Emmaus victory over Abington Heights leaves Green Hornets perfect
Hard to imagine a better two-day span for the Emmaus boys basketball team.
Friday night they pasted green-and-gold nemesis Central Catholic 79-37. Saturday they jumped on defending 5A state champion Abington Heights 16-4 en route to a 56-48 victory at Muhlenberg College for the Awesome Shootout.
The Green Hornets (6-0) are the last unbeaten Eastern Pennsylvania Conference team.
Zach Sabol, Emmaus’ 6-foot-9 center, bothered Comet shots early, established a low-post presence on offense, and staked the Green Hornets to a lead they’d never relinquish.
He also saddled Abington Heights center Mike Malone with early fouls, sending him to the bench for most of the first half. Malone had blocked Sabol’s shot on the game’s first possession, but it became an isolated incident.
For a team that usually rotates six players, the Comets couldn't handle losing a returning starter inside.
Last March Abington Heights (5-2) got an all-state performance from wing George Tinsley (29 points in final, Binghamton recruit) as the Comets won a state championship. On Saturday he missed seven layups that Sabol affected or altered.
Sabol scored 11 points on offense but dominated the paint on defense.
Mark Swedberg led the Hornets with 17. Cameron Brooks added 11 and Bryce Diehl 10. Ethan Parvel, the football quarterback transfer from Whitehall, handled point guard duties and scored seven. His toughness—diving on the floor for loose balls—gives this squad an edge.
Emmaus can array size at all five positions with different lineups. Devon Boyko comes off the bench and becomes a 6-5 sticky pest. The Hornets managed to turnover a fundamentally-sound program that doesn't normally commit the types of errors they did on Saturday.
While the game might have lacked flow and late-season crispness, part of that can be attributed to the teams’ commitment to man-to-man defense.
Abington Heights returns four starters. The replacement for shooting guard Jackson Danzig is a wing who scored 31 points in a game against Williamsport early last year before suffering a season-ending injury. Now Trey Koehler fills that spot. After suffering a stress fracture in his left foot following a football game last year, he returned to put weight on his leg in September, easing back to basketball.
His legs seemed to defy his jump shot and rhythm early on Saturday, but he began to score more in the second half, finishing with a team-high 14 while star Tinsley (11 points, 12 rebounds) struggled finishing over Sabol after penetrating into the paint.
Despite its struggles, Abington Heights trimmed the deficit to 33-31 in the second half on a 17-footer by Koehler on an inbounds play.
Emmaus, who tried to force an uptempo game on Muhlenberg’s long Memorial Hall court, responded with a Swedberg 3. Sabol’s three-point play with 49 seconds left in the third quarter gave Emmaus a 41-33 cushion.
After Easton’s win over Becahi on Friday night, Emmaus has emerged as the decided favorite in the EPC and District 11 6A field.
Abington Heights coach Ken Bianchi should reach 800 career victories either the end of this year with another state final run or early next season.
PENNRIDGE ROUTS SHORT-HANDED SCRANTON PREP
In the Pennridge game against unbeaten Scranton Prep (6-0), Prep’s tallest player, 6-7 Leo O’Boyle, had injured a foot bone in the football playoffs when he played quarterback for the Cavaliers. The Lafayette College recruit isn’t expected to be healthy anytime soon, leaving SP undersized.
Prep was also without 7-foot-2 junior Matt Dwyer, who’s been hurt the past two seasons, leaving a potentially giant squad decidedly short.
Pennridge got 18 points from shooting guard Sean Yoder (Navy). He also distributed well, recording five assists. John Dominic added nine points and center Jon Post in a 61-36 romp.
Pennridge (6-2) led 32-17 at halftime, then outscored Prep 19-1 in the third to eliminate any threat. The Rams’ losses in 2018 have come against District 1 power Abington and one-win rival Quakertown.
Prep (6-1) suffered its first loss. Brian Boland had 13 points with two three-pointers.
POCONO MOUNTAIN WEST TURNAROUND
Sometimes the best remedy for an emotional loss is another game the next night.
After dropping a heated one-point game to rival Pocono Mountain East on Friday night, PM West (5-3) rallied to down Williamsport 68-58 at the Awesome Shootout.
Ishyne Pilgrim scored 25 points for PM West. The Millionaires dropped to 2-4.
EXECUTIVE ORDER DELIVERED
Executive Education topped Scranton High 58-41 behind sophomore Jevin Muniz’s 20 points. With Scranton trying to press late, EE fired long passes that resulted in two-on-one layups to stretch the margin.
BANGOR STANDS TALL OVER SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP
Bangor’s Ben Holland scored 31 points in a late 51-46 victory for the undersized Slaters against a perennial state playoff qualifier.
The Slaters (7-1) could be unbeaten if not for an overtime loss at Easton. Their adjustments to become a spread, drive-and-kick-for-three offense have materialized faster than expected.
Consider that their starting lineup reads like this: 6-foot-3, 6-0, 5-11, 5-10, 5-7. The surprise isn't that they can score--playing five guards leads to mismatches on the perimeter--but that they can defend and rebound as well as they have.
Bangor trailed by one entering the fourth quarter but outscored the Indians 12-6.
"These kids have championship experience and expect to win," said coach Bron Holland. "That goes a long way. We had to adapt to our team and change the way we've played."
GAMECOCK, TIGER GUESTS
Former South Carolina Gamecock football player Tim Frisby was back in town to watch the tournament with his son.
The Dieruff High alumnus still lives in South Carolina but returns to the Lehigh Valley on occasion. He works in the office of the attorney general in Columbia, S.C. He became famous for walking on to the Gamecock squad as a 39-year-old wide receiver in 2004, under Coach Lou Holtz.
Frisby wore a South Carolina jacket with pride.
He left after the Emmaus game, only to be replaced by Christian Lockhart wearing Clemson gear. The former Tiger works for recruiting service National College Preps (NCP) that helps scholar-athletes match with the right school and program. Lockhart had graduated from Easton High in 1990.
Ironically, the Tigers defeated the Gamecocks in their men’s game in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.
West, Blount pitstop at IMG Academy
on way to Division-I Coastal Carolina
NBA Draft announcers complimented potential draftees for having excess “want-to” in their game.
Translation: they’re passionate about basketball. They want to get better. They want to play the game.
For Bethlehem’s Kaylin West, that want-to moment came during high school. She’d developed into a good player by doing as much as her peers had done and slightly more. But she didn’t compare to older brother Jarrod, whose game and athleticism commanded a football scholarship to Syracuse University to play wide receiver.
Outside of football season, he’d work out with the basketball players, who asked him to walk-on and suit up for the Orange, which he declined.
His sister Kaylin watched Jarrod’s progression and made a personal and family decision. She asked Jarrod to work with her in the summer on the courts at Old Orchard Park in Palmer Township.
“You have to fully commit and do whatever I say,” Jarrod cautioned.
Basketball bootcamp began. For two hours every day, the siblings worked on ball-handling, shooting, Eurosteps, floaters, all parts of Jarrod’s game that Kaylin wanted to master.
The girl whose childhood aspirations had been to become a Penn State cheerleader now possessed the toughness of a Nittany Lion linebacker.
“She worked hard,” said Jarrod, now earning a master’s degree at Syracuse. “She brought it every day.”
At Liberty High, she earned enough attention to receive a scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University, a Division I school in New Jersey. And Kaylin committed.
But then her father, former Hurricanes great Warren West, got a phone call. IMG Academy coaches had watched tape of her in action and offered her a deal too great to pass up—to train as a post-graduate at the school that began as a hotbed for developing professional tennis players like the Williams sister but had evolved into a haven for football and basketball stars.
The girls’ basketball team featured three high-school-aged teams compared to 15 for the boys side, but the top team would travel to play community colleges and junior colleges. And Kaylin would play guard, pressing full-court and enhancing her offensive skill set playing for Coach Jenna Sipielli, a former coach at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.
West would need to draw on her built-up want-to to meet the demands of the basketball-intensive schedule:
6 a.m. – treatment and taping and shooting
7 a.m. – breakfast
8-10 – practice on the court
10-11 – weightlifting or nutrition
11-12:30 – lunch with food made to enhance athletic performance
1-3 p.m. – Gym practice time
3-4 p.m. – Treatment and/or massage
By 5 p.m. athletes needed to rest their bodies. West mostly caught up on Netflix shows and recovered on the couch.
“It’s like being a professional athlete,” she said. “They’re very hands-on. And there is a hyperbolic chamber that you can rest in which opens up your lungs for you.”
Since West had graduated from high school, she did not need to take academic classes, but she could. She partook of the visual classes and the nutrition sessions with her teammates (International students must take classes to be considered exchange students).
Players lived in quad-style apartments like you would find at most universities.
Competition comes naturally at IMG. West said athletes from 53 countries are there, all “with the same goal--to get to the next level.”
Those who watched the NBA draft might take a closer look at a few of the prospects who apprenticed at IMG.
Portland drafted Anfernee Simons with the 24th pick of the first round. Point guard Trevon Duval, who played his freshman year at Duke, was projected in the top 40 picks but was not selected.
Both IMG graduates trained at the 450-acre facility. IMG football players graduate to places like Ohio State, Clemson, etc. And a gentleman named Cam Newton holds camps on the campus each year.
West became the girls basketball team’s shut-down defender. With her increased conditioning and weight-lifting—“I never lifted a weight in high school”—she started bench pressing 130 pounds, squatting 190, and deadlifting 255. Not bad for a 5-7, 140-pound guard.
She filled up a stat sheet during games with averages of 15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals per game. Since her squad had just 10 players, and some became injured, she earned plenty of minutes in shot-clock-fast games.
Said her brother Jarrod, “The next time I saw her play I didn’t even recognize her. She was doing Eurosteps, floaters, all the stuff I used to do and stuff girls her age weren’t doing.”
Jarrod had dabbled in the National Football League, playing wide receiver for the Jets, Steelers and Titans, mostly on practice squads, which still paid $8,000 per week. In four preseason games, he caught four passes for 64 yards.
More than his own accomplishments, he took pride in Kaylin’s.
As Kaylin improved, other college coaches took notice. IMG coach Sipielli took a call from a friend of hers from Coastal Carolina, who quickly offered West a scholarship to the school near Myrtle Beach. Seeing the picturesque campus along with the sports broadcasting major sold West.
IMG teammate Mery Visone from Italy also committed to the Chanticleers.
And that’s where the process began anew for another Lehigh Valley girl.
Aja Blount starred at Northampton High, totaling 1767 points and earning area player of the year honors after her senior season. The 6-foot, 220-pound post player talked with West about IMG and soon decided the extra year to prepare for college would benefit her, too.
Blount became a dominant force, averaging 25 points and 17 rebounds to earn team most valuable player honors. When Coastal Carolina coaches had scouted her a year prior, they barely noticed her.
After Blount spent a year in IMG’s rigorous program, they needed five minutes to offer her a scholarship, too, to match her with West.
Sipielli provided the personal touch Blount needed. After their customary workouts, the pair would run another 30 minutes to boost Blount’s conditioning and trim her body to handle the upbeat pace of Division I basketball.
“There’s a lot of positive peer pressure here,” said Sipielli. “Everybody’s trying to get to the next level.”
Blount and West, Lehigh Valley friends, will team up in South Carolina this upcoming season. Graduation leaves a starting spot at guard that West hopes to fill during his sophomore season.
Blount will battle for space down low.
The old mantra to find riches advised, “Go west, young man” in hopes of striking gold.
For Lehigh Valley girls’ basketball, it might become, “Go south, young ladies” for a post-graduate year in hopes of becoming a Division I-ready player.
Said West, “Maybe this all started a trend.”