The 112th season of Lower Merion Basketball is set to begin Friday, December 9th as the Aces host Bayard Rustin at 7 PM in the Bryant Gymnasium. The Aces are coming off another successful season that included their sixth straight trip to the state playoffs and the program’s 23rd District 1 Final Four appearance (and first since 2013). It’s a time of transition as the team will need to make up for the loss of veterans like Jeremy Horn, KJ Helton, Eli Needle and Zack Magill if they are to make a successful return to the postseason. A youthful squad will look to grow around returning starters Terrell Jones '17 and Noah Fennell '17 – the only players on the roster who saw significant varsity minutes last year.
Here are a few things fans should know about the 2016-17 season:
The ScheduleYear in and year out, the Aces play one of the most challenging schedules in Pennsylvania. The 2016-17 campaign is no different. The Aces will play six games against non-league opponents with state-level aspirations and face a deep, tough and talented Central League. Tests will come early and often for a young LM team.
First up is the home opener on December 9th against a loaded Rustin squad that returns most of its roster. On Saturday, LM will play at Shipley – a favorite to win the Friends League title this year. On Sunday, December 18th the Aces will travel to Allentown to take on District 11 power William Allen, a serious state contender currently ranked among PA's top five teams. LM makes a return trip north for the Parkland Holiday Classic December 27-28, where they will open against perennial District 3 juggernaut Harrisburg in a four-team event that includes defending District 11 champ Parkland and Liberty, a state playoff mainstay. The Aces conclude their non-league campaign on January 21st, hosting Carlisle -- another one of the top-ranked teams in the state -- in the Kobe Bryant Classic.
LM opens league play on December 13th at Marple Newtown. The team’s first league home game is December 20th vs. Conestoga.
With the exception of Fennell and Jones, almost every player will see his first major minutes this season. Sophomore guards Steve Payne and Jack Forrest, who saw limited action during the playoffs last year, will take on a greater load. Other returnees include senior guard Najja Walker-X, senior forward Sean Ryan, junior forward Deion Davis and sophomore guards Theo Henry, Matt O’Connor and Darryl Taylor. Moving up from JV are senior forward Khadafy Bilal, junior guards Harrison Klevan and Jared Robinson and junior forward Isaiah Morgan. Sophomore forward Josh Martin moves up from the ninth grade team.
Other News & Notes
Gregg Downer enters his 27th season at the helm of LM Basketball in 2016-17. His record stands at 514-223. His 514 wins, 58 district tournament wins and 30 state playoff victories are the most among all active District 1 6A coaches. The Aces extended District 1's longest active streak of state playoff berths last year and tied the Bill Anderson-era LM teams of 1939-44 for the longest such streak in school history. LM has now qualified for state play in ten of the past 12 years.
Twelve former Aces are playing college basketball this season and two are in the professional ranks. The list includes: Ryan Brooks (Dijon/France Pro A) Garrett Williamson (London Knights/NBL Canada), Jule Brown (Dickinson), Yohanny Dalembert (James Madison), Eric Green (California Univ. of PA), Jeremy Horn (Claremont McKenna), BJ Johnson (La Salle), JaQuan Johnson (Central Arizona), Justin McFadden (Binghamton), Steve Pendleton (Alvernia), Darryl Reynolds (Villanova), Mike Robbins (Temple), Corey Sherman (Dickinson) and Bryan Shapiro (Washington College).
The Aces welcome a new girls head coach this season, Monique Boykins. Coach “Mo” arrives from Penn Wood, where she helped resurrect the program and turn the Patriots into a playoff contender.