a farewell tour as 6-5 all-state senior and Notre Dame recruit Robby Carmody embarks on his final high school season. Will have some familiar faces along for the ride, too, as 6-1 senior Cade Hetzler, 5-11 junior Andrew Recchia and 6-6 sophomore Michael Carmody (Robby’s brother) are all back.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Avonworth at South Park Tip-Off.

6. Archbishop Carroll (12, 20-9)

          Notables: For those who care to step out for a few months, check back in February and take a look at the basketball programs that are still standing — you’ll probably find Paul Romanczuk’s remarkably consistent Patriots among them. Although still stinging from a two-overtime loss in the state quarters to Northeastern — Carroll was up by 15 heading into the fourth quarter — having gifted 6-3 sophomore A.J. Hoggard back and running the show is a wonderful place to start. Kid can ball. While a number of Carroll players moved on, Romanczuk has the likes of 6-2 senior Justin Anderson, 6-0 junior Shawn Johnson, 6-5 senior Devon Ferrero, 6-5 senior Keyon Butler and 6-6 junior Luke House ready to turn Hoggard-dropped dimes into buckets. Stay tuned.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 9 vs. Malvern Prep.

7. Northeastern (3, 30-3)

          Notables: With all sorts of firsts safely tucked away in some colorful memory banks following last season’s dream run — first YAIAA Tournament title, first District 3 crown, first trip to state semis — the York County Bobcats hope to back things up with another sparkling campaign. Since 6-3 senior and Albany recruit Antonio Rizzuto and 5-9 senior Fred Mulbah have one final season remaining in Jon Eyster’s fast-paced program, Northeastern has a pair of talented cornerstones who can play above the rim. Also back are 6-2 senior Nate Eyster, 6-2 sophomore Nate Wilson and 6-2 sophomore Quay Mulbah, while 5-11 senior D.J. Hamilton has returned to the Bobcats after a two-year stay at York Country Day. Not big across the board, so they do play fast.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Delone Catholic at Northeastern Tip-Off.

Tom Ford (above) is one of three starters back for a Shanahan squad with eyes on a Ches-Mont title. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

8. Bishop Shanahan (1, 19-10)

          Notables: Although Shanahan last season ended a 22-year absence from state tournament play, here’s an educated guess that Ken Doyle’s Eagles won’t need that much time to make a return trip. With 6-7 senior and Gannon recruit Kevin Dodds returning to a starting group also featuring 5-10 senior sniper David Angelo (68 treys) and 6-5 senior Thomas Ford, Ches-Mont opponents will have plenty to worry about. A trio of candidates — former sixth man and 6-2 junior Joe O’Malley, 5-10 senior Dan DiBeneditto and 6-1 senior Sam Nelson, a Coatesville transfer — are vying for the other starting nods. Junior guards Brian Ibarguen and Phil Chenard, both 6-0, will be part of Doyle’s rotation as well.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 11 vs. Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

9. Great Valley (1, 20-8)

          Notables: Here’s another Ches-Mont squad with quite a bit of experience that’s flush with expectations heading into the 2017-18 season following a third-place finish in the District 1 playoffs — Great Valley bested Bishop Shanahan in the third-place game — and a spot in the state tournament. So, with veterans such as 6-4 senior Liam Ward, 5-10 senior Matt Porreca and 6-2 Nate Graeff available, skipper Paul Girone likely will build around those three. Others challenging for extensive minutes — especially since Alex Capitano departed for Episcopal Academy — include 6-5 junior Jake Prevost, 6-0 junior Max Stillwell, 6-2 junior Gavin Frankenheimer and 6-3 freshman Will Fredrick.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 8 vs. Owen J. Roberts at Twin Valley Tip-Off.

10. Bangor (11, 23-2)

          Notables: Although a promising season was derailed by a defense-minded Pottsville side — and a number of talented seniors departed following a loss in the District 11 semis — Bron Holland’s Slaters may be ready to get back on a long-running train and take another shot at Colonial League supremacy and more. With a veteran nucleus headlined by 6-4 senior Tony Jones, 6-4 junior Isaiah Jones and 5-9 junior Ben Holland capable of causing all sorts of damage, Bangor basketball may keep all of Pennsylvania’s Slate Belt barking all winter long.

          Season-opening game: Dec. 8 at Easton.

OTHERS TO WATCH: Allentown Central Catholic (11, 12-12); Bayard Rustin (1, 16-11); Cardinal O’Hara (12, 5-17); Chartiers Valley (7, 17-8); Chester (1, 22-7); Dover (3, 14-11); Franklin Regional (7, 14-12); Gateway (7, 11-13); Hershey (3, 14-14); Hollidaysburg (6, 16-7); Lampeter-Strasburg (3, 17-12); Lower Dauphin (3, 11-11); Meadville (10, 26-2); Moon (7, 20-6); New Oxford (3, 14-12); Penncrest (1, 20-8); Springfield-Delco (1, 15-12); York (3, 8-14).

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