By Michael Bullock
Pennsylvania All-State Boys Basketball
Team Selection Coordinator
HARRISBURG, PA — If there’s anything the latest edition of Pennsylvania’s all-state boys’ basketball package reinforces, it’s the level of talent that exists throughout the Keystone State — talent that constantly brings college coaches here to recruit.
From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and all parts in between — and from early November to late March — high school basketball players repeatedly flash their well-honed skill sets to anyone and everyone who will come see them play.
And in late March, when championship play took place at Hershey’s Giant Center, many of the players we’ll mention here shortly were on display in a series of title games that, for the most part, were extremely competitive from start to finish.
Three of the six youngsters chosen by a state-wide panel of sports writers as player of the year in their respective classifications are headed for major college programs such as Villanova, Maryland and Connecticut, the two underclassmen selected are beginning to pile up suitors from all over the NCAA Division I landscape.
Since three teams were selected in each of six classifications — a player and coach of the year also were chosen — a maximum of 20 or 21 players (if there were ties) are being recognized. Players deemed to be in their fifth seasons of participation — or post-grad years — were not eligible to be selected.
Well, enough of the prelude, so let’s get going. Especially since two of the six classes are headlined by youngsters repeating as players of the year.
Villanova recruit Eric Dixon of Abington, who averaged a double-double (27.6 points, 10-plus rebounds) per game as a senior, was tagged the 6A player of the year for the second consecutive season. Dixon led the Ghosts to a sparkling 28-2 record, District 1 championship and the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs.
Joining Dixon on the first team are the Kennedy Catholic tandem of Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and Maceo Austin (Duquesne), high-scoring junior guard Jhamir Brickus of Coatesville, Roman Catholic senior Hakim Hart (Maryland), Pennridge senior Sean Yoder (Navy) and Butler junior Ethan Morton.
Morton recently committed to Purdue.
Dean Behrens, who piloted Pennridge (27-6) to a 6A championship game that needed overtime to decide, was voted coach of the year.
Our other repeat player of the year is 6-7 Imhotep Charter senior Donta Scott, the Maryland-bound youngster capable of playing every position on the floor. All Scott did was average 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the powerful Panthers (26-6), who rolled to their third straight Class 4A championship.
Scott’s teammate Dahmir Bishop (Xavier) also landed on the first team, as did the Bonner-Prendergast duo of Isaiah Wong (Miami, Fla) and Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forest). The other two first-team choices were Bethlehem Catholic senior Justin Paz (East Stroudsburg) and Germantown Academy sophomore Jordan Longino.
Seth Baron, who led Lower Moreland to a 28-4 record and a berth in the state semifinals, was tagged the Class 4A coach of the year.
Donovan “Puff” Johnson, the 6-7 inside-outside threat for a Moon squad that collared the Class 5A championship, was named Class 5A player of the year. Merely a junior who averaged 22 points and eight boards per outing, Johnson seems to pull in one or two Division I scholarship offers daily yet remains uncommitted.
Also named to the Class 5A first team were Abington Heights senior forward George Tinsley (Binghamton), undecided Mastery Charter North senior Jamir Reed, high-scoring Malvern Prep junior Deuce Turner, undecided Sun Valley senior Vinny DeAngelo and Archbishop Wood sophomore lead guard Rahsool Diggins.
Adam Kaufman, who guided Moon to a 28-2 record and the Class 5A state championship, was named coach of the year.
Jalen Gaffney is the latest Westtown product to gain state-wide notice as the 6-3 senior is the Class 3A player of the year after averaging 18.3 points per outing while bagging 75 3-pointers and shooting nearly 80 percent from the foul line. Gaffney will play for the University of Connecticut at the next level.
Joining Gaffney on the first team are Westtown teammate and classmate John Bol Ajak (Syracuse), Neumann-Goretti senior Christian Ings (Rider), Lincoln Park Charter senior Keeno Holmes (Allegheny), junior big man Jamil Manigo of Wyncote Bishop McDevitt and Trinity Camp Hill freshman Chance Westry.
Will Chavis, who fronted Wyncote Bishop McDevitt’s run to the state semifinals and a 21-8 record, was named the Class 3A coach of the year.
We’ll stay in Philadelphia for our next player of the year selection and that’s Math, Civics & Sciences facilitator Jihad “Squid” Watson. Watson, a 6-1 senior headed for Grayson (Texas) College, averaged 13.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per outing, assisted on the game-winning hoop in OT as MCS claimed the 2A state title.
Also named to the first team were Bishop Guilfoyle senior guard Luke Ruggery (Saint Francis), Sewickley Academy junior Isiah Warfield (Liberty verbal), Moravian Academy senior Jordan Holmqvist (undecided), high-scoring Coudersport senior Owen Chambers (undecided) and Constitution junior Keshaun “Champ” Hammonds.
Math, Civics & Sciences’ Lonnie Diggs, who led Watson & Co. to a 23-9 record and an overtime victory in the state final, was named the 2A coach of the year.
Philadelphia also is home to Sankofa Freedom junior Derrius Ward, our Class A player of the year after leading the Warriors to their first state championship. The 6-4 Ward, who is attracting all sorts of NCAA Division I attention, scored 20 points and dropped nine dimes as Sankofa rolled Vincentian in the Class A final.
Two of Ward’s teammates — 6-7 swingman Khalil Turner (Rider) and 6-2 forward Scott Spann — also landed first-team nods. Also chosen were 6-6 Lourdes Regional senior Thomas Schultz (Vanderbilt baseball), Shade senior Brady Fyfe (Lock Haven football) and Vincentian Academy sophomore Angelo Reeves.
Isaiah Thomas, who piloted Sankofa Freedom to an 18-10 record and its first state championship, was named the Class A coach of the year.