When it comes to boys' basketball in the Central League, the names of big schools Conestoga, Ridley and Lower Merion are those most frequently mentioned.

But because of the expanded league's new format (two divisions), two of the smaller schools - Marple Newtown and Strath Haven - should attract some attention this season. Each has one of the league's premier players.

As a sophomore last season, the Tigers' Soutiri Sapnas created a buzz when he became only the second player in school history to score 500 points in a season. He reached the magic number with 28 points in a 69-53 win over Radnor.

The Panthers' Calvin Newell astonished crowds with his moves while scoring 20 points a game. The 6-foot-1 senior is being coveted by Fairfield, Siena, Charlotte and Penn State.

Newell is getting close to 1,000 points for his career. He started his career at Ridley but missed part of last season when his eligibility was questioned after he moved into the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District.

"He wasn't declared OK until halfway through the season," said Strath Haven coach Steve Lewis.

"Some people said I moved for basketball reasons, but I didn't," Newell said. "It was a family situation."

Newell has been working out with Eric Evans, brother of the highly-sought-after Tyreke Evans. Tyreke, now at Memphis, played for the now closed American Christian School in Aston.

Newell has one goal, and that is to lead the Panthers int the District 1 Class AAA playoffs. As an AAA school, the Panthers will play in the Central's small-school division with Marple Newtown, Harriton, Springfield (Delaware County), Radnor and Penncrest.

The schools will play each division opponent twice and the other schools once. The four teams with the best league record, no matter what division, will enter the playoffs. However, if one team goes undefeated in league play, it will be declared the league champion and there will be no playoffs.

"I expect Calvin to lead us, but I want him to get his teammates involved in the offense," Lewis said. "We go as he goes. He's our catalyst."

Jack Roberts, a 6-8 junior, and Calvin Wells, a 6-0 senior, will be other key players for the Panthers, who were 9-15 last season.

Sapnas is coming off a summer of elite AAU ball, according to Jerry Doemling, Marple's second-year coach. The Tigers were 9-16 a year ago.

Football captain and linebacker Dan Giordano, a 6-0, 215-pound senior, joins Sapnas as one of the Tigers' returnees. Giordano was one of the team's leaders in rebounds and assists last season. Justin Power (6-5) and James Martin (6-4) give the Tigers some height.

Sapnas has been slowed by a broken wrist suffered in October on his right shooting hand. He reports that it is healing.

Temple and Stanford are among the schools expressing interest in Sapnas.

"We were definitely in games," the 6-foot Sapnas said. "Most of our games were close. I've been working on ballhandling and my three-point shots."

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 610-696-2652 or dbeideman@phillynews.com.