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BOYS BASKETBALL: Westtown's Dereck Lively Concludes Illustrious Career as Pa. All-State Non-PIAA Player of the Year

By Rich Flanagan, 05/02/22, 8:00AM EDT


Non-PIAA All-State Teams Highlight 12 Friends School & Inter-Ac Athletes

Photos: Lennie Malmgren, Dan Hilferty, Colleen Claggett, Krystal Williams, James Williamson & Lou Rabito

By: Rich Flanagan

PHILADELPHIA – Seth Berger has seen the changes taking place in college basketball and their trickle down effects, and witnessed firsthand how positions on the court have been altered over his time at the Westtown School. Daniel Ochefu, who went on to have a terrific career at Villanova and helped the Wildcats claim the 2016 national championship, was his starting center and a polished passer for his size.

Evolutionary forwards such as Georgios Papagiannis, the Orlando Magic’s Mo Bamba and Franck Kepnang (Washington) all had the height and length, but the overall skillset was something Berger needed to refine with them.

His approach always centered on perfecting what each big man did best before incorporating other nuisances to set their games over the top, and he followed that same formula with Dereck Lively II.

“Specifically, with bigs, a lot of coaches make the mistake of putting bigs into the box of what ‘we’ do as opposed to looking at each big between 6-foot-9 and 7-foot-2 as a unique individual and what he can do best,” Berger said. “Dereck was so different than Franck [and those before him] because we developed his outside game before we worked on his low post game, and he was naturally better as a shooter, passer, and decision maker.”

Lively came into the program as a freshman joining a roster that consisted of Kepnang, Jalen Warley (Florida State), T.J. Berger (University of San Diego), Noah Collier (William & Mary), Jalen Gaffney (Florida Atlantic) and John Bol Ajak. Unfortunately, he missed his first season due to requiring surgery on his left foot. He officially broke into the rotation as a sophomore and rose to become one of the most sought-after recruits in the class of 2022. More importantly, he became the prototypical big Berger has been working to perfect during his time at Westtown.

“Dereck is the most complete big of any I’ve ever coached with the ability to truly do everything, and he really showed that this year,” Berger said. “

Lively was named the 2021-22 Pa. All-State Non-PIAA Player of the Year after leading the Moose to a 31-7 record, the Friends School League (FSL) title and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) title this season. Joining Lively on the first team is Westtown teammate Jameel Brown, Academy of the New Church’s Elmarko Jackson, George School’s Kachi Nzeh and Germantown Friends School’s Muhsin Muhammad.

The 7-1 Duke commit became the first Westtown player to be named all-state player of the year since Gaffney in 2019. He avg. 13 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks per game while drilling 36 three-pointers to secure Westtown’s ninth FSL and fourth PAISAA crown since Berger, the Non-PIAA co-Coach of the Year along with George School’s Ben Luber, took over. The focal reason Lively morphed into the first Westtown player to commit to the Blue Devils since Cam Reddish (New York Knicks) in 2018 choosing to slow the game down and it benefitted him in all aspects of his development.

“I definitely had to slow my game down because that has helped me in every part of my game, whether it’s guarding someone smaller than me or trying to score on somebody,” Lively said. “It allows me to read defenders or read which move is the right move but also potentially make the right play.”

Lively, a 2020-21 Pa. All-State First Team pick, had a 30-point, 16-rebound, five-block performance against Perkiomen School in the PA Commonwealth Cup then put together a commanding culmination to his prep career. He made the decisive block then drifted to the top of the key off a pick & roll, where Quin Berger, a Third Team All-State selection, found him for the game-winning three-pointer to down Malvern Prep in the PAISAA quarterfinals. Lively had 15 points and 15 boards in the victory. He had nine points, 11 boards and four rejections in the semifinals against Academy of the New Church followed by 11-18-7 in the state final against Perkiomen at La Salle University as Westtown won 16 out of their last 17 games, including 10 straight.

Dating back to July, Lively has been on an absolute tear, which began with helping lead Team Final 17U to the Nike EYBL Peach Jam title with a 64-61 win over Brad Beal Elite. Lively was a force with 13 points and 10 rebounds and avg. 8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks while shooting 56.5 percent from the field during the EYBL season in which Team Final finished with an astounding 42-5 record. Lively was a starter on a team that featured Jalen Duren (Memphis), Corey Floyd (Providence), Justice Williams (LSU), Otega Oweh (Oklahoma), Jack Seidler (UCLA) and Brown.

That Peach Jam victory set in motion his commitment to Duke and has prepared him for the atmosphere and expectation of playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"It was definitely a dream come true, especially since our 15U season [when we lost to Nightrydas Elite (Fla.) in the Peach Jam title],” Lively said. “It was a great accomplishment to win that event and play in an environment that allowed my game to grow because of the individual pressure that each game brought.”

Brown transferred in from the Haverford School, where he led the Fords to an undefeated 28-0 record and the 2019 PAISAA title as a freshman, this offseason and became the focal point of Westtown’s offense by playing both guard spots. The 6-4 Penn State commit, a 2020-21 All-State First Team selectee, avg. 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists while knocking down 65 three-pointers this season. He hit two treys on his way to 31 points in the PAISAA semifinals against Academy of the New Church and finished his career with 1,053 points. While his shooting and rebounding are his two strongest traits as a player, “where Jameel grew was his intelligence because he’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever had. In the first scrimmage, he didn’t know the score or the time on the clock, and he went from that to understanding the situation and how the possession should finish,” according to Berger.

With one son, T.J., already playing at San Diego, Berger will have another one joining the Division I ranks as Quin committed to St. Joe’s in April. The 6-2 guard, who was named to the all-state second team as a junior, avg. 15 points, four rebounds and three assists, made 57 three-pointers this season.

He poured in a career-high 39 points, hitting five treys and shooting 14-for-16 from the free-throw line, versus the Lions during the regular season. He closed out his career with 1,043 points.

While Quin was the starting point guard for the PAISAA champions, his ability to play through injuries is even more impressive as he suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb during the season opener vs. Mercersburg Academy and finally had surgery on April 29. Even with the injury, he put together notable games as he scored or assisted on 14 of the final 16 points in the state quarterfinals against the Friars, including that game-winning find to Lively.

Seeing Quin move onto the next stage in his career is a milestone for the longtime head coach but he will fondly remember what his son meant to the program.

“Going back to my first recruiting trip back in 2007, Quin is the most competitive kid I’ve coached,” Berger said. “When he showed up in the gym as a freshman, he wanted to be the guy who guarded Cam Reddish. He has a level of competitiveness and fearlessness that enables him to both make great basketball decisions and allows him to put forth winning effort all the time.”

It was a memorable season for Luber and the George School as it finished 15-5 (6-3), advanced to the FSL semifinals and reached the PAISAA quarterfinals. Two of the primary reasons are Nzeh and Second Team All-State guard Christian Bliss.

Nzeh, the 6-8 junior forward with offers from Penn State, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), VCU, Georgia Tech and St. Louis, avg. 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. He had 20 of his 25 points in the second half to down Friends’ Central in the FSL quarterfinals and 34 points vs. Trenton Catholic (N.J.). Nzeh possesses a 7-4 wingspan and won a gold medal in the 400m at the Junior Nationals as an eighth grader with a time of 49.81.

Luber, Council Rock North’s all-time assist leader and former player at Penn State who has spent time as an assistant at both Rider and Binghamton, never imagined George School would turn into one of the rising programs in the area, but “my goal coming in was to attract the best and the brightest, and to show George School basketball can be something to be reckoned with.”

Nzeh has helped immensely in this endeavor.

“He has a level of energy that you can’t match,” Luber said. “He was the fastest kid in the country at one time but now that he’s grown, he has a speed that can’t be matched and a work ethic that is very attractive.”

Nzeh and 6-9 forward Gestin Liberis, a St. Francis (Pa.) commit, controlled things in the paint for the Cougars but Bliss was explosive in the backcourt. The 6-4 sophomore avg. 19 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists and two steals this season and has already scored 916 points to date. Bliss holds offers from Drexel, Siena, Loyola Chicago, Bryant and St. Peter’s. Luber notes that “he loves the big stage and performs on the big stage” and “Christian is a guy who is six months away from being on every mid-major college coach’s radar.” Nzeh, Bliss and backcourt mate Dante Weise (10.5 ppg) all return next season.

Jackson (First Team) and Anthony McCall (Second Team) helped lead Academy of the New Church (18-7, 9-2) to the FSL final and PAISAA semifinals, both times running into Westtown. This is the first time that the Lions have two all-state selections since 2012 when Marcus Gilbert (Fairfield) and Dinjiyl Walker (Oklahoma) were chosen.

Jackson, the 6-4 junior guard who is the first Academy of the New Church all-state pick since Isaac Marshall in 2020, avg. 17.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.0 steals this season. He has scored 808 career points and holds offers from Syracuse, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Ole Miss, Minnesota, California, Penn State, Maryland and La Salle.

McCall, a 6-4 versatile lefty, avg. 19 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals while shooting 56 percent from the field. He finished his career with 982 points, 429 rebounds, 105 steals and 54 blocks (missed his entire junior season) and holds an offer from West Chester University while receiving interest from Rider and Eastern Michigan.

Shawn Werdt has seen a gradual return to prominence following his ninth season at the helm of Germantown Friends and it’s partly thanks to the 6-4 Muhammad, who avg. 21.5 points and 6.5 rebounds this season. Muhammad, a Second Team All-State choice last season, is the first Tigers player to make the all-state team since Michael Buckmire in 2017. Buckmire scored 1,143 points during his Germantown Friends career and played four seasons at Duke. Muhammad erupted for 45 points vs. Cathedral Prep (N.Y.), third-highest in a single game in school history, on Dec. 17 and has scored 755 points to date.

Werdt, who played at West Chester and spent five seasons under Hall of Famer Herb Magee at what was then Philadelphia University, knows what Muhammad brings to the table and how his scoring ability opened up so much for teammates like Widener commit Matt Johnson and 5-11 eighth grader Jordan Dill, who avg. 16.5 points and made 60 three-pointers

“He's a volume shooter and when he gets going early, watch out,” Werdt said. “He can be really hard to guard, and he started feeling himself out there. The next thing you know you look at the scorebook and he has a ton of points. He’s a scorer and when he gets it going, he’s really hard to stop.”

Christian Kirkland, the 6-6 junior forward and Second Team All-State member who played a season at Roman Catholic and helped the Cahillites reach the 2020 Philadelphia Catholic League title game, avg. 16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game while leading Friends Select School to the FSL playoffs and PAISAA Tournament. Kevin McCarthy, the 6-3 sharpshooting guard out of Episcopal Academy, avg. 16.0 ppg and drilled 79 three-pointers this season on his way to Third Team All-State. He becomes the first Episcopal Academy player to be named an all-state selection since Nick Alikakos and Conner Delaney in 2017. McCarthy, who holds an offer from Florida Gulf Coast, hit a season-high seven shots from deep on two separate occasions against Abington Friends and Audubon High (N.J.).

Ryan Williams, the 6-2 electric sophomore guard and third team pick, avg. 16.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals for Malvern Prep (16-9, 8-2). 

Williams, who holds an offer from Temple, made 37 three-pointers while shooting 37 percent from behind the arc and had four 20-point games this season. He became the first sophomore to lead the Friars in scoring since Deuce Turner (San Diego) in 2018 and helped the Friars secure a share of the Inter-Ac title.

Mark Butler joins fellow Inter-Ac players McCarthy and Williams on the third team line after taking home league MVP, the first William Penn Charter player to that award since Sean Singletary (Virginia) in 2004.

The 6-foot floor general, who holds offers from Florida Gulf Coast and George Washington, avg. 13.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3.4 steals in leading Penn Charter (20-4, 8-2) to a share of the Inter-Ac title and the PAISAA Tournament. He scored 30 points, with 17 coming in the second quarter and going 10-for-12 from the foul line, against Springside Chestnut Hill in the regular season finale, becoming the first Quakers player to tally 30 in a game since Ryan Holmes vs. Simon Gratz on Dec. 14, 2019.

With his unique combination of vision and skill, Butler, the first Penn Charter player to make the all-state team since Sean O’Brien in 2014, is as well rounded a point guard as there is in the Inter-Ac but head coach John Owens feels his junior guard possesses traits that spread to his teammates.

“Mark is a win-first point guard,” Owens said. “I don’t think it’s as hard as people make it, but when you have someone who has a win-first mentality, that helps you understand what you need to do. When we played SCH on the road, Mark had his career-high because he knew they were overplaying him, and he had to be aggressive. There are other instances in other games where he knew he had to distribute while other teams played back off him or clogged the lane.”

2021-22 Class Non-PIAA All-State Team

First Team

Dereck Lively II, 7' 1", senior, Westtown (Player of the Year)

Kachi Nzeh, 6' 8", junior, George School

Elmarko Jackson, 6' 3", junior, Academy of the New Church

Jameel Brown, 6' 4", senior, Westtown

Muhsin Muhammad, 6' 3", junior, Germantown Friends

Second Team

Christian Bliss, 6' 4", sophomore, George School

Christian Kirkland, 6' 6", junior, Friends Select

Anthony McCall, 6' 4", senior, Academy of the New Church

Xavian Lee, 6' 2", senior, Perkiomen

Chris Moncrief, 6' 4", senior, Kiski

Third Team

Quin Berger, 6' 2", senior, Westtown

Augie Gerhart, 6' 9", junior, Hill

Kevin McCarthy, 6' 2", sophomore, Episcopal Academy

Mark Butler, 6', junior, Penn Charter

Ryan Williams, 6' 2", sophomore, Malvern Prep

Coaches of the Year

Seth Berger, Westtown

Ben Luber, George School