Once the weather began cooling at the beginning of November, thoughts in Delaware high school sports turned to basketball. Plenty of players and coaches around the state opened practice Nov. 11 believing that if things fell their way, they had a chance to take the title currently held by Sanford.
Speaking of the defending champs, Sanford will have to replace the 2015-16 state player of the year, Mikey Dixon, but coach Stan Waterman's teams are always in the conversation. The Warriors finished last season 20-2, losing only to national powers Westtown (Pa.) and La Lumiere (Ind.), and the defeated St. Georges for the championship.
The Warriors graduated seven seniors, but among the returning talent is freshman swingman Jyare Davis, who made an impact last year as an eighth-grader. He will be joined in the frontcourt by seniors Connor Rufo and Marcus McCollum. Waterman expects freshman Corey Perkins and sophomore Ryan McKeon to make an impact.
Sanford begins with a home tilt with Glasgow, followed by three games at the Bullis (Md.) Holiday Classic. The Warriors also take on Smyrna at Slam Dunk to the Beach, St. Elizabeth and Salesianum.
“This year we have a huge void to fill,” Waterman said. “Young guys will have to step up and play beyond their years. Our program is about developing players, and we try to always have guys ready to go when their time comes.”
Mount Pleasant went 18-4 last season, reaching the semifinals before bowing out to eventual champion Sanford. The Green Knights were senior-heavy, and they will be very experienced once again. Among the top returning players are senior guards Keon Taylor and TyReek Johnson, and senior forward DeJohn Backus. Juniors Kenyon Fellow, Doug Sneh and Tim Pittman are back, as is 6-6 sophomore forward Kvonn Cramer.
Several transfers have joined Mount this year, adding more experience. Brian Miles and Ny'Jere Hodges, both seniors, add to the backcourt, as do sophomore Fahmir Ali and junior Vince Smith. All four played for other Delaware schools in 2015-16.
Despite the experience, coach Lisa Sullivan said there is always concern when a team loses so many seniors.
“Fortunately, we have another large group of seniors (nine) that will play a pivotal role in helping this team develop the necessary trust in each other and team chemistry that will enable us to get better as the season progresses,” she said.
The Green Knights should again compete for the state championship, Sullivan said. They have been close the past two years and are ready to take the next step.
“I hope we have learned from those experiences,” she said. “It will take a little longer to develop our chemistry but I am sure it will happen.”
The Green Knights’ opponents include Glasgow, Cape Henlopen, Howard, Hodgson and Salesianum in addition to their Flight A foes. They also travel to Slam Dunk to the Beach, where they will meet Baltimore Poly.
Mount Pleasant's Blue Hen Conference Flight A rival, William Penn, hopes to improve on an 18-4 record. The Colonials reached the state quarterfinals last season, losing in triple overtime to Delcastle.
Coach Stephen Christensen said it will be a challenge to replicate the success of the past two years, as the Colonials lost quite a bit to graduation. Jermal Crumel, who averaged eight points and five rebounds, is the top returning starter, and a trio of players – guard Dasir King and forwards Buck Bowling and Jordan Harding – have experience at the varsity level.
“We do not return much game experience, but we do return a number of guys that have been in the program and understand our expectations,” Christensen said. “We will focus on improving our fundamentals each day in practice, developing a balanced offense and continuing to play tough team defense.”
A difficult schedule awaits William Penn, The Colonials open with two tough road games, at Salesianum and Smyrna. They also get St. Elizabeth at home and St. Georges on the road. They finish with Howard and Hodgson at home. Christensen said the team has “our work cut out for us,” but he sees good things happening.
“With that being said, we will have a good group of kids that believe in the team concept and are hungry to make a return trip to the state tournament,” he said.
It will be an intriguing year in Smyrna, where the Eagles put together an 18-4 record last season and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Mount Pleasant. Two transfers have turned basketball-watching eyes in the First State to Kent County. Those players and others will go a long way toward showing how coach Andrew Mears has bred success over the past few years because his players have bought into the system.
“As we move from year to year, we try to establish new player roles, a continuity between the players, and relationships with the coaching staff,” Mears said. “Ultimately it is on the players to want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and we have had a lot of unselfish hard-working young men.”
His returning players include long-distance shooter and honorable mention all-state junior Caleb Matthews and forward Jaymeir Garnett. The noteworthy newcomers should have quite an impact in Smyrna: 7’2” junior center Azubuike Nwankwo, who comes from a school in Kentucky, and 6’11” sophomore forward Abba Lawal, who last played in Cincinnati.
Mears said he is anxious to get the season going. “No doubt our biggest challenge will be to create some chemistry. I expect us to be very competitive and to compete for the Henlopen North.”
The Eagles will be tested against William Penn, Milford, Sanford and St. Elizabeth, along with their conference play.
Further south in Kent County, St. Thomas More burst upon the scene last year with a 15-5 regular season and two more wins in the postseason before losing a tough quarterfinal matchup against St. Georges. Coach Cheston Boyd returns four of five starters from last season: seniors Corey Gordon and Elias Revelle, and juniors Greg Bloodsworth and Alvin West. A key newcomer is Eric Montanez, a 6-3 senior transfer.
Boyd is optimistic about the upcoming campaign.
“The kids stayed together all offseason, playing with the Diamond State Titans and winning a D-II national championship in Florida,” the coach said. “This allowed them to build on the team chemistry from last year and also mature. We will stick to our strengths and play our game. Run an offense and sell out on defense is our style of ball.”
Boyd has charted a difficult path for his Ravens. They will meet St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.), Woodrow Wilson (D.C.) and Archbishop Ryan (Pa.). Delaware foes include Caravel and Milford.
Boyd said the tough out-of-state competition early in the season will only help the Ravens, who should contend for a state title in his eyes.
“If everyone stays healthy, we are looking to build on the success from last season and make a run for the thing everyone is playing for ‘a state championship,'” he said.
St. Georges finished 20-4 and reached the state title game last year for the second time in the past three seasons, and coach Rod Griffin said that has been an invaluable experience for his players and the Hawks’ community. They graduated five players but look for more of the same success this year behind all-state senior point guard and state player-of-the-year candidate Kyson Rawls and senior forward Tristan Guild, and returning sophomores Nah’Shon Hyland, a guard, and 6’5” forward Michael McCants. Griffin said players to watch include a pair of wings, Voshon Wharton and Ahmad Taylor, and guard Kambole Singayangwe.
Only Rawls and Guild are returning starters, and just four players with varsity experience return, so youth will be a concern at St. Georges.
“The development of the younger players is essential to our team competing at a high level,” Griffin said.
It will take dedication to hard work and fundamentals to keep the success going, the coach said, especially with the difficult schedule the Hawks face. Nonconference battles await with William Penn and Appoquinimink, and St. Georges also meets St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) and Frankford (Pa.).
“Sustaining our level of success and being better every game will be our goals,” he said.
After two consecutive state championships, Salesianum put together a 13-9 campaign in 2015-16, falling to Delcastle in the second round. The Sals said goodbye to four seniors and two freshman who played significant minutes who have gone elsewhere. Salesianum’s leaders will be senior point guard Michael Kempski and 6-8 sophomore center Tariq Ingraham, who opened eyes last year with his inside game.
The Sals’ success, according to coach Brendan Haley, “will be based on our ability to toughen up a little bit. Our identity right now is a team that lacks toughness.”
To be successful, Haley said, players are going to need to be willing “to do the dirty jobs necessary.” That includes screening, blocking out and guarding the basketball.
“We have some parts, but we need to become a much tougher team to play against than we currently are,” he said.
They will get a chance to toughen up against a formidable schedule. After opening on the road at Howard, the Sals host William Penn. They travel this season to Smyrna and Appoquinimink, and they have both St. Elizabeth and St. Mark’s twice.
Appoquinimink went 13-8 and lost to Smyrna in the second round of the playoffs last season, but the Jaguars are excited about their prospects in 2016-17. Four starters return, including all-state guard and Seton Hall commit Myles Cale. He will be joined by Maxwell Somelofske, Ky’Ree Perkins and Keith DeLoatch.
New coach Brian Hoffses said there are a few keys to taking Appo to the next level: communicating in all phases of the game, playing team defense, and working together to get the best possible shot.
“We look to be a team with a lot of seniors who will have to come together and play team basketball in all phases of the game,” Hoffses said.
It will not be an easy road for the Jaguars. Along with their Blue Hen Conference Flight A schedule, they meet Hodgson, Caravel, Howard, Salesianum, St. Georges, St. Elizabeth and Milford. That is one of the toughest slates in Delaware.
Juniors Ian Robinson, who stands 6-6, and 6-5 Randy Rickards – a pair of all-Henlopen Conference selections a year ago – anchor the Cape Henlopen Vikings, who look to improve upon their 12-9 season, which ended when they were defeated in the opening round of the state tournament. Jerry Hardin and Noah Piper will provide leadership for coach Stephen Re's team. Two incoming freshmen fans will want to watch are Cory Barns and Sh'Kai Chandler, Re said.
The coach said if this past summer is any indication, Cape should be in decent shape this season.
“The guys are somewhat inexperienced but have proven so far they are committed to the process of what it takes to be successful,” he said. “We have many challenges ahead but we are looking forward to attacking each one.
Re said the Vikings have a chance to be really good “if we can help our young guys mature quickly and if the upperclassmen show consistent leadership and mental toughness.” They will be doing so against a schedule that includes Milford, Mount Pleasant and Delcastle, along with Henlopen North foe Smyrna twice.
A lot of experience and firepower returns for Shannon McCants at Newark, which is coming off a 13-9 season and a trip to the second round of the state tournament. His returning starters include seniors Shannon McCants Jr. at the point (eight assists per game), all-conference shooting guard Mike Sharpe (16 points a game) and guard/forward Chaz Knox. Other returning players include Eric Marshall, Tyreek Booker, Nick Zegna and Rahmee Carter. Freshman Zaire Jenkins-Johnson and senior transfer Kineph Turner also should make a difference.
McCants is counting on his seniors to provide leadership through unselfish play and hard work. He said they have size up front, and the Yellow Jackets possess one of the deepese backcourts in Delaware.
“We have some size for Delaware standards but the key to our team is our guards,” McCants said. “We upgraded the guard position by adding Kineph and Zaire to the starting backcourt of Shannon and Mike. We will be able to apply a lot of full court pressure with a lot of different lineups.”
There is no reason why the Yellow Jackets can't continue on an upward trajectory, he continued.
“I think we can be pretty successful this year. Defense will be the key along with being able to make outside shots.”
To continue moving up, the Jackets will have to contend with a schedule that includes Chester (Pa.) and Glasgow, along with their Flight A confreres.
Caravel went 12-9 and reached the postseason in 2015-16 before bowing out to a tough Appoquinimink team, but that was quite a turnaround from the 3-17 record the Buccaneers posted two years ago. Coach Mark Tobin said the first challenge was changing the culture of boys basketball at the school, getting the players into offseason workout programs and leagues. That paid off last season, and, he hopes, beyond.
“Now with two years of offseason workouts and commitments from the boys to work on their game, the sky is the limit,” Tobin said.
The state’s second-leading scorer from a season ago, junior forward O’Koye Parker, anchors the Bucs, along with seniors Mandela Montgomery and Matt Sengphachanh. Among the newcomers is Trevon Alderman, a sophomore who played varsity last season at Salesianum.
Interest at Caravel is growing, Tobin said, and if the commitment is there like it was in the summer, the Buccaneers could go even further.
Their path includes Appoquinimink, St. Mark’s, St. Thomas More, St. Elizabeth and Glasgow.
“Our team goal is to make it the Bob Carpenter Center this year. We have a tough schedule and I’m hoping that our young players keep maturing and growing through the season,” Tobin said.
Tag(s): Home Winter Blue Hen Conference Henlopen Conference Non-Conference/Catholic Delaware Independent Conf. Flight A North Newark Boys Basketball William Penn Boys Basketball Appoquinimink Boys Basketball Mount Pleasant Boys Basketball St. Georges Boys Basketball Cape Henlopen Boys Basketball Smyrna Boys Basketball Sanford School Boys Basketball St. Thomas More Boys Basketbal