The Lower Merion boys' basketball team not only ran the Central League last season, but the Aces also unseated the two-time defending state champion. They downed Chester, 63-47, in the PIAA Class AAAA final to earn the seventh state championship in school history.
Lower Merion (30-3 overall, 17-0 league) lost 10 seniors from that team, including B.J. Johnson, Raheem Hall, and Yohanny Dalembert - a trio that coach Gregg Downer called "three of the best players I've ever had."
Two players Downer will rely on are swingman Justin McFadden (Binghamton recruit) and point guard JaQuan Johnson, who both saw substantial playing time last year.
Downer hopes the experience remaining on the team will make for a smooth transition.
"We have to develop some of the guys off the bench," he said. "The key will be how we try and recover from the loss of so much height and rebounding."
Ridley was the Central League runner-up last season. The Green Raiders (19-11, 11-5) have only one returning starter, sophomore guard Brett Foster. Coach Mike Snyder will look to work sophomore Julian Wing, junior Ameer Staggs, and seniors Andrew Murphy and Isaiah Lester into the starting lineup.
Penncrest (18-9, 10-6) will depend on two returning starters, senior Rahmi Halaby and junior Ben Casanova. Halaby averaged 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, and Casanova contributed 12.1 points and 6.1 boards per contest.
Tom Dougherty's Strath Haven squad also will be looking to make some noise. The Panthers (17-8, 11-5) lost several seniors, but Dougherty expects senior point guard Mike Fisher to step into a leadership role. The preseason has been spent implementing defensive philosophies and working on three-point shooting, which Dougherty believes will be a strong weapon this season.
Conestoga (11-11, 7-9) will have lots of key pieces coming back, including Zach Yonda and Martin Dorsey. Yonda averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds, and Dorsey was strong on the glass, too, with eight boards a game. Coach Mike Troy was encouraged by the unselfishness last season of Darryl Caldwell and James VanDeventer, who each averaged around four assists a game.
The backcourt combo of Tas Dixon and Alex Shippen will be heavily relied on by coach Jesse Rappaport at Harriton (15-11, 9-7). The Rams are small, so they will play a high-tempo game with lots of pressure. "We want to make everything difficult," Rappaport said.
Garnet Valley (9-13, 6-10) saw much improvement last season, considering the Jaguars had gone 3-63 over the previous three seasons. Four starters return, including Aaron Parenti, who averaged eight points and six rebounds last season.
- Doug Gausepohl