Aaron Lemon-Warren wanted to stay there more than anything.
Dom Vazquez wanted to get there more than anything.
Now, more than three months into basketball season, their hard work has paid off because they’re right where they want to be.
Lemon-Warren and Vazquez are sophomores on the Archbishop Ryan High School basketball team, and both are big contributors on a team that is playing for a state championship.
Lemon-Warren found out he was going to be a starter during the summer and he entered the season on a senior-heavy team. Vazquez started the season as a starter on the junior varsity team.
Both put in time and effort every day, both in practice and games to make sure they would get noticed. Their work, coupled with some personnel changes, have put them in position to be leaders on a team that is one round deep in the Class 5A state playoffs.
On Friday night, Lemon-Warren scored nine points and Vazquez added eight to spark the Raiders to a 63-54 win over West Chester East in a first-round game. The Raiders played their second round game on Tuesday against Mars in a game that was played after the Times went to press.
Because of the way the Raiders are made up, both Lemon-Warren and Vazquez are playing out of position. But that’s not their concern. The only thing they care about is they’re playing.
“I’m playing center because we don’t have a lot of height, but it’s going good,” said the 6-foot-2 Lemon-Warren, who lives in North Philadelphia and was Third-Team All-Catholic this year. “I might not have the height to play a lot of the guys, but that just means I have to outwork them. Box out, work harder. And I’m not doing it alone, I have a great team who helps out and a great coach who helps me work on everything.
“I found out I was going to be starting, and I was nervous, but the more I do it, the more comfortable I get.”
Vazquez worked just as hard as his teammate and because of it, he worked his way into becoming the first guy off the bench for Ryan. At the beginning of the year, he would play the first half of JV games, and then head to the locker room to prepare for the varsity game. Quality minutes were hard to come by, but now when the Raiders need energy, they call his number.
“It’s going really well,” said Vazquez, a Chalfont native who is seeing most of his time at shooting guard. “I usually play point guard, but we have a really good point guard so I’m playing more off the ball.
“I think it helps me a lot, and it’s going to help me next year no matter where I play. But this year, I’m just happy to be playing.”
They’re not just playing, they’re playing for a state championship.
Ryan had an up-and-down season this year, but seems to be on the upswing now.
Led by coach Joe Zeglinski, the Raiders dropped their first two Catholic League games of the season before rolling off seven wins. They dropped their final six games against PCL foes, including a loss to St. Joe’s Prep in the playoffs, but now have won two straight, a win over Martin Luther King to get into the state tournament and the win over West Chester East.
Outsiders might be a little surprised that Ryan is still playing, but the players on the team expect it.
“When you play in the Catholic League, you see good teams every day,” said Lemon-Warren, the second-leading scorer on the Raiders. “There were games where we played against some of the best players around. That gives us a big advantage in the playoffs.”
During Zeglinski’s tenure at Ryan, the Raiders have enjoyed a lot of success in the state playoffs. Two years ago, they advanced to the semifinals of the 6A playoffs. The hope is they can repeat that success or even surpass it.
“We are playing pretty good right now,” Vazquez said. “And people are getting excited. In school, they announced everyone who scored and everybody heard my name. People are really happy about what we’re doing.”
Next year when they’re juniors, Lemon-Warren and Vazquez will be leaders on the team. And they should be able to handle it because they’ve learned from the strong senior leaders on this year’s team.
“Those guys get us hyped during games and have us ready in the locker room before games,” Lemon-Warren said. “We’re getting good experience for next year and we’re also learning from great players. Great leaders on and off the court.”
So that increases the expectations for next year.
And both players are going to once again put in the effort to get on the court and stay there.
“It’s a lot faster than JV games,” Vazquez said. “Every game, you can see yourself get better. I’m used to varsity now, so that will definitely help me next year.”