The Philadelphia Inquirer has named the Lower Merion Aces its "Team of the Year" for Southeastern PA. The 2006 Aces captured their 6th state title, most among AAAA schools in PA, and made their first back-to-back Finals appearance in more than 60 years.
In addition to team honors, the Aces garnered top individual awards from the Inquirer. Head Coach Gregg Downer was named "Coach of the Year" and seniors Ryan Brooks and Garrett Williamson earned spots on the All-Southeastern PA team - Brooks captured a first-team nod, while Williamson was named to the 2nd team.
Brooks and Williamson finish their careers as the #3 and #2 leading scorers in LMHS history with 1319 and 1349 points, respectively. (It was reported incorrectly last week that Brooks had finished his career as the #4 scorer).
Below is a complete transcript of the Inquirer article by Rob Parent honoring the Aces' success this year:
Lower Merion, Downer enjoy life at the top
By Rob Parent, Inquirer Staff Writer
He was supposed to be wearing his favorite track shoes, but Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer forgot them.
"So I just grabbed a pair of white sneakers instead," said Downer, who brought along the running shoes in the hopes of extending his team's run at the PIAA state championships in Hershey that memorable March 25.
That it did, as the Aces used superb defense and physical leeway from the officials to outlast Schenley, a big-city team from Pittsburgh, 60-58, and capture Lower Merion's first Class AAAA state title in 10 years.
To celebrate, the sneakered Downer bounced across the court on feet that could suddenly leap, both from joy and from air-cushioned undersoles.
The final result, and his last dance at the end, confirmed what had become obvious after a state semifinal victory over favored Chester - Downer is The Inquirer's coach of the year in Southeastern Pennsylvania, with Lower Merion the team of the year.
"We only had two [starting] players returning from last year," said Downer, referring to Garrett Williamson and Ryan Brooks. "Now, they're two really good players. But players three through nine were new to the fire."
The fire included a trip to the state finals the year before - and a 74-61 loss to Chester. That game would only serve as motivation to Brooks and Williamson. But Downer had forgotten something last year, too - the shoes.
"I didn't wear them last year," said Downer. "Maybe that taught me something."
It was back in 1996 that Downer first wore running shoes at the state championships. It was either the sneaks or his best player, Kobe Bryant, that brought a state title back to Lower Merion then for the first time since the school won three straight from 1941-43.
So after finishing No. 2 last year, then seeing his team play a so-so first half against Schenley, Downer figured it was time to resurrect some sweet sole.
"At times, our coaching staff is big on superstitions and big on karma," said Downer. "I wasn't sure I was going to [wear the shoes] this time, but I thought we were a little lackluster in the first half, and it was literally the 10th anniversary since we'd won the last time, so I thought we'd try it."
It worked like magic, though along the way Downer's actions were decidedly less supernatural. It was after a few losses just before the playoffs that Downer drove his team to Villanova's Pavilion and challenged it to make it there for the District 1 finals.
The Aces promptly went 13-1 the rest of the way... the one loss being in the District 1 final to Chester. One game later, the Aces beat Thomas Edison in a state tourney opener, but Downer was so distressed at the way his team played, he called a 90-minute marathon run/practice at the school immediately after the game.
"I never saw us have a more intense practice," Downer said. "It was then that I had the sense that we might have been onto something special."
That became clear to everyone at the Palestra, when Lower Merion took down Chester in the state semis.
Southeastern Pa. Boys' Basketball First Team
Ryan Brooks, Lower Merion. The Aces' heart-and-soul senior, he elevated his play greatly in Lower Merion's second straight unlikely run to the PIAA Class AAAA state finals and first state championship in 10 seasons... . Equally useful as a swing player or lead guard, a good defensive player and a consistent scorer in the postseason (26 points and 18 rebounds in state semis against Chester, 22 points in the state title game against Schenley)... . Has interest from several mid-major Division I schools.
The Aces received an extended ovation from the Wachovia Center crowd at Friday's Sixers/Celtics game during an on-court presentation honoring the team. The players, dressed in black warmups and with championship medals around their necks, took the court during a 1st quarter timeout. At one point, several members of the crowd belted out the familiar "Let's Go Aces" chant, eliciting a smile and wave from the players and laughs from the fans.