By JOSEPH SANTOLIQUITO
For the Daily News
RON WILSON did all the grunt work when he played for Villanova in the mid-1990s. Diving for loose balls, rebounding, defending, blocking shots, boxing out, all those nasty things you don't find in a box score but lead to victories. The 1995 Villanova graduate wants to instill some of that work ethic into his first head-coaching job at Chichester High School.
Wilson's once lean 6-11 frame is a little paunchier these days, but his attitude is still the same. He's trying to add stability to a program that has had three coaches in the last 4 years. The Eagles play in one of the toughest leagues in the state, but that hasn't prevented Wilson from believing his team can reach a level of respectability in his first year.
"Everything is a learning experience for me right now, but I have a great staff, a great group of kids who want to win, and for us, it's keeping the talent home in Chichester and it's about creating an atmosphere of winning," he said. "We want the kids to understand what we're trying to do and where we're trying to go. We have a strong talent base. It hasn't been easy.
"It's been hard, but the kids are coming around and buying into what we're teaching them."
Wilson, meanwhile, is finding out a few things about himself. He played during a rough time at Villanova, during the transition from Rollie Massimino to Steve Lappas. He finds himself today repeating many of the same things to his players that Massimino and Lappas used to yell at him.
"If I had hair like coach Mass and coach Lappas, I would have pulled it out by now," laughed Wilson, a behavioral specialist at Chester Community Charter School. "But really, I'm finding out that I'm much more patient than I thought.
"I did the dirty work when I played at Villanova, there was nothing glorified about it. I did what it took to win and it's been that way most of my life. I can relate to what they're going through. I was also very blessed to have been coached by passionate men like coach Mass and coach Lappas. That's a passion I want to bring to what we're trying to do here at Chichester."
It's been a trying time for Marple Newtown scoring machine Soutiri Sapnas. He's been watching his senior season slowly dissolve, waiting to return to the Tigers' lineup.
Sapnas, Marple Newtown's all-time leading scorer who averaged 26.1 points last year, severely sprained his left ankle and strained some ligaments during the first practice of the season. He went up for a layup and landed on someone's foot.
He has missed the Tigers' first four games. He was in a boot for 2 weeks but has been walking on his own and has been able to jump. In the offseason Sapnas grew another inch and is now 6-1 and has put on 10 pounds to weigh 170.
Sapnas got word yesterday afternoon that he's allowed to play, and played his first game against Harriton last night. He put in 32 points, but Marple Newtown lost, 77-70.
"It's been hard watching and waiting," said Sapnas. "It has been difficult, because I've never really been hurt like this. I've had ankle sprains before, but I just have to deal with it and I just have to keep on working hard."
Sapnas is receiving attention from Temple, where he made an official visit last spring, and is receiving considerable interest from Niagara.
"I wasn't sure when I was coming back, I was told that I'd be ready to play and I should be at 100 percent by the first week in January," Sapnas said. "My ankle feels really good right now. I shoveled snow over the weekend without too much pain, so if I can do that I can play basketball. You can call this an early Christmas present. Watching and not playing was killing me."
The big game
For years, one of the biggest games in Delaware County hoops was each time Penn Wood faced Chester. It's a rivalry that lost some luster for a time, before Clyde Jones took over at Penn Wood in 2005 and began revitalizing the Patriots to state-wide status.
This season the rivalry is going to take yet another step when Penn Wood hosts Chester on Sunday, Jan. 10 at Saint Joseph's new Hagan Arena.
"The game is such a big game in Delaware County and on many occasions we've had 500, 600, 700 people outside the gym trying to get in," Jones said. "We wanted to find a venue that would accommodate everyone. It's just a game that everyone who wanted to see it should be able to see it. We sit approximately 800. This is a good opportunity to see some good high school basketball when maybe nothing else is going on. This allows people to come and see what this rivalry is all about."
Chester and Penn Wood are the last two PIAA Class AAAA champions, and the Pats are favored to go deep into the state playoffs again this season. Jones has played around with his lineup, starting Shawn Oakman, Dequan Pelzer, Tyree Johnson, Will Brown and Aaron Brown, and has used a second lineup on occasion, starting 6-8 junior Darien Barnes in place of Pelzer, adding another huge presence next to the 6-9 Oakman.
"We're still adjusting to who we are right now," Jones said. "I'm really happy with the way we're playing defense. I'm still tinkering with the lineup, and we've already had two different starting lineups. One thing we're doing well is securing the ball, but I really like the way we're playing defense."