RADNOR — Austin Tilghman has heard all the buzz making its way around the halls at Archbishop Carroll.
If those walls could talk, they'd probably chime in on the conversation as to how the Patriots are considered one of the state's elite teams and a veritable threat for the Catholic League and PIAA Class AAA crowns.
It's been the only thing on the Patriots' mind since falling to Imhotep Charter, 54-45, in last year's state title game at the Giant Center. That Carroll team was a Cinderella outfit, almost cast aside after losing to Philadelphia Electrical in the District 12 third-place game.
This year's team, though, won't be any sneaking up on anyone. And if Tilghman needs an introduction to the rigors of the Catholic League, his classmates are making sure he gets it.
"A lot of kids talk about it in school,' said Tilghman, a senior point guard who transferred from St. Andrew's in Delaware. "The big crowds, the exciting games. I think I'm ready for it. I haven't experienced it yet, but I'm definitely ready for it.'
Senior shooting guard Joe Mostardi is still stewing about it the Patriots' last loss. Mostardi isn't shy about voicing displeasure with his performance against the Panthers. The normally sharp-shooting Mostardi, who led the Patriots with 42 3-pointers a year ago, went ice cold against Imhotep, and he's kept that as a motivator.
"(I think about it) actually all the time,' Mostardi said. "People mention it to me sometimes, and I don't think they realize that it actually bothers me a little bit. It was a terrible, terrible game all together. We've got some new guys in this year, so hopefully we can get back there and get a win this time. ... It was probably my worst shooting game ever. I picked a terrible time to shoot like that. I'll tell you one thing: if we get back there, that won't happen again.'
That would serve Paul Romanczuk's team well, sure, but it's getting back there that's the issue. Carroll is absolutely loaded. There are six transfers in, highlighted by Tilghman and fellow point guard Josh Sharkey, formerly of Abington Friends, to counter the departure of guard Nick Jones to defending PIAA Class AAAA champion Lower Merion.
That's not even counting the fact that the Patriots have one of the best cores in the area with Mostardi, junior center Ernest Aflakpui and junior All-Delco forward Derrick Jones. The latter is a consensus five-star recruit with scholarship offers from Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas and Syracuse, among others.
To hear Mostardi tell it, that doesn't mean all that much.
"The bar is definitely set very high,' Mostardi said. "Everyone's talking about how good we're going to be and what we're going to do this year, but I don't think we necessarily deserve that yet. We haven't exactly proven ourselves yet. We haven't won anything. We've got these new guys coming in and if we put everything together and work as a team, I think we can live up to the expectations.'
They'll certainly be lofty, especially in the state's deepest and best league. Three-time defending champion Neumann-Goretti won't give up its title easily, and perennial powerhouse Roman Catholic is being touted as perhaps the team to beat at the state AAAA level. But Derrick Jones isn't scared about throwing out there who teams to beat are.
"For us, it's probably Roman or Neumann,' said the high-flying forward, who averaged 14.2 points per game last year. "For other teams, it's probably going to be us, Roman and Neumann.'
At Delco's two other Catholic League schools, though, it's about trying to get to where Carroll is. New Cardinal O'Hara coach Steve Cloran has made it abundantly clear to his players that his expectations aren't so much etched into wins or losses. Rather, it's about making consistent progress.
"In practice No. 1, I shared with the kids our goal is to get better every day,' Cloran said. "If we can improve every day, I think we're going to be able to compete in every game.'
Cloran is bullish on junior Tip Swartz' versatility — "he can play the 1 through the 5' — and thinks that sophomore Andrew Louden can be a consistent threat from outside. Louden was second on the team a year ago with 28 3-pointers and figures to increase that significantly. His job will be made easier if senior center Mark Plousis can command attention in the post.
Bonner-Prendergast finished 5-17 last season, but the Friars went out with a bang by upending the Lions, 40-39, in the season finale. Bonner coach Tom Meakim knows that it'll be an uphill climb in the PCL, but with a group that could roll as deep as nine or 10 players, he's optimistic that the Friars can make some noise. Junior point guard Danny Ings, senior wing Jack Carden and junior forward Tyler Higgins figure to give teams problems.
Henry Fairfax will tell you that the goal hasn't changed, and it won't change.
Haverford School's coach was a senior on the 1998-99 Fords team that won the Inter-Ac and was rewarded for his efforts by being named the Daily Times Player of the Year. But since then, it's been a heck of a drought for Haverford. The Fords haven't claimed the league since, but if preseason buzz is any indicator, Fairfax's group could be on the cusp of ending the drought.
"The Inter-Ac is the goal every year,' Fairfax said. "We don't prepare to lose. We try to prepare at the highest possible level and when you fall short, your hope is that you learn from those moments.'
The Fords are loaded. Junior All-Delco point guard Shawn Alston is a triple-double threat every night, and he's flanked by Abington Friends transfer Lamar Stevens. Add Yale commitment Eric Anderson, a 6-7 stretch forward who can shoot the 3-ball, German import Lukas Rosenbohm and eighth-grader Cameron Reddish (who won't play against PIAA teams) and Fairfax has every reason to like his team to end the drought.
Haverford's stiffest test, though, come emanate from Newtown Square. Episcopal Academy has as good a 1-2 punch in the backcourt as anyone with point guard Mike Jolaoso and shooting guard Chris McNeal, who netted an average of 14.2 points per game last year. The duo gives the Churchmen (1-0) a shot to win every night, but they'll also have help from forwards Conner Martin and Kyleel Cosby.
Five teams from Delco made their state tournaments last season, yet it seems like Delco Christian's achievement was put on the backburner. Maybe it's because the Knights got throttled by eventual state champion Vaux and five-star recruit Rysheed Jordan, but DC had a sterling season last year.
And the pressure is on to get back, despite losing a good chunk of the lineup. Knights coach Don Davis freely admits that his team is wired differently this year, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't expect big things.
"(Senior forward) Ron Burrell does all the stuff inside for us,' Davis said, "and (senior guard) Henry Miller is a good shooter (45 3-pointers as a junior). I see those two leading our team. We're building a season around them.'
Tri-State Christian Conference
The pieces are slightly modified, but Christian Academy looks a good bit like the team that played for a league championship last year.
Coach Jon Thompson only has one senior in do-it-all type Trevin Jones, the Crusaders' leading scorer a year ago, and he and defensive spark plug Jeremiah Williams will be tasked with helping TCA chase a title. Long-range marksman Brady Waller will fill up the stat sheet, too.