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Recruiting has helped Friends league attract top talent

It wasn't too long ago when the Friends Schools League was made up mostly of ho-hum teams, with far less than elite-level players, and featured head-to-head contests that were sparsely attended and drew few oohs and aahs from spectators.

It wasn't too long ago when the Friends Schools League was made up mostly of ho-hum teams, with far less than elite-level players, and featured head-to-head contests that were sparsely attended and drew few oohs and aahs from spectators.

That has certainly changed in the last decade, due in part to stepped-up recruiting efforts from several member schools and many high-profile transfers.

Academy of the New Church joined Southeastern Pennsylvania's top tier when Kevin Givens took over as coach and brought his sons, Samme and Shannon, with him to Bryn Athyn. Then the likes of Larry Loughery (St. Joseph's Prep) and Clay Penecale (La Salle) continued the wave of transfers joining the Lions.

Abington Friends, under longtime boss Steve Chadwin, has long been a perennial winner. With ANC's rise, others - including Friends' Central, which experienced a few subpar years after being the king of the FSL early in the past decade, and Shipley - were forced to beef up their rosters to stay competitive.

This year, ANC has three Division I-bound players: 6-foot-6 junior swingman Savon Goodman, who last week committed to Villanova; 6-9 senior forward and 2009 North Catholic transfer Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse); and 6-11 senior center Malcolm Gilbert (Pittsburgh).

Friends' Central features 6-8 junior swingman Amile Jefferson, hearing from the likes of Duke and North Carolina, and 6-3 senior wing guard Devin Coleman, who has offers from La Salle, Marshall, and Delaware.

Friends' Central, of course, boasts Hakim Warrick, of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, and Mustafa Shakur, with the NBA Development League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, among its alumni.

Abington Friends has 6-4 senior swingman Jabril Trawick, headed to Georgetown. Shipley, trying to keep pace, has 6-3 senior combo guard Ky Howard, who has heard from Ivy and Patriot League programs.

Recently, Westtown Friends, in Chester County, joined the growing list of FSL teams showcasing Division I recruits. Fourth-year coach Seth Berger, the former CEO of And1, the basketball footwear and apparel company, directs the Moose.

Berger, a Penn grad, has brought in such players as Daniel Ochefu, a 6-foot-10 junior forward who has offers from Georgetown, Temple, Texas, and West Virginia, among others. Before Ochefu, Westtown was powered by two Division I signees: 6-2 combination guard Matt Lee (Bryant) and 6-7 forward Dockery Walker (Brown).

Ochefu, who lived in Nigeria, said he dreams, like other FSL players no doubt, of "being the next Kobe or LeBron."

Last season, with Jefferson and Coleman combining for 32 points, Friends' Central topped Westtown, 58-45, to claim its first FSL championship since 2002. ANC had earned four of the last five titles, including three straight from 2007 to 2009.

Abington Friends dominated the league in the 1990s, winning eight consecutive titles starting in 1990.

New alignment. The Catholic League, doing away with the Red and Blue Divisions, is now a 14-team, all-in-one division. Membership dropped with the losses of Cardinal Dougherty, Kennedy-Kenrick, and North Catholic.

All teams will square off once during the regular season. Ten will qualify for the playoffs, with the top six receiving a first-round bye.

In the opening round, No. 7 will face No. 10, and No. 8 will play No. 9. In the quarterfinals, it will be the regular-season champ against the first round's lower remaining seed; the runner-up against the first round's higher remaining seed; No. 3 vs. No. 6; and No. 4 vs. No. 5.

Teams will rotate home-court advantage each year. This season, for example, two-time defending champion Neumann-Goretti will open at home Jan. 11 against La Salle. In 2011-12, the Saints will visit the Explorers.

Address changes. As was the case in football, there was plenty of off-season player movement in hoops.

Malvern Prep was arguably hit the hardest when it came to transfers, losing two prominent seniors: 6-4 swingman Lamon Church, now at Chester, and 6-5 forward/center Tracy Peal, who switched to Archbishop Carroll.

Church was a two-time, first-team all-Inter-Ac League performer. Friars coach Jim Rullo said both players "left for personal reasons."

Malvern was a preseason top-10 team in Southeastern Pennsylvania before the departures. "I think there will be a lot of doubters now," Rullo said. "But opportunity knocks for some when something like this happens. I think we can be competitive and get after people."

Quotable. Roman Catholic coach Chris McNesby on Fortunat "Junior" Kangudi, a 6-8 senior forward for the Cahillites: "If he's good, we're going to be good. If he's average, we're probably going to be average."

Kangudi, a Canadian native in his second year at Roman, was slowed last season by torn knee cartilage. He has scholarship offers from Robert Morris, Cleveland State, Quinnipiac, and Mount St. Mary's (Md.).