Photos/Videos: Gracie Cleveland, Zamani Feelings, Lennie Malmgren & Mike Nance
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – With each passing game, there was no guarantee there would be another or even a practice to follow. With each practice, there was no guarantee there would be another drill or scrimmage. With each drill, there was no guarantee a season was even going to take place.
William Penn Charter head basketball coach, John Owens - Photo by Zamani Feelings
That is exactly what John Owens and Penn Charter felt throughout the 2020-21 season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While plans were announced just before Thanksgiving, not a single Inter-Ac coach knew what each new day would bring. Would they be able to practice? How does a team respond should a player or coach test positive? If games are postponed, will they ever be played?
Each day presented a new challenge but while the Quakers (2-2) only played four games in the league-only schedule, Owens stressed that there was an underlying lesson his team learned last season.
“They’re mentally and physically stronger due to the pandemic,” Owens said. “Emotionally, we’ve been using the game of basketball as an outlet with all of the craziness going on around us.”
Owens, the former Abington Friends standout, may have his most talented group in his fourth season at the helm of Penn Charter, a program looking for its first Inter-Ac crown since 2004. Mark Butler leads a talented corps in the backcourt. The 6-foot junior guard averaged 15.0 points per game during the shortened season, which included a 21-point performance vs. Episcopal Academy. Already boasting an offer from George Washington, “he’s our best defensive player” and “after being a top scorer the last two years, he has taken it upon himself to lead in other areas on the defensive end,” according to Owens. He was a member of the Philly Pride 16U team that won the 2019 Under Armour Association national championship that featured Stevie Mitchell (Marquette), Ed Holland (Penn) and Hunter Healy (Bloomsburg).
Trey Shinholster, the 6-2 junior guard, can score from all over the floor. He avg. 13.5 ppg and closed the season out with an 18-point game against Germantown Academy.
The Quakers welcomed 6-4 freshman guard Kai Shinholster, Trey’s brother, to the fold this season. Owens notes that “he’s going to be a stud” and “Kai is going to be our point guard one day.” Keith Gee, the 5-11 junior guard who avg. 6.3 ppg, “has always had the ability but now he has the confidence,” per Owens.
Isaiah Grimes, a 6-3 junior forward, and Colin Schumm, a 6-5 junior forward, will handle things in the front court. Grimes avg. 6.3 ppg and excelled on the gridiron where he was an All Inter-Ac First Team selection after accruing 439 receiving yards at tight end. Schumm, the team’s starting quarterback, avg. 6.5 ppg and had 10 points versus Haverford School.
Penn Charter also welcomes back 6-4 junior forward Seamus McCain, who sat out last year due to the pandemic to protect his family. He started the latter part of the season at quarterback for the Quakers.
Owens has experience and depth, and he’s excited about this talented junior class.
“The core of this group has been together since ninth grade between Mark, Trey, Colin, Isaiah and even Seamus,” Owens said. “We have about seven or eight juniors who have played varsity or JV minutes together or faced off in practice. They’ve been playing with one another for a while now.”
Julian McFadden starred at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (1-5) and now he is overseeing the development of the next Blue Devils star in Alassane Amadou, a transfer from now defunct Bishop McDevitt. The 6-9 versatile forward reclassified to the class of 2023, giving him two seasons to showcase his versatility in the Inter-Ac.
He began his career at Quakertown before spending the last two with the Royal Lancers under Will Chavis, now an assistant at Drexel. He avg. 4.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game last season, including a 13-point game vs. Father Judge. Amadou holds offers from Miami (Fla.), Cincinnati, Marquette, Maryland, Dayton, VCU and St. Joe’s, among others. According to McFadden, “He was a good player at McDevitt but wasn’t asked to be a double-double guy. That wasn’t his responsibility and he’s learning on the fly in that space.”
Springside Chestnut Hill has the chance to have one of its most successful seasons in recent memory, but McFadden could not deny that there needs to be a key element to accomplish its goal.
“Our word of the year is hunger,” McFadden said. “They are a group of kids that are talented, but they also need to develop a nightly hunger to want to be really good. We need to be really focused and dialed into what needs to be done in order to be successful from defending to rebounding to moving from side to side. It’s the focus on consistency for this group.”
The Blue Devils have plenty more than just Amadou in their pursuit of their first league title since 2010. Darius Isaac is the unquestioned leader of the team. The 6-foot senior guard avg. 11.6 ppg, including a 17-point game against the Churchmen. McFadden, who coached Darius’ brother, Demetrius at Chestnut Hill College, said the senior is “the most important piece of this puzzle.”
Ronald Brown, the 6-1 sophomore guard, showed promise as a freshman by avg. 9.3 ppg, which included a 15-point outing against Malvern Prep. While talented on the offensive end, “he’s the best on-ball defender that I have,” as McFadden states. Ivan Thorpe, the 5-10 senior and VMI football commit, provides toughness and grit at both ends of the floor. He amassed 40 receptions for 559 yards and three touchdowns during the football season. Caleb Alston saw plenty of action as a freshman and avg. 5.0 ppg in the abbreviated year. The 6-5 sophomore forward is rangy and “his role is a unique one because he can really go in for anybody,” per McFadden.
In addition to Amadou, the Blue Devils welcome more transfers in 6-4 junior Jaren Morton and 6-foot sophomore guard Camden Burns. Morton, who holds offers from Rider and Siena, was Amadou’s teammate at Bishop McDevitt last season where he avg. 3.3 ppg but erupted for a 17-point performance against Father Judge. Burns is an electrifying scorer who avg. 17 ppg and was named Third Team All-Public League at Martin Luther King as a freshman. “As a playmaker, he’s really turning the corner and I didn’t imagine this happening this quickly, but we’re really excited about it. This is what will get him recruited and to the next level,” as McFadden puts it.
Matt Dolan enters year three as head coach of Germantown Academy but his first with Jordan Longino, the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,763 points) now playing at Villanova. Longino avg. 21.9 ppg during his final campaign with the Patriots (6-3) and several members of this year’s roster will have to make up for the loss in scoring.
Returning starter and 6-7 senior Blake Smith only avg. 3.4 ppg but should see his production vastly increase. “He has the ball in his hands a lot” and “he can be a really special player for us,” according to Dolan. Luke Marvin, a 6-1 senior guard, avg. 3.8 ppg including a 10-point game against the Fords as the Patriots sixth man a season ago. That role “really helped and propelled him into the offseason to become the guy,” as Dolan notes.
The difference maker for Germantown Academy could be 6-4 senior guard Casey Traina. He enters his third season as a member of the rotation after avg. 11.3 ppg as a junior and Dolan believes he’s ready to take a major step forward.
“The two things that jump out are leadership and defense,” Dolan said. “He’s more vocal this year. He’s been a good rebounder but he’s moving his feet better. He’s strong and can guard a plethora of different guys.”
Three-year starter and Penn football commit Jake Hsu is “the heartbeat of our team,” per Dolan. The 6-1 senior guard avg. 12.9 ppg with a 21-point contest against Springside Chestnut Hill. He was lost for the season in the Patriots second game of the football season and will return during league play at some point. Freshman Flinn Brooks is expected to be a big part of the offense. Dolan states that the 6-foot guard “has a great basketball IQ and he’s a very good offensive player” but also “can really shoot the ball.”
Quin Korman, a 6-3 senior forward, and Bryce Rollerson, a 6-foot freshman guard, figure to be part of the rotation.
Paul Romanczuk returns to the sideline for the first time in three seasons, this time taking over at Malvern Prep (6-2). The former Penn standout amassed a 283-130 record during his time at Archbishop Carroll where he led the Patriots to nine Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal appearances, a pair of league title game appearances and the 2009 PIAA Class 3A title. He helped develop players such as Chicago Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr., Juan’ya Green, Ryan Daly and D.J. Irving, now an assistant coach at Miami (Fla.).
Romanczuk played two seasons at Malvern Prep before finishing his high school career at Archbishop Carroll. One of the most acclaimed coaches in the area is back and he could not be more thrilled.
“I really missed it and I don’t think I really knew how much I missed it until I got back on the sideline,” Romanczuk said. “Going in, I didn’t know a lot after being away for three years. I followed the Inter-Ac from afar but didn’t know the teams too well.”
As he gets reacclimated with coaching, Romanczuk will have the luxury of leaning on two skilled players in sophomore Ryan Williams and junior Andrew Phillips. Williams, the 6-2 combo guard who holds an offer from Temple, “has a natural ability to put the ball in the basket” and “he’s a natural born scorer,” according to Romanczuk. Williams will step into the role vacated by Rahdir Hicks, who scored 1,190 career points (6th-most in school history) and is now playing at Towson. Phillips, a 6-4 forward, avg. 8.3 ppg and his best game came against Episcopal Academy with 15 points. Romanczuk stressed that “he’s a very skilled offensive player” who “knows where to be on the court both offensively and defensively.”
With the loss of Fran Oschell, who scored 850 career points and is now playing baseball at Duke, down low, Tyler Lauder will be called upon to man the middle. The 6-7 senior big man avg. 5.3 ppg including scoring 10 points against the Fords. “With Fran, Tyler was more of a perimeter, face-up big guy. We’re asking him to be more of a pivot guy in the post,” as Romanczuk states. Joining Lauder in the front court for depth will be 6-3 sophomore Tague Davis and 6-5 junior Charlie Oschell, Fran’s brother.
Joey Vandergeest is the Friars starting point guard. The 5-7 senior avg. 6.0 ppg with a 10-point game against Haverford School. Romanczuk notes that he “knocks down shots and runs the show.”
Chase Reardon, a 5-11 senior guard, should see extended minutes after showing promise as a junior, as evidenced by his 18-point performance vs. the Fords. Hayden Pegg, a 6-3 junior and starting linebacker on the Malvern Prep football team that claimed the 2021 Inter-Ac title, “generally defends the best perimeter player.”
Brian Shanahan, now in his third season at Episcopal Academy (1-9), admitted that there is much different feel to this season compared to the angst and uncertainty felt by many a season ago.
“There’s a different energy and the kids are excited,” Shanahan said. “Last year, we only had a four-week season. It was short and quick, and we lost that comradery built during a basketball season. I didn’t return a lot of experience coming into last year and unfortunately they didn’t gain a lot of experience.”
The Churchmen, seeking their first outright league crown since 2006, will be without three key pieces in Will Delaney (Hofstra lacrosse), who led the team with 15.4 ppg, Nick Marshall (Washington College) and Adam Archambault (Albright College). Three-year starter Sam Malloy is “our most experienced player,” per Shanahan. The 5-9 senior guard avg. 6.6 ppg and scored a season-high 17 points against Germantown Academy. “We will be the best team we are when Sam is leading us in that direction,” according to Shanahan.
Kevin McCarthy burst onto the scene as a freshman, avg. 11.8 ppg and scoring in double figures in seven games. The 6-3 sophomore is an elite shooter with an evolving off-the-dribble game. “As he gains more experience, people are going to be really impressed with what he can do” and “he can really shoot the basketball and that’s not something that is going away,” as Shanahan notes. Matt McCarthy, his brother and a Penn lacrosse commit, is a 6-4 senior forward and will start in the front court.
TJ Lamb missed his entire sophomore season due to injury, but he returns with big expectations. The 6-3 junior and Cornell lacrosse commit had 25 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns for the Churchmen football team this season. Shanahan states that “TJ is a multifaceted athlete who can really change the game.”
Eddie Jones, a 6-3 junior lefty and Villanova lacrosse commit, Dan Kane, a 6-4 senior forward and Bucknell baseball commit, and Jake Jaszcz, a 6-foot senior guard and Holy Cross baseball commit, will be in the mix.
The longest tenured head coach in the Inter-Ac, Bernie Rogers begins year seven at the Haverford School (7-2) and, following a season where every team was unsure of where they stood amongst the others, league games will be contentious.
“There’s going to be some parity in the league and you’re going to see a lot of close games this season,” Rogers said.
He will do without his top two leading scorers in Jameel Brown (21.7 ppg), the Penn State commit now playing at Westtown School, and Christian Clover, who avg. 10.7 ppg and is doing a prep year at Scotland Prep.
Dan Springman, the 6-8 senior forward, should help fill the void. He avg. 3.7 ppg and that production should skyrocket. Rogers states that “he runs the floor well and can hit threes. We’re working to get him more comfortable in the post.” Dave Kearney, the 6-4 senior, should see a pump in scoring after avg. 3.1 ppg including a 10-point game against Malvern Prep. “Last year, he was our seventh man and if we had played a full schedule, he probably would’ve played a lot more. He’s a little under the radar but we were confident he was going to be really good,” according to Rogers. Matt Kearney, Dave’s twin brother, played sparingly last season but the 6-3 senior will be an integral part of the rotation. Another player who saw limited time, 6-3 junior guard Carson Mastin, is “very athletic and trying to work with him at attacking the rim more,” as Rogers notes.
The focus has shifted from timidness to teamwork. From worrying to winning. From uncertainty to a positive outlook. The Inter-Ac will crown a champion for the first time in two years and it will do so with a return to normalcy.