In a few days, the high school basketball season will begin.
After digesting the extensive York Dispatch previews put together by John Walk (boys) and Ryan Vandersloot (girls), it became pretty obvious pretty quickly that this should be an exciting year for York-Adams League teams.
But one story line stands out as we head into the 2014-2015 season — the potential of the York High boys’ team.
The Bearcats look to have it all this season.
They are coming off a District 3-AAAA championship and a PIAA state berth.
They have size (6-foot, 6-inch Kristopher Johnson, 6-5 Brandon Smallwood, 6-4 Jahaire Wilson), they have shooting (Trey Shifflett, 43 3-pointers a year ago) and they have experience (their entire starting unit returns in tact).
Now they also have an infusion of new talent.
Montrel Morgan, who led New Hope Academy to a District 3-A title a year ago, has transferred to York High. New Hope is no longer in existence and the 6-2 junior has landed with the Bearcats. He brings with him a 19.1 points-per-game average from last year with the Mighty Ants, where he also averaged 8.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 4.4 steals per game en route to being named second-team all-state in Class A.
Those numbers, it should be noted, were compiled against a small-school schedule. Morgan will have to adjust to a significant upgrade in competition this season, but there’s little doubt that he has the talent to excel at that level. That’s why he’s reportedly getting looks from a number of NCAA Division I programs.
But York High’s good fortune doesn’t stop there. Former York Suburban standout C.J. Boxley has also transferred to the Bearcats. Last year with the Class AAA Trojans, the 5-9 Boxley averaged a team-best 13.1 points per game as a junior. Suburban, it should be noted, was no slouch on the basketball court last year, finishing at 16-8.
Morgan and Boxley will join a team that returns Wilson (14.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg), Shifflett (12.2 ppg), Johnson (9.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Smallwood (7.7 ppg) and D’Montie Shaw (7.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Wilson and Shaw are seniors, while Shifflett, Smallwood and Johnson are juniors.
Sowers will lead group: It’s almost an embarrassment of riches for York High head coach Troy Sowers, who is entering his ninth season with the Bearcats. In that time, Sowers has proven that he can coach a little bit. He’s led the Bearcats to three York-Adams League Tournament titles (2009, 2012, 2013), a pair of District 3-AAAA crowns (2011, 2014) and his 2009 team advanced to the PIAA AAAA state title game. Overall, he’s 187-51 at York High, good for a .786 winning percentage.
Sowers biggest jobs this season, however, may be keeping all his talented players happy, while also managing expectations.
The Bearcats have a ton of talent. There’s no question about that. But you can only have five guys on the court at a time and there are only 160 minutes of playing time per game (32 minutes multiplied by five players). Not to mention just one basketball.
It could be a difficult juggling act. Sowers will have to convince his players that the paramount goal is winning games, not piling up gaudy individual statistics.
Still, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Bearcats are not seriously successful this season. They are already getting state-wide attention, and whispers of a possible PIAA title can already be heard.
Great expectations: Great expectations can be both a blessing and a curse. They can instill much-needed confidence, or cross the fine line into dreaded over-confidence.
If Sowers’ players start feeling too good about themselves, however, he can simply remind them that they weren’t even the best team in York County last year. That honor belonged to Central York, which beat the Bearcats twice by double figures last season, including a 59-41 thumping in the league title game. In fact, York High only finished third in York-Adams Division I last season at 10-4, behind Red Lion (11-4) and Central York (14-0).
The Panthers look to be strong again this year, led by the return of leading scorer Sam Saxton (15.5 ppg) and leading rebounder Charlie Gingrich (10.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg). Overall, the Panthers return six of their top eight players from a 24-5 team.
Daunting schedule: Not surprisingly, some folks have already circled two dates on their calendar already — Friday, Dec. 19, and Friday, Jan. 23. That’s when the Panthers and Bearcats are scheduled to face off in the regular season. The first meeting is at York High and the second is at Central York. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the York-Adams League Tournament title game is Friday, Feb. 15, at York College
But that’s down the road. The Bearcats start the season with their own tournament this weekend. Friday’s first-round matchups are Reading vs. Williamsport and South Philadelphia vs. York High. The title game is Saturday.
York High also has a high-profile non-league home meeting with Chester on Saturday, Dec. 20. The Clippers own eight state championships in their storied history, including five since the turn of the century.
The rest of the non-league schedule is equally challenging: the Lancaster McCaskey Christmas Tournament (Friday, Dec. 26, and Saturday, Dec. 27), at Coatesville (Saturday, Jan. 3), at Harrisburg (Monday, Jan. 5), vs. Plymouth-Whitemarsh in the Reading Shootout (Saturday, Jan. 24) and home vs. Capitol Christian Academy (Friday, Jan. 30).
It’s a daunting gauntlet of games against quality opponents that should have York High well prepared for the postseason.
All in all, it’s shaping up as one of the most eagerly anticipated seasons in recent York High boys’ basketball history. And that’s saying something.
It should be a fascinating journey.
Be sure to stay tuned.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.