Boys teams looking for encore performance

Jalen Flowers has been doing his best to get new players on the Father Judge basketball team ready to play. PHOTO: JOSH RIFKIN

Last year we came up just short.

This year could be even better.

The Archbishop Ryan and Abraham Lincoln high school basketball teams nearly procured championships last year. The Raiders fell just short of bringing home a state championship and on the same day, the Railsplitters fell in the Public League championship.

Both teams might be even better this year, and they’ll have competition from local squads.

Here is a look at the local boys basketball teams.

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

ARCHBISHOP RYAN

The Raiders have been an elite team since Joe Zeglinski became the coach. He’s had more than his share of Division I players, and believe it or not, this year might be his most talented team.

Leading the way will be senior guards Jalen Snead and Luke Boyd. Snead does everything, but is especially tough on the defensive end, and Boyd is a sharp shooter. They will have plenty of help. David Wise, who has been a key player for two years, Derrick Williams and JT Arpino are also seniors who have been around the program and expect success.

Michael Paris, who played key minutes last year, returns, as do sophomores Darren Williams and Jaden Murray. Newcomer Thomas Sorber will provide the Raiders with toughness inside. The team also listed Tyler “Tpac” Paxton, who handles social media and videos for the team, as a key member of the squad.

Last year was a special season. This year could be even more fun than a trip to Hershey.

“We have a chance to be as good or better than any team I’ve coached due to their commitment to each other and the commitment being made on the defensive end of the floor,” Zeglinksi said. “It is a well-rounded team that has all the pieces to make a deep run in the PCL and states if we continue to stay strong with our habits.

“I’ve been impressed by the chemistry throughout the offseason and unselfishness of the group so far. The seniors have done a great job of leading the way and continuing the culture, and showing our young talent what is expected. It’s a fun group to coach and we’re excited for the start of the season.”

FATHER JUDGE

The Crusaders have a new look. Sean Tait is now coaching at Delaware Valley University and Chris Roantree is now the coach, and instead of running a patient, Princeton-style offense, Judge will be a-runnin’ and a-gunnin’.

Guard Jalen Flowers will lead the way, and he has good players around him. Paul Kin will play wing, Kyle Jones and Mike McCusker, who starred in soccer, will play guard, and Anthony Lilly will start at forward.

Judge finished 4-12 last year and the goal is improvement. So far, Roantree likes what he’s seen from his guys.

“I feel we have developed some depth in the preseason,” Roantree said. “(We) have adjusted well to playing to different tempo and style, unselfish.

“(We are looking) to get better and compete every day. If we play hard, rebound and defend, I think we will surprise some people this year.”

PUBLIC LEAGUE

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

The Railsplitters have become one of the best teams in the city in recent years and that trend should continue this year. After routinely qualifying for the state playoffs, last year Lincoln’s run ended in the Public League championship game.

Jamel Lindsey’s squad was good last year, but it could actually improve upon last year’s 17-5 record.

It helps to have a backcourt returning in Matthew Williams and Tamir Powell. Other guards who will contribute are Nizzy Locke-Hicks and Naeem “No Limit” Colston.

The Railsplitters have bigs, too. Wings Naseem Wright and Ayemere Thomas will work with forward Rodney Shelton, and together they’ll make it tough for other teams to score inside and outside.

Lindsey preaches defense, and this team will make him proud.

“Our strength would be our athleticism and speed, one through five,” Linsdey said. “This could very well be the most athletic team that I have ever coached.

“We could find ourselves being major contributors in the overall high school basketball landscape. I feel that we could be just as good as anybody when clicking on all cylinders.”

FRANKFORD

The Pioneers managed to get 14 games in a year ago, winning six and falling just short of reaching the postseason.

This year’s team will look a lot different with a young squad, but coach Jamie Ross is excited to work with his guys.

The team will consist of Kahree Mines, Elliott Raymond, Travis Reed, Rakim Mills, Amir Nelson, Justin Montague, Zamir Barnes, Jadin Toscoe and Youniel Perez. 

The team will be better in February than it is in December, once they learn how to play Frankford basketball.

“We have a very young team with great young men,” said Ross, who is happy about the speed and quickness of his team. “We have on our roster three seniors, six sophomores and two juniors. This is the first year of varsity play for our six sophomores. We will take some bruises early but get better toward the end of the season.”

FRANKLIN TOWNE CHARTER

The Warriors opted out last year, so they’ll likely be a work in progress early in the season.

But that doesn’t mean Franklin Towne lacks experience. The team has a pair of great seniors in Nate Brotzman and Elijah Knight leading the team on and off the court. Brotzman is a shooting guard, while Knight will play the point.

Having those two give the Warriors a great base. Coach Nick Caruso hopes they can build off of that.

“Even though we opted out last year, we have six returning players from the 2019-2020 season,” Caruso said. “We have natural leaders on the floor who constantly motivate the other players to become better every day.

“We are not the biggest team in our division, so I stress on doing the little things right, rebounding, limiting turnovers and being unselfish. Also, we need to stress the importance of communication on the defensive end and how it’s going to play a huge factor in the result of the game. The boys are forming a strong bond on and off the court, and if they learn to trust each other and communicate, we will be in good shape.”

GEORGE WASHINGTON 

The Eagles went .500 last year in a 10-game schedule, but many of the stars from that team graduated, so Jeremy Beatrice will have some new faces in his lineup.

Despite not having a lot of game experience, he’s optimistic. That optimism starts with  a backcourt that includes captain Jahlil Sims, who is a great leader and a dynamic scorer. He’ll work with point guard Isaiah Butler, who will be responsible for running the offense. Other stars will be Sair Alsbrooks, a sophomore swingman, and senior forward Ben Unigwe.

It will take some time for the team to develop, but the Eagles will be a force.

“Our starters look strong,” Beatrice said. “They should be able to score the ball and defend. Much more size in the gym compared to the last three or four seasons. We have multiple returning players with varsity experience.

“I really have no idea what to expect from this year. We lost a lot of strong seniors the past two seasons. With the pandemic severely restricting play last year, many of the returning players haven’t had as many opportunities to play together compared to teams in previous seasons. With all that said, I have high expectations for what this group can accomplish if we are able to come together and stay healthy.”

NORTHEAST

The Vikings have had some strong players in recent years, but last year their biggest problem was inexperience. This year, that won’t be a problem. Many of the players who were on the team last year when Northeast went 4-6 are back, and coach Steven Novosel hopes that pays off.

Leading the team will be wings Darrius Gaeta and Geo Fabian, who was a star on the football team. Guards will consist of Tyleem Newton and Ryan Ferreira, and Jayden Rivera, who will run the point. Alpha Sirleaf will start at forward.

Northeast has experience and a great attitude, and Novosel hopes that leads to some fun times this winter.

“Our strength this year is our hunger and desire to grow,” Novel said. “From top to bottom, varsity to JV, every one of our guys is showing up each and every day ready to learn and get better. The strength in our play will come from our defense. We have a group of guys that can pressure the ball and make opposing teams uncomfortable.

“We have an experienced group this year but this group will improve as the season progresses and we are excited to play a full season and compete in the playoffs.”

SAMUEL FELS

In his first year as coach, Mike Keenan led Fels to two victories with a young team. This year will be another inexperienced group for Keenan, but the Panthers have ability and could surprise some people.

The team will consist of  Soufeyane Diallo, Soudyce Diallo, Sam Etienne, Donnell Perry, Walid Daoury, Wilfredo Acosta-Mejia and Richard Bell.

Keenan says his troops are working hard, and the hope is that work turns into success on the court.

“The team has been working hard and getting to know each other,” Keenan said. “We have a lot of new players and building chemistry is vital to our success. We will be a young team this year, so I expect the usual growing pains. We are looking to play up-tempo and will be relying on our guards to make that happen. Hoping to get better each day and hopefully that puts us in the playoffs come February.”

TACONY ACADEMY

The Lions opted out of the season a year ago, but the year before won seven games and made it to the Public League playoffs before bowing out in the first round.

Coach Michael McCurdy returns some talented players who could help Tacony return to the postseason.

Tyliq Batson is one of those players. His athleticism and scoring ability allow him to play different positions, but he’ll primarily be a small forward. Junior Derek Porter is another great athlete. He will play forward, and will be counted on to make smart plays for the team.

The Lions should hang tough with their Public League competition.

“(We have good) quickness, perimeter shooting and defensive pressure,” McCurdy said. “We play good man-to-man pressure defense.

“We will be competitive, work hard and hopefully that will translate into some wins.”

Luke Boyd MARK ZIMMARO / TIMES PHOTO