Three SOL boys’ basketball teams will be in action in Saturday’s opening round of the PIAA 6A Tournament. Check back for recaps.
The ‘team’ concept might not be as popular as it once was, but listening to coach Jim Donofrio tell it, ‘team’ is the central theme behind his Plymouth Whitemarsh team’s success this season. The Colonials rolled through SOL play without a loss on their way to a third consecutive SOL Liberty Division title and 17th league crown under the veteran coach. They were seeded third heading into the District 1 6A Tournament behind #2 Lower Merion and #1 Spring-Ford. The Colonials defeated both squads on their way to the program’s second district crown under Donofrio and first since 2016.
“As I said to the kids the other day, ‘You are well beyond not understanding what your roles are at this point. If you have 700 PW students showing up in red t-shirts on a Saturday night in North Philadelphia, it’s not the time to experiment because you all collectively have the opportunity to do something you rarely get to do. You have the potential as a group to bring joy to a large group of people, and I want you to feel really proud of that, I want you to feel good that you’re a key part of that,’” Donofrio said. “Playing time is one piece of that, but collectively, it’s just team.”
Becoming a team is not nearly as simple as it sounds.
“It’s exhausting,” Donofrio said. “Every kid has a different personality. In the modern time, there’s far too many kids who say, ‘I’m a team guy as long as it’s a team by my definition of team.’ When you become selfless, it’s quite a lesson.
“Most of the kids aren’t going to get scholarships, to be honest, and most kids across the country in any sport are not going to make money doing it, so most of us get up every day and we serve some organization in a role. In the end, it’s more about understanding a role than anything else. That gets lost in all the Instagrams and all the self-centered stuff.
“To win a district title and to see the joy on the faces of the whole organization and your whole entire school and community – trust me, those are long-term memories. It can be such a heady ride, and I’ve been through it seven years ago as a different person in 2016. We all change all the time.”
This journey, according to Donofrio, has been an especially enjoyable one.
“I really am enjoying just how much fun these guys are, and that’s not old school me. I was always driven – you have to win, you have to win,” Donofrio said.
There are plenty of team players on this squad, their point guard and floor general – Jaden Colzie - is just one of them.
“He has such a great demeanor,” Donofrio said. “He is so upbeat in school. He just enjoys everyday little things. For as much pressure as he puts on himself as a basketball player, he’s a heck of a student.
“When you see our kids – Jaden is the first one to go to our girls’ games and be in the first row starting the cheers. Just old school stuff, and they’re all like that. They’re enjoying high school days.
“Once the season gets rolling and the kids lock in – you can see it on a lot of the teams we’ve gone against, they’re all tight-knit groups. Some part of it is alive and well.
Donofrio would be the first to admit that success also relies on getting some good bounces. Exhibit A was PW’s second round district game against Penn Wood. The Colonials trailed by seven heading into the fourth quarter but rallied to take the lead. They still needed some serious late-game heroics to eke out the win.
A basket by Chase Coleman gave PW a 63-62 lead with 30 seconds remaining, and that was followed by senior Lincoln Sharpe coming up with a steal that resulted in Jah Sayles taking a trip to the foul line where he buried one of two to put the Colonials on top 64-62. Penn Wood’s 3-point shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim, and the Colonials escaped with the win.
“It just has to be your year – that’s what I’ve learned,” Donofrio said. “Penn Wood takes a shot, and all of this could be different if it’s an inch further.
“Honestly, you watch, and you just shut up and roll. I could also tell you how the last four years, the ball absolutely did not bounce our way every year, and every team could say that, but there’s also reasons for that. There’s always something – something about the egos didn’t mesh.
“For all the talent on this team and for whatever reason, they’re just laughing all the time, and they’re yelling and they’re fighting and they’re getting on each other, but they just seem to be able to enjoy the day every day.
“You have your moments, and you might react a little differently – 2016 district title was jumping up and down in the crowd. This was a quick wave. This was more about some redemption in some ways. You see it a little more humbly after a while.”
PW will take its first step in the final chapter of its 2022-23 season when the Colonials host Chambersburg in front of a sellout crowd on Saturday. Stay tuned.
#3-6 CHAMBERSBURG at #1-1 PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
Championships are never the result of the efforts of one of two players. Crucial to any successful team are the players who don’t find their way into the spotlight and might not even get time on the court every game. Junior Josh Harris is an example of a player who “gets it” and has been a contributor in ways that will never show up in a box score.
Coach Jim Donofrio says: “Josh is a really positive kid. Dean Smith once said – ‘A perfect basketball team has seven guys who know they’re going to play and six guys who would like to play and know they’re probably not going to, and they’re okay with it.’ In this day and age, that gets harder and harder to pull off. People sometimes think coaches don’t have a heart. It bothers me, trust me. We have so many talented guys.
“Josh is a kid who late into this summer and into the fall, he just started to realize this might be something he wants to get more serious about. He comes in as a kid who could cover multiple guys on the floor. He might be able to rebound one night and cover a fast guard the next night, but this year, there’s always somebody that’s just a little more advanced right now or quicker or more experienced or bigger. He becomes a really great insurance policy this year. I’m always humble when they stay with you. The insecure part of coaching is that people outside are so quick to get in their ear and say, ‘You should go here, you should go there.’ Hopefully, through all his experiences on the floor and all his experiences on the practice floor will turn into a great senior year for him.
“That’s happened with a lot of teams, and it’s happened with us over the years. That’s how it works for a lot of kids, but he’s an exceptionally positive teammate, accepting that idea. He just brings a great competitiveness every day to practice and has a real relaxed demeanor – that real nice combination of relaxed but intense on the floor. You just can’t seem to get him down. We win the district, and he looks at me and says, ‘We did it,’ and that’s team. When people think it’s a dying art, it’s great when a young guy today says that. We have multiple kids like that, and I’m always humbled by it, I really am. It’s not an easy sell, and something about old school coaches like me – it’s a chemistry game, it’s a high-level chemistry game.”
Josh Harris says: “It’s been great ever since the season started before our first game at our first practices. As a matter of fact, before our practices – as soon as we were playing in open runs, 5v5s, I knew it was going to be something special. It was fun, but we set goals, and we achieved them – districts and we’re on to states now.
“We have great chemistry. The past teams at PW haven’t had chemistry like this team. It’s a new set of guys, it’s almost like a brand new team. Honestly, just playing with these guys – Chase Coleman – he’s special, Qudire Bennett – he’s special, Jaden Colzie – he’s special, and it’s just fun to play against them every day. It’s a lot, but it’s great, I love it.”
- 27-2 overall
- 16-0 SOL Liberty Division champion
- SOL Tournament champions
- The Colonials are led by a triple threat scoring trio of 1,000-point scorer, senior 6-foot-4 Qudire Bennett (21.3 ppg) and junior guards Jaden Colzie (13.1) and Chase Coleman (17.0). Baseball standout Lincoln Sharpe, a 6-6 senior center, is a fierce rebounder down low.
- PW takes a 20-game winning streak in the state tournament. Its last loss came on Dec. 30 to West Chester East.
How they got here: After an opening round bye, PW, the third seed in the District 1 6A Tournament, edged Penn Wood 64-62 in the second round and then defeated #6 North Penn 83-53. In the district semifinal, a 64-58 road win in front of a packed house at #2 Lower Merion set the stage for PW’s 59-54 win over top-seeded Spring-Ford in the title game at Temple University. Chase Coleman (18 points), Jaden Colzie (16 points) & Qudire Bennett (14 points) led the way.
- 15-11 overall
- 8-7 Mid-Penn League – Commonwealth Division third place
- 6-5 sophomore JJ Kelly is a three-sport star who was a state champion in track & field last spring and also excels for the football team.
- Also key are senior point guard Jacob Bassham and senior Sedrick Vessah, who is committed to California University of Pennsylvania for football.
How they got here: In the opening round of the District 1 6A Tournament, Chambersburg, seeded eighth, defeated #9 Carlisle 63-56 but then lost to #1 Reading 69-58. In the playbacks, Chambersburg knocked off #4 William Penn 64-57 but fell to #6 Central York in the fifth-place game 61-51.
#1-5 CENTRAL BUCKS EAST vs. #12-3 ARCHBISHOP WOOD at Archbishop Ryan HS (Saturday, 4:30 pm)
Dhruv Mukund played JV as a sophomore and wasn’t necessarily part of coach Erik Henrysen’s projected lineup for this season, but in an advertisement for hard work, he kept improving and moved through the ranks before landing a spot in the starting lineup for a Patriot squad that captured the SOL Colonial Division title.
Coach Erik Henrysen says: I don't know that we had Dhruv penciled in as a starter for us a year ago at this time, but he has proven to be a critical piece for us this season. Dhruv has started every game this year and has done all of the dirty work under the basket for us while playing as an undersized post player. Over the course of the past three or four weeks, Dhruv has added an even greater level of confidence on the offensive side of the ball, which has really elevated our level of play.”
Dhruv Mukund says: “It all started last year, I was a starter on JV, but I’d always work hard and try to prove myself on JV. Eventually, the coaching staff took notice, and I was able to move up to swing as a sophomore. From there, I kept my head down and kept trying to work. When the summertime came, we lost a lot of great players (to graduation) like Aidan Weaver, who was our center last year. There was a lot of openings, and during the summer, I just had to prove myself playing against bigger kids. I’d always try to be physical with them, and I think the coaches took notice, and I’ve been able start ever since.
“It’s been great. It’s definitely a season for the history books since we’re one of the best CB East teams in the past couple of years, so it’s definitely a very special moment for us as a team. I think it comes down to chemistry. We’re all extremely good friends off the court. We like to hang out with each other. We’re all very close to each other. We all hang out in the locker room before games, after games. We love to joke around with each other. I think our off-court chemistry is really important for our on-court chemistry as well.
“The biggest high point – I wouldn’t point to a specific game, but going undefeated in our division was good. We beat (Central Bucks) South twice and we beat (Central Bucks) West twice, so those are probably our biggest games. Especially with an extremely loud student second, it was just great to get the win and celebrate with our fans.”
Central Bucks East
- 24-5 overall
- 14-2 SOL Colonial Division champion
- Lost to Plymouth Whitemarsh in the SOL Tournament title game
- Key players include 6-3 junior guard Jacob Cummiskey (14 ppg, 5 rpg, 3apg), 5-10 senior guard Joey Giordano (11 ppg, 3 apg, 3 rpg), 6-5 senior forward Kyle Berndt (11 ppg, 2 apg, 5 rpg) and 6-1 junior guard Tyler Dandrea (9 ppg, 3 rpg).
- Berndt is a threat from long-range and has 51 3s on the year.
- Justin Roberto (6 ppg) and Dhruv Mukund (4 ppg, 3 rpg) also are contributors.
- 16-8 overall
- 9-4 PCL fourth place
- Junior Jalil Bethea, the PCL MVP and a major D1 recruit, is an elite talent who is a three-level scorer and averages 24 points a game with 72 3s on the year.
- 6-8 senior Carson Howard, an East Stroudsburg commit, earned second team All-PCL honors and averages 12 points and 8 rebounds.
- Also making major contributions are sophomore Milan Dean (10 ppg), junior Josh Reed (10 ppg) and junior Duece Maxey (6 ppg). All are D-1 prospects.
Senior Gus Salem (6 ppg) and sophomore Mike Green (4 ppg) have connected on 31 and 23 3-pointers respectively.
How they got here: Archbishop Wood defeated Olney 88-47 in the District 12 6A third place game.
#1-8 NORTH PENN vs. #12-2 CENTRAL at West Philadelphia HS (Saturday, 3 pm)
Senior Mario Sgro is competing in three sports this year, opting to go out for the football team for his senior year. He also plays baseball in the spring. A steady contributor, Sgro points to the Knights’ 68-61 come-from-behind win over Pennridge as a personal highlight. “Although nobody really pays a lot of attention to it, the Pennridge game at the end of the season - we were losing in the fourth quarter. I didn’t score any points until the fourth quarter when I scored 10 points.” It’s the kind of contribution Sgro - who averages 3.6 assists a game -has without fanfare made throughout the season.
Coach John Conrad says: “Mario is a three-sport athlete who loves to compete. The bigger the moment the better for Moe. Defensively, he draws the other team's toughest guard. Moe leads our team in assists. He is the consummate teammate and epitomizes WE > ME.”
Mario Sgro says: “It’s been a fun ride. We’ve had ups and downs as a team, and we’ve had some rough games, but we stay together and keep pushing further. We’ve always been good at moving the ball, and that’s what has been the difference this year.
“In the beginning of the year, coach made it clear that we had a good team, and we could make it to states, and that was our goal since the beginning of the year. If we win on Saturday (against Central), I’m not going to be able to go on the Florida trip with the baseball team, but that’s okay. I’d rather have a state playoff win because I’m pretty sure North Penn hasn’t won in the state playoffs, so it would be good to get our first win.”
- 19-9 overall
- 12-4 SOL Colonial Division, second place
- Top players all season for North Penn include 6-2 senior guard Ryan Deininger (12.8 ppg, 5 rpg), 5-8 junior guard Norm Gee (10.4 ppg, 3.2 apg), 6-5 senior forward Ryan Zeltt (8.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-0 junior guard Teddy McAllister (10.2)
- A 12-game win streak was the highlight of the Knights’ season and it ended with a regular-season finale loss to division champ CB East with a share of the league title on the line.
- Knights, who dropped four of their last five games, will need to regroup and focus on transition defense and keeping the Central guards out of the lane.
How they got here: After an opening round bye, North Penn, the sixth seed in the District 1 6A Tournament, defeated #11 Coatesville 64-60 in the second round but then fell to #3 Plymouth Whitemarsh 83-53. The Knights fell in playback games to #10 Upper Darby (71-68) and #8 Garnet Valley (88-52) in the seventh-place game.
- 16-11 overall
- 8-3 Philadelphia Public League
- Led by outstanding guard play with 5-8 senior Sizwe Morris-Louis (12.5 ppg) leading the way.
- Senior Jude Rowland (8.9 ppg), freshman Yamir Knight-Parker (8.2 ppg) and sophomore Salim Kelly (8.0 ppg) also are key contributors.
How they got here: Central lost to Roman Catholic 67-40 in the District XII title game.
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