Open Gym: Friends Central School Wynnewood, PA (Friends Schools League) –
Friends Central and the rest of the league have been essentially battling it out for 2nd position in the standings recently as the Westtown School has been the dominant force in the league winning the last five championships. It harkens back to the early days of the league when Abington Friends won 15 of 20 titles from 1987 – 2006 before the rest of the conference caught up. The Phoenix last won the championship in 2011 and have reached the title game twice in the intervening years so they know that the league changes over time and probably will again in the near future. Last season they managed to finish third in the regular season but lost to Shipley School in the league semi’s 55-42. That loss gave them an 11 seed in the PAISAA state tourney and a tough 1st round matchup with the William Penn Charter School from Philly’s Inter-Ac league. Their season came to a halt here as they fell 63-55 to the Quakers but with most of their top players returning they have confidence that they will again be in line for a top of the league finish.
This years version of the Phoenix has a nice backcourt with plenty of depth and some interchangeable parts that will hold their own against the top half of the league and it all starts with 6’0” ’19 Bryce Spriggs a bulldog type player who possesses a high motor and a competitive spirit that has to have a positive effect on his teammates. He’s a strong guard physically who defends with relentless passion and rarely gives an inch of space and if your careless with the ball he’ll literally snatch it from your grasp and take off the other way. He can score inside with strong moves to the basket and his shot is not bad when he gets the opening to square and shoot. He will be a leader on this squad and he has some solid proteges with which to work starting with 6’1” ’20 Omar Nichols who is still on the shelf with a knee injury but told me he should be back in less than a month. He has a tight handle and can penetrate the lane for nifty feeds or pull up jumpers as well as showing good body control in getting to the basket. His perimeter game is improving too and when healthy he is a multi-dimensional scorer and passer. 5’10” ’20 Mason Mosley showed some serious burst in the open court and the ability to snake inside and create offense through the pass or dribble drive moves to the hoop. He was very good defensively cutting in front of errant feeds or simply stripping a careless ball handler to help jump start the transition game. These three may be the starters when the season rolls around and all of them have much valued experience in the crucible of league play. The bench will also play a role for Friends Central with 5’10” ’20 BK Kothari coming into the season looking to expand his role from spot player to rotation piece. He can shoot it with range and is a hustler who gives great effort and he played hard in open gym despite nursing a minor injury. While he is more of an offensive spark guy his counterpart off the bench 5’8” ’20 Brandon Banadda was flying all over the place and looks like a 94 foot defender as he gets after it all over the court. He gets steals with his quickness and has that sixth sense to anticipate an errant pass coupled with the finesse to strip an opponent before he can protect the ball. His handle is crafty and he showed the ability to penetrate the lane and the patience to make the right decision to benefit the team. Another potential piece that should contribute this year is 6’0” ’21 Isaiah Waddington a lithe looking athlete with good defensive instincts who will rebound and run the floor. His jump shot doesn’t look bad and he looks to have some upside as he grows into a rotation guy.
Their frontcourt leader will no doubt be 6’3” ’19 Myles Robinson a bruising bigger version of Bryce Spriggs. Myles suffered an ACL injury as a Soph and is finally getting back to 100% and a big year from him will go a long way in determining where the Phoenix finish in the league. He’s crafty around the basket using jump stops and good ball and head fakes to get his share of uncontested layups but at the same time is strong enough to fight off defenders for thru contact baskets as well. While the explosiveness he demonstrated as a freshman is not there right now he clearly has adapted his game to compensate and he remains a very good rebounder on both ends with solid instincts and a nose for the ball. His outside jump shot is still a work in progress but the lefty still knocks down a few and he also refuses to force up bad shots at the expense of the team or to pad his stats an admirable quality from a college ready player. Several local D-III programs have shown interest and he would be a solid addition to any of them. 6’5” ’21 Eddie Holland has plenty of upside who is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. He can get to the basket for tough finishes and has started to craft a nice pullup jumper when cut off or sees a trap situation developing. He is also showing some skill as a perimeter threat with a smooth looking release that he can get off under pressure. He rebounds well for having a thin frame and as he adds muscle and strength it should only improve those abilities on both ends but should also help him in defending the paint. He is quick enough to close out on open shooters and with additional strength it should make him a better interior defender moving forward. His effectiveness would certainly open things up for Robinson but would undoubtedly balance the floor and give the Phoenix a well rounded attack in their quest to finish strong and challenge for the crown. 6’4” ’21 Ryan Ellison is another slim frontcourt piece that also needs to add weight and strength but should see some minutes on a thin frontline. He runs the floor well but his ball skills need some refinement. He needs to be stronger with the ball and he needs to improve his passing game so he can avoid holding the ball too long and causing unnecessary turnovers. While he does need lots of work he seems willing to put in that work in order to maximize his skillset. He should get some on the job training though and if he can accelerate his learning curve he will give them productive minutes in the frontcourt.
I look at the league and I see Westtown sitting at the top which can be a lonely place. With that in mind the next few spots in the league will be fiercely contested by Friends Central, ANC and Shipley. The early prognosis would say that Shipley lost one of the leagues best players in Sam Sessoms which means they could take a step back while the Phoenix and ANC have added pieces and gotten better. Looking at it from my perspective though all three of these teams could finish 2nd or they could nestle in at 4th which will certainly make their league games must see events. The bottom line here is that Friends Central while improved may finish right where they were a year ago in 3rd place with a very good chance to get to the league title game and if that were to happen of course it would almost assure them of a higher seed in the private school state championships. No matter how this plays out Friends Central should be a better team than they were a year ago even if they finish 3rd in the FSL again and with the right seeding could manage a state tourney win to add a little sauce on their season.