When Haverford School’s basketball team gathered at halftime last Friday night, head coach Bernie Rogers knew the 30-18 lead over Germantown Academy was anything but safe. The four-time defending Inter-Ac champion Patriots had been successful against the Fords over the past several seasons, even when Haverford appeared to have talent advantages on paper.
Rogers cautioned his team that GA would come firing back and that the game, which was hardly esoterically pleasing (the teams combined for 34 turnovers), would come down to effort and grit. Sure enough, the Pats closed to within six by the end of the third quarter, but Haverford remained stout over the last eight minutes and earned a 49-41 triumph in the league opener for both schools.
“The kids did a good job staying focused and a very good job of competing,” says Rogers, whose Fords improved to 11-1 on the season. “We held their top player [Evan-Eric Longino, who was averaging 24.5 ppg] to seven points. We didn’t let them beat us up on the backboards. We had a lead but stayed composed when they made a run.”
When Rogers took over the Haverford program last year, he inherited a team with virtually no varsity experience. He credits last year’s four seniors – Micah Sims, Jack Marshall, Tommy McNamara and Jack Bellwoar – with providing leadership that allowed Rogers to create a culture that carried into this season. When practice began in November, there were no questions about expectations and necessary levels of effort. The Fords were ready to go.
Despite a victory over perennial Friends League power Friends Central and winning the Athletes Helping Athletes holiday tournament at Council Rock North, perhaps the biggest moment of the season to date has been the only loss, a six-point decision against Catholic League powerhouse Roman Catholic in the final of the Don McBride Classic. The Fords didn’t shoot well and sputtered at the end against the Cahillites, but Rogers was heartened by how the team competed and has seen a similar commitment in subsequent games.
Perhaps most impressive is that the Fords start four sophomores. The lone upperclassman in the starting five is junior guard Kharon Randolph, who had 20 points against GA. Randolph is stronger physically than he was last year and has focused on helping his teammates. Among them is sophomore Christian Ray, an Oxford High School transfer who has impressed Rogers with his rebounding, passing and effort. “He plays hard, to near exhaustion,” Rogers says with admiration.
Saint Joseph’s hoops fans will be interested to see that sophomore Jameer Nelson has moved into the starting lineup and scored nine points against the Patriots while playing a role in keeping Longino under control. He and Randolph share point guard duties, and his emergence should help make the Fords more potent, because Randolph will be able to concentrate on scoring and not have to handle the ball as much.
While the quick start is compelling, there are still nine Inter-Ac games remaining, and few will be easy. Malvern’s crop of freshmen, led by high-scoring Deuce Turner, is explosive, while Episcopal has good balance. Both won Friday at the Inter-Ac tripleheader at Philadelphia University. And if you think one loss is going to sink GA, you don’t know much about coach Jim Fenerty’s history with the program.
“One thing we have been harping on all pre-season is that we have to stay focused on the task at hand,” Rogers says. “The unique thing about the Inter-Ac is that it’s like having 10 playoff games. If you’re not ready for one or two of them, your shot to win the title goes down the drain.”
So far, the Fords look pretty good in the focus department.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: After the Sixers’ win over Brooklyn on Sunday, center Joel Embiid talked about the team’s making a playoff run. That’s pretty funny because the Sixers still can’t get their lineup together, much less think about the post-season. First, Nerlens Noel was banished to the bench. Jahlil Okafor has sat two straight games. Four years of accumulating “assets” that don’t fit together has damaged the franchise’s growth. The Feb. 23 trade deadline can’t get here soon enough, although don’t expect either Noel or Okafor to bring back much in return.