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Boys basketball season heats up

Thomas Sorber led the Catholic League in rebounds last year. MARK ZIMMARO / TIMES PHOTO

Last year we had a little bit of everything.

The Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team became the first Northeast Philly team to make a Catholic League championship since North Catholic won the title in 2008. This year, the Raiders should once again contend for the PCL title.

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Father Judge also returns a talented group and could cause chaos in the Catholic League.

In the Public League, our schools should make noise. And in the Bicentennial League, MaST Charter II will look to find its way during its first year of varsity basketball.

Just as the weather gets colder, the action heats up. Here is a look at the boys basketball teams that returned information:

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

Archbishop Ryan

Every year under Joe Zeglinski, the Raiders take another step. Last year, that step was advancing to the Catholic League championship game. He’s now led the team to a state championship game and PCL title game. This year, they might have enough to win both of them.

Ryan finished 4-5 in December, but those games were ridiculous, with the Raiders playing the top teams in the country. If anyone is battle tested, it’s Ryan. This team could have a lot of fun this year.

Led by Thomas Sorber, Ryan will have one of the top players in the nation playing center. The junior will continue to pick up Division I offers all year.

Also back is Darren Williams, another junior, who is one of the top players in the Catholic League. And bad news for the PCL, they’re not coming alone.

They’ll work with senior Zaire Paris, the senior leader of the team. Also contributing will be senior Jack Dreibilis.

Key juniors aside from Sorber and Williams include Christian Durham, Rocco Marabito, Jaden Murray, Greg Weiss, Ryan Everett, Gavin Reed and Frankie Monaco, who starred on the soccer team.

Youngsters who will contribute include sophomore Mark Gallagher and freshmen Matt Johnson, Brett Mariani and Ian Walker.

The Raiders did lose some talented guys who led the team last year, but the Raiders have a lot of players back who were a few plays away from knocking off Neumann-Goretti in the championship. This year, Zeglinski’s team has everything it takes to be one of the best teams in a very tough Catholic League. And he proved that with his nonleague schedule. Remember when making the Palestra was the goal? That’s evolved thanks to this talented group.

“We wanted to play, we scheduled the best teams, the top showcases, I wanted to play the best because down the stretch we’ll play the top teams in the country,” Zeglinski said. “I’m happy about the positivity we had even in some of those losses. These guys understand we’re on to the next play, on to the next game. We wanted to get better. We want to win all of them, but the major goal was to get better and be ready to have a PCL championship.

“Our goal is always finish the top, get a home playoff game and get to the Palestra. It’s a long season, we just have to make sure we’re ready.”

Father Judge

Tearran Peete provides Father Judge with toughness in the paint. MARK ZIMMARO / TIMES PHOTO

The Crusaders played well last year, winning nine games overall and hanging tough in a very challenging Catholic League. This year, in Chris Roantree’s second year as coach, Judge could take another step.

They’ll be led by guards Kyle Jones, Kevair Kennedy, Ernest Shelton, Laquan Byrd, Derrick Morton-Rivera and Mike McCusker, who was one of the top players on the soccer team in the fall. The forwards will be Anthony Lilly, Chris Brennan, Kevin Beck and Tearran Peete.

It’s never easy to win in the Catholic League, but Judge is working hard to lay a foundation.

“(We have good) guard play and depth,” Roantree said. “We (tried to ) improve throughout preseason and non-league play so that we are prepared to challenge for playoff spot in the end during PCL play.”

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Frankford 

There are a few things to know about Jamie Ross-coached teams. You know they’ll play hard and you know they’ll play defense. And that’s what this year’s Frankford team will do.

Coming off a 12-9 season a year ago, that included a playoff win, the Pioneers are building off a strong year, and the goal is to do even better this year.

The Pioneers have a good team, led by guards Zamir Parker-Barnes, Travis Reed, Laquan Harrison, Sa’ir Alsbrook, Doron Ross and Justin Montague. Frankford should be tough up front as well, with Cameren Lane, Jadin Roscoe, Hasan Dawson and Alsbrook all seeing time at forward.

Frankford returns an experienced team. After finding some success last year, this team has high hopes.

“Our team strengths are that we are a year older,” Ross said. “The more we play together as a team, the better we will get.”

Northeast

The Vikings, led by coach Steven Novosel, won 10 games last year and advanced to the Public League playoffs. It was a good year, and while there were some great seniors on last year’s team, this year’s squad should pick up where last year’s team left off.

Leading the way will be Darrius Gaeta, a guard. He’ll work with point guard Sharif Wallace and Bobby Perry. The Vikings will use wings Jason Coffer, Mike Freeman and Kameren Williams. And providing toughness underneath will be forward Dernel Witherspoon.

The Public League is always tough, but Northeast should make some noise this year if the team stays healthy.

“Our strength is our depth and balance. We have a combination of players that can attack the rim, shoot, rebound and defend at a level to compete and succeed,” Novosel said. “We have high expectations for this team that returns the majority of its players from last year with welcome additions from our JV team. This team has the talent to compete in the playoffs.”

Franklin Towne Charter

Last year the Warriors hung tough, finishing 4-7 on the season, and this year, the goal is to have a better campaign.

According to coach Ryan Boyd, the best way to do that is to play strong defense and protect the basketball.

The leaders of the team will be junior guards Jayden Corley, who will run the point, and Brandon Leaks, who will play shooting guard.

The goal is improvement, and Boyd likes what he’s seen thus far.

“One of our strengths so far this season has been defense,” Boyd said. “We’re not the tallest team in this league by any means, but I can tell my guys take pride in their defense, which has honestly led to our success in transition offense this season. Another strength is discipline. The guys adapted very quickly to the new offensive scheme implemented this year and it’s allowing for a very fluid offense and open shots.

“As a coach, I’m proud of the way my team goes out there and gives it 110 percent. Doesn’t matter if it’s practice or a game. If we continue to have that kind of mindset and work ethic, the success should continue.”

Tacony Academy Charter

The Lions struggled a season ago, losing all but one game, but the important thing was improvement. Every game they played, the Lions looked better, and the hope is that translates into this year.

The team will be led by senior captain Derek Porter, an All-Public selection a season ago. Senior point guard Nelson Concepcion Urrutia, a three-year starter, also returns. Other players who will help are shooting guard Kobe Butler, a sophomore who led the team in scoring last year, Ethan Montero, a shooter, and Jadyn Bolds, a freshman forward.

Coach Michael McCurdy is proud of what his team has accomplished thus far and thinks big things are ahead.

“The Lions’ quickness, athleticism and competitive spirit will be the strengths,” McCurdy said. “The Lions will be led by four key returners from last year’s team, Derek Porter, Kobe Butler, Nelson Concepcion-Urrutia and Ethan Montero, that should help us compete for a top spot in the National Division and secure a Public League playoff spot.”

BICENTENNIAL LEAGUE

MaST Charter II

For the first time ever, the Voyagers will play varsity basketball after winning eight games at the junior varsity level last year. Led by head coach Michael Roken, they’re poised to have a great debut.

Wins are the goal, but the bigger goal is improvement.

The leaders of the team will be Cedrick Williams (swingman), Cameron Wilson (center), Jani Townsend Brownlee (guard/forward), Urian Fuentes, Manuel Duprey and Anthony Jovovich (guards), and swingmen Basil Graham, Sean McGraw and Semaj Alston-McCaskill.

Starting a program isn’t easy, but the Voyagers have what it takes to have a great first year as a program.

“Our (strengths are) size and collective team effort, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Roken said. “Also, the fact that we returned everyone from last year’s team, as this senior class is the first graduating class in MaST ll’s history. Within the excitement of a new program, we have that trust and togetherness, which is a great foundation for a successful season.

“In our program’s first year at the varsity level I believe we are going to make some waves.”

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