Open Gym: Penncrest HS Media, PA (Central League) –
The Central League has always been a competitive collection of like minded schools that has one constant and that is no matter who rises to the top in this conference it’s a sure bet that Lower Merion will be there with them. Last season Penncrest was that team as they battled the Aces for league supremacy. In the league playoffs the Lions were a possession or two short as LM PG Steve Payne scored on a driving layup with 2.6 seconds remaining in a 48-46 loss in the championship game. Penncrest shook off that defeat however by winning a second straight PIAA District 1 5A title as they prepared for the state tourney led by their stellar floor general Tyler Norwood (Wilmington Univ. DE). After winning their opener over District 3 #10 seed Shippensburg HS their season came to a sudden end as they lost to another District 3 squad in #3 seed Northeastern HS from York thereby ending Norwood’s high school career. HC Mike Doyle did a great job molding a team around Norwood that was competitive and resilient and a team that became confident in their ability to win games with multiple contributors making them a tough team to prepare for.
With Norwood’s graduation a huge void will have to be filled and while I don’t see any single player that will fits the bill perhaps the sum of the group can lessen the burden of preplacing his production. 6’1” ’19 Isaiah Rice is a returning contributor who will assume some of the senior leadership role and will certainly be an example for the young backcourt members to emulate. He started to show some expanding offensive abilities last year so I can only guess that he will continue to improve as a knock down shooter and part time facilitator in a combo type role. He’ll have help in the backcourt from 5’8” ’20 Marquis Tomlin who was impressive in the open gym scrimmage with quick burst drives and a nice looking jump shot. He handled well although he did tend to over dribble and he showed some fine passing skills to help round out his game. Defensively is where I was really impressed though as he moves his feet well and uses his quickness to disrupt opposing ball handlers and Coach Doyle told me that he honed those skills guarding Norwood in practice the last two years. 6’2” ’20 Denzel Quinn is another piece that can plug in as a two in half court offense and with his sturdy frame should help on the defensive end as well. Two more guards that will contribute this year are both in boots at the moment but I’m told they’ll be ready to go come the official start of practice in November. 5’10” ’20 Aiden Carroll is a good defender with a smooth jump shot and great timing as a passer and 5’9” ’19 Danny Lloyd is a plugger who possesses a good motor and makes hustle plays on both ends of the court plus he can also shoot it some. If this group can combine to put up some numbers to balance out their frontcourt they may surprise some people expecting a drop off in production.
One of the most improved players in the Central league by seasons end had to be 6’3” ’19 Malcolm Williams who proved to be a durable low post scorer and rebounder despite giving up plenty of size down there. As the season progressed however he started to show the makings of a reliable perimeter jump shot with range to the arc coupled with a better understanding of when to dish the ball when tasked with handling it when outside the painted area. As he enters his senior year he looks quite comfortable in a leadership role and will be counted on to be a more efficient scorer as well as to lead the way defensively as the Lions look to stay at the top of the league standings. Another returning starter is 6’5” ’19 Matt Arbogast who has plenty of experience in Coach Doyle’s system and fills his role to a tee. He can score it down low and is a competent rebounder and outlet passer who battles inside and doesn’t quit on plays that he can make. If he can consistently knock down those 10-15 foot jump shots and manage to draw defenders away from the basket this will further balance the floor and force opponents to spread their defense out allowing the athletic Williams more room to maneuver down low. This can also benefit 6’7” ’21 Denzel Boyer who missed the open gym while celebrating his birthday with his family. I did see him a few days later however and he is intriguing in that he stays down on the block or floats around the paint and doesn’t try to shoot threes from the parking lot. He rebounded his area well on both ends and caught the ball in traffic and was able to make plays after he caught it. He shows nice touch and even banked a few off the window for buckets. He can pass the ball well from outlets to kick outs or diagonal feeds and he did this while seeing the floor and not rushing to make something happen. Defensively he had great timing to get a couple blocks and for the most part stayed on his feet and used his body to control opponents in the paint. 6’4” ’19 Giavanni Antonelli was a surprise attendee at the open gym as he is on the football team but he came in and got up some shots and stretched his legs out. He has a big and strong frame and is a solid rebounder in the paint who can get low post baskets with his strength. He sets some mean screens and despite his slow lateral speed he generally holds his ground when defending around the cup. I do like the defensive capability of these four guys and if they can defend the paint on a regular basis this group could be very good.
The coaching staff has high hopes for these two youngsters and while they may not help them this year I can say I liked 5’8” ’22 Ben Lancer who has an accurate jump shot with good range and he showed a decent handle against the upperclassman while looking comfortable on the floor. He made some nice passes and showed enough poise and smarts to pique my interest and he gave effort on defense despite being over matched against bigger and stronger kids. 5’7” ’22 Saahir Lee is a soccer player who missed the open gym due to his commitment to that sport in the fall but the staff is high on him as well saying he is a pest on defense and a jet with the ball on offense. He will be another young one that I file away to revisit in a year or so.
Losing a player that meant a lot to your program like Tyler it will be hard to replace the intangibles that he brought on a nightly basis but Coach Doyle realizes that this is a new year and a new challenge and with that being said some of this years players will have to step up and take on the role of playmakers. Malcolm Williams has developed into a solid player who is drawing plenty of D-III interest and he should be a vital part of this team moving forward as one of those guys. They have five interchangeable guards who can fill various roles on a given night and throw in those three semi big guys who if they defend well and contribute some solid offensive numbers will give the Lions an opportunity to stay near the top of the league, I don’t see a return trip to the League or District finals at this point but as this team matures and grows more confident in their abilities and one or two kids join Williams in being playmakers then I can see them in the 5A state tourney again even if it’s a short stay in the bracket.