The SportsTalk Shop: Summer Hoops 2017 (Part 1)

With area schools now out of session, high school summer league basketball action has been picking up speed this past week.

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The “SportsTalk​” cameras were out and about covering several different local tournaments in the RCN viewing area the last few days and caught up with a number of coaches and players to get their thoughts on summertime basketball thus far.

(For more of these interviews, plus additional video highlights of summertime basketball action, check out last week’s “RCN Sports Talk presented by the Morning Call” program available through RCN On Demand as well as this Thursday’s show.)

A few notes/observations on the summer basketball action…

*The Central Catholic girls basketball team looks to return to form this year. After a rare under-500 regular season last winter, the Vikettes have added both height and depth to a young but talented team. With an extra year of experience under their belts, Central’s players looked extremely confident (and efficient) in running Coach Kopp’s motion offense to near perfection in the Holy Family Tournament last week—claiming the #1 ranking heading into the final day of action with their scrappy style of play.

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*Northampton, Nazareth and Easton are three of a number of girls teams that lost significant players to graduation, but each has lots of talent coming up through its system. The K-Kids probably have the biggest gap to fill, replacing Aja Blount (who averaged over 20 points and almost 20 rebounds per game).

Easton has shown a strong back court presence, led by Jah’nel Oliver, who had 13 points in the Holy Family Championship game, and boasts several outstanding forwards as well, including Hanna Doell—who is back after missing last season with an injury.

Nazareth also some big shoes to fill and is still looking to establish its back court combination (and have a TON of unselfish ball distributors), but the Blue Eagles have lots of depth at every position (and even more height coming in) and no doubt will be among the top teams in the 6A classification once again this year.

 

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*Before I saw the Patriots last weekend, several parents (from opposing schools, no less) advised me to keep an eye on both Whitehall and Freedom girls teams—programs that were not considered about the elite teams last winter. Both squads have a number of young players coming up, and one player from a rival school that I talked with said she’s not looking forward to facing either of those teams again during the regular season.

We’ll have more interviews, video highlights and packages, both on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” program (7pm, LIVE) and here in the next installment of the “SportsTalk Shop.”

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Also, don’t forget to stop by Buffalo Wild Wings (Grape St., Whitehall, PA) this this Thursday night for this week’s show as we broadcast LIVE on location. Check out the “SportsTalk Gets Wild” page here on the RCN-TV website for more details on this show and for ways to help out a local organization!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District Basketball “Mini” Primer

With the expanded playoff formats for both girls and boys basketball teams this year, it is nearly impossible to break down every single team in our coverage area along with insights for every game in a single blog posting—especially since there are more “sub-regionals” featuring many teams that are outside of the RCN viewing area that we haven’t had a chance to see.

Instead, I wanted to focus on four teams inside our coverage area with interesting storylines that you can follow as you watch this winter’s playoff coverage on RCN-TV (and be sure to check out our broadcast schedule each day this week for details on which teams we’ll be announcing, along with our airtimes).

ALLEN BOYS BASKETBALL
Yes, they did drop the regular season finale to a Class 4-A team…but when you look at the team that Doug Snyder can roll out there—and the depth to this year’s team, I don’t think you can realistically argue there is a better team in District XI.

The way Tyrese Martin is playing—he has to be the area’s “MVP” in a very crowded field of talented players (among them David Kachelries, Jalen Vaughns, Jeremy Johnson, Nick King and others).  Martin can play (and score) from any position on the floor.

The Canaries have a host of great ball handlers (Bless Jones, Malik Gordan, Jvon Winslow, Carlos Gutierrez, Diyel Steward) and an imposing front court (Rahmel Johnson, Brandon Moya, Tyrese Stewart, Orion Obade, A’quele Adderlay) that are very underrated in terms of their rebounding and defensive abilities.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention the popular preseason MVP choice, Talek Williams, too.

I heard a rumor that some people in Allentown were hoping the Canaries would lose a game during the regular season—so that they wouldn’t go into the playoffs with an undefeated record, and maybe help them refocus while not being too overconfident for the post-season—thereby firing them up for what they hope will be a long run through the state tournament.

Well, if that rumor was true (and it was), they got their wish.

EASTON GIRLS BASKETBALL
The Red Rovers did lose the EPC Championship to an incredibly talented Bethlehem Catholic squad—beating Easton in all three meetings between these two schools.  The Rovers are also not the favorite in the 6A playoff classification, as both Nazareth and Parkland finished with more “power points,” pushing Easton to the #3 seed.

However, the Rovers will not have to face the Golden Hawks again since they are in a different classification bracket, and I think Easton will thrive in the District XI and PIAA playoffs.  They continue to be loaded with talent led by Gabby Bloshuk (team high 13 points vs. Becahi in the EPC title game), Shelby Stocker (8 points) and are a very deep team (Mackenzie Miers, contrary to reports did play last Friday, as I had predicted on last week’s “SportsTalk” show).

Allen has made great strides and has had a fine season, but I don’t see any way the Rovers get tripped up in their opener versus the Canaries this Wednesday, which will fuel them through districts and into the state playoffs.  They’ll most probably have to face another scrappy Parkland team in the semifinals, and then, yet another showdown with Nazareth for the championship.

SALISBURY BOYS BASKETBALL
I have to admit, I am fast becoming a big-time Falcons fan—again–this winter, and for several reasons.

While Head Coach Jason Weaver has always had post-season success, he usually features an up-tempo team that loves to push the ball up-and-down the floor regardless of other team’s approach.

This year, for the first time in Jason’s tenure with Salisbury, he features a more half court oriented team, yet they are still fun to watch.

Big men Jaxon Costello and Ryan Slutsky have had numerous big-time games over the last month—both can bring the ball up effectively, shoot from the perimeter and have great hands.  Salisbury’s front court will create a tough matchup for their opponent—Octorara, a team with just two players over 6’1 and none taller than 6’3”—in their opening round playoff game (which will be seen on RCN-TV live, Friday at 6pm).

Jack Reichenbach and Blake Jones are lethal guards who are also very good ball-handlers.  Reichenbach in particular is extremely flashy and effective in scoring both from the outside and from penetration off his own dribble.

But perhaps the most underrated guard in the Colonial League this year was sophomore Sean Snyder, who’s been receiving praise with two great efforts in recent weeks.

In Salisbury’s regular season finale against Southern Lehigh, Snyder was quiet in terms of his point production, but impressed me with his savvy and maturity out in the court during some key moments in the second half to secure the Falcons’ win.

In Salisbury’s Colonial League playoff game last week, Snyder stepped up when teams were keying on other guys and came up big offensively to keep his team at arm’s length and continued to show poise during heated exchanges with the Spartans.  A number of other Colonial League coaches remarked to me after that game what a talent Snyder is—and will continue to be for the next two seasons.

I feel comfortable in putting both Reichenbach and Snyder on a short list of the top guards for next winter and both will be prominently featured in next season’s “player to watch” when we get to December to preview the 2017-18 basketball campaign.

NOTRE DAME GIRLS BASKETBALL
On paper, they were severely overmatched with Southern Lehigh in last Friday’s Colonial League championship, but I was thoroughly impressed by the way the Crusaders hung with one of the most dominant teams in the region throughout its most recent contest.

Leading their hard-fought, never-say-die approach last week were seniors Tori Esposito, Cailee Murphy, Cassie Kelly, Amy Small and Kelsey Gorman.  They played tenacious defense against Solehi and contested every possession. Also, keep an eye on Murphy as she will be playing college ball locally next year for a great collegiate program and will probably be returning to post-season play often at the next level.

As far as the road ahead for Notre Dame, they have a very tough match-up in facing North Schuylkill this Friday in their sub-regional opener.  Even though they are the #6 seed, “North” is a very athletic team that knocked the Crusaders out of District XI play a year ago and will be tough to beat.  But if the ladies from Notre Dame play with the same passion (and can get a few more shots to fall than they did against Solehi), I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the Crusaders advance into the next round to face the winner of the Jim Thorpe/New Hope-Solebury faceoff.

By the way, Notre Dame fans won’t have to worry about attending that next game at New Hope’s gym.  While the school is beautiful and I love the area, the New Hope-Solebury gymnasium is by far the smallest gym for high school basketball I have ever seen and would clearly not be large enough to hold Notre Dame’s loyal fan base.  Instead, that game will be played at a neutral—and definitely larger—facility.

One more playoff note:  Southern Lehigh needs to make sure it provides a luxury limo for LehighValleyLive.com’s Kyle Craig for their playoff games.  While they (and Becahi) clearly have the most talented girls basketball team in the region, its key player (and daughter of a local officiating great) Avery Bennett always has her best games when Kyle is in the house.  The Spartans could have a long run in the PIAA playoffs but I don’t think it should take any chances and so make sure that Mr. Craig is properly cared for during Solehi’s post-season.

Enjoy your high school playoff basketball action this week!