Almost everything is different.
Last year, Khalif Meares was a shooting guard on the Abraham Lincoln High School basketball team, which came into the season hoping for a good season. But nobody expected it.
This year, Meares is the starting point guard on the Railsplitters, who come into the season with exceptionally high expectations.
The difference is a result of what happened last year.
Meares saw some time at point guard, but for the most part he was one of the top scorers on the Railsplitters, and the team went on to win the Public League AAAAAA championship and win a game in the state tournament.
Because of that, expectations are sky high as the Public League season begins.
“It’s so much different, last year there weren’t many people at our games, this year, everybody goes,” said Meares, who lives near Torresdale and Cottman avenues. “Last year, nobody expected us to win, but then when we won the Pub championship, people started noticing. Then when we went to states, everyone in the school was excited. Now everyone expects us to win.”
Meares expects the Railsplitters to win, but he knows it’s going to take more than expectations to hoist a banner. And how they play now could go a long way in how prepared they are when the postseason rolls around.
That’s why Lincoln loaded up on a tough non-league schedule that included games against Central Bucks South, Friends Central and Harry S. Truman. The Railsplitters also had a game scheduled against Archbishop Wood, the defending Catholic League and state AAAAA champions, but the game was rescheduled due to snow.
The tougher schedule, according to Meares, is to be ready for the tougher teams when the competition gets tougher.
“Last year, winning was great, but this year we want to win every championship we come across,” Meares said. “It starts with the Public League, and then districts and states. We want to win everything, win as a team.”
For that to happen, they’ll need a huge effort from Meares, who is playing a new role this year. Last year, Meares was called upon to light up the scoreboard, but now his bigger role is to run the offense. The lineup is full of players who want the ball and who can score when they get it.
That could make Meares’ job difficult, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“We have a lot of guys who can score, and that means we have a lot of guys who can help,” Meares said. “And I’m still scoring. Coaches tell me I still have to be aggressive. I’m doing that.
“My first job is to get the ball to the other guys and get everyone involved, but I’m also going to keep trying to score. We have a lot of guys who can score, and the more guys who score, the harder we will be to stop. I’m a defensive player, so I’ll be happy playing defense, getting the ball (to other players) and scoring when I can.”
Meares is happy to be the leader of the team. He’s also excited to just be at the school.
Now, he’s getting good grades and doing everything he’s supposed to, but when he was younger, there were times he didn’t do the right thing. While he never did anything egregious, the minor incidents added up.
“At the beginning of 11th grade, I was homeschooled because I kept messing up,” Meares said.
“Nothing big. I just wouldn’t be in class on time and did dumb things. I had a talk with the principal and promised to be better. Now I’m getting straight A’s and I’m doing what I’m supposed to. I love being here. It’s where I want to be. I love playing basketball and going to school here.”
But he doesn’t want to just represent the school. He wants to bring the school its first state championship.
Last year, when the Railsplitters won a game in the tournament, the entire community rallied behind the team. This year, the hope is to enjoy an extended run and have it end by winning their final game in Hershey.
“I’m really happy with the way we’re playing, but we can still get a lot better,” said Meares, who is undecided about what he’ll do next year, although the ultimate goal is to play college basketball. “We’re getting better every game. I think we’re doing everything we can to be ready for the Public League and the playoffs, but we still have to work really hard.
“We can beat anyone, but if we want to win, we have to keep getting better. It gets tougher every game, but I’m still excited. I think we will, too.”