The 115th season of Lower Merion Basketball is set to begin this Saturday, December 7 as the Aces take on perennial District 1 power Abington at 1:45 PM in the Fred Pickett Classic at Chester High School. The Aces are coming off an historic season that included an undefeated, third-straight Central League championship campaign, a ninth straight trip to the state playoffs and the program's 25th District 1 Final Four appearance.
It is a time of significant transition as the team will need to replace all five starters and make up for the loss of 11 seniors, including four-year varsity players Jack Forrest, Steve Payne, Theo Henry, Matt O’Connor and Darryl Taylor. A youthful squad will look to grow around returning players James Simples '20, Eli Rothman '20, Phil Cook '21 and Jaylen Shippen '22. The Aces will be without the services of varsity returnee Sam Davison '20, who is recovering from injury.
Here are a few things fans should know about the 2019-20 season:
Year in and year out, the Aces play one of the most challenging schedules in Pennsylvania. The 2019-20 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 opener on 12/7 against an Abington squad that reloads after the graduation of Villanova-bound Eric Dixon and Penn-bound Lucas Monroe. The Ghosts have significant firepower, including one of the most athletic backcourts in District 1. The Aces travel to Central PA over the holidays to play in the Hempfield Tournament against some of the top state contenders in District 3. LM makes a familiar trip north to take on state playoff mainstay Parkland on January 12. LM will host loaded 5A power West Chester East on Wednesday, January 22 at the Kobe Bryant Classic. The Aces conclude the non-league campaign on Saturday, February 1 against an always tough Suburban 1 squad, Souderton.
LM opens league play on December 10 at Haverford. The team's first league home game is December 13 vs. Upper Darby.
Essentially, every player on the team will see their first meaningful varsity minutes as an Ace. Simples, a senior guard, has the most returning experience on the current roster, and two new faces -- sophomore forward Demetrius Lilley and senior guard Lance Chestnut -- have seen extended varsity action elsewhere. Sophomore guard Shippen, senior guard Rothman and sophomore forward Cook will be expected to draw on their reserve duties during last year's playoff run and step into much bigger roles this season. All other players are new to varsity, including senior forward Joe Habersham, junior guards Connor McCabe and Joey Scott, junior forward Zack Wong, sophomore forward Henry Bard, sophomore guard Peter Gribbin and freshman guards Sam Brown, Andrew Coyne, Justin Poles and Sam Wright. Junior guard Sam Davison, who was expected to start, is recovering from injury.
Other News & Notes
Gregg Downer enters his 30th season at the helm of LM Basketball in 2019-20. His record stands at 584-240. His win tally, 69 district tournament wins and 32 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 at nine. LM has now qualified for state play in 13 of the past 15 years.
Twelve former Aces are continuing their basketball careers this season in the college, prep school and professional ranks, including: Jeremy Horn (Claremont McKenna), Steve Pendleton (Arcadia), Raheem Hall (Cairn), Terrell Jones (West Chester), Jack Forrest (Columbia), Josh Martin (Penn State Harrisburg), Julian Hairston (West Chester), Theo Henry (Tufts), Steve Payne (Perkiomen School), BJ Johnson (NBA G-League), Yohanny Dalembert (Europe) Garrett Williamson (Canada).
The Aces welcome a new girls head coach this season, Erin Laney. Coach Laney, arrives from Southern Lehigh, where she served as assistant coach and helped guide the program to its first state semifinals appearance in history. She is an alumna of Muhlenberg College, where she starred on the basketball team for four years and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude.