While the rest of the nation gets whipped into a frenzy by another round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, there is a high school version of March Madness that tips off March 24 right here in Conshocken — the 54th annual Albert C. Donofrio Classic basketball tournament, which takes place every year at the Fellowship House.
Led by coaches Jim Kenny, Torrian Jones, Gary Kochesperger and Eddie Dirugeris, the Bucks Donofrio All-Stars swing into action at 8:30 p.m. March 27 versus Hunting Park II.
A teacher at Council Rock High School South, Kenny has coached the Donofrio team for years. His sons Cory and Kerry played at Rock South a decade ago and also took part in the All-Star teams. Bucks has reached the finals on a couple of occasions though it has never won the Classic.
Three years ago, led by Bethlehem Liberty product Darrun Hilliard, now a junior at Villanova, along with CR North standout Aaron Morgan and Eastern York's Andrew Nicholas, Bucks beat DeStefano's Electric, Team Philly and Positive Image to reach the final where it lost in a shootout, 103-99, to I-3, winners of the last five tournaments.
Two years ago, Bucks made it as far as the quarterfinals after getting a first-round bye and beating DeStefano's 101-90 in a second-round pairing. Relegated to the bench due to a back injury his senior high school campaign, Neshaminy product Ryan Arcidiacono appeared in both games for Bucks, scoring 17 in the opener and 20 in a losing effort vs. Team Philly.
Last year, after getting past Waterview Dan Rumph in its tournament opener, Bucks was ousted in the second round by Chester County, a team loaded with talent from Chester High, PIAA finalists from 2011 to 2013 and state champs in ' 11 and ' 12
"We hit a buzz saw last year; it was a tough outing for us,' admitted Kenny.
The coach likes his team's chances however, this time around.
"We are more established and more experienced this year so we look to do some good things in the tournament,' said Kenny.
The current edition of the Bucks team has a wide swath of players from Pennsbury. Just back from their District 1 AAAA final and PIAA Tournament appearances, juniors Derrick Woods, Mekhi Bryant and Cameron Jones are all suiting up for Bucks.
That's it for the Bucks County players, however. The remainder of the squad emanates from South Jersey, Lower Merion, Upper Dublin and Gettysburg.
Bringing the ball up the court for the Bucks team is Jake Silpe, a 6-2 junior from Cherry Hill East.
Woods is among a group of forwards that includes Matt Klinesewski, a 6-6 senior out of Eastern Camden Regional who is committed to Lafayette and Pitman junior Tim Delaney, a big 6-9, 220-pound power player who is going to Villanova.
Delaney ran with Team Final - where Woods and Jones play their AAU hoops - the summer before last, but made the move to We-R-1 AAU basketball last year. We-R-1 is said to be the best AAU program in the nation.
Delaney was dominant in Pitman's run to the South Jersey Group I state championship this season, averaging 21 PPG, 11 rebounds and two blocks. The Panthers weren't even supposed to get out of the South Jersey tournament and yet they beat Point Pleasant in the semis before upsetting Bloomfield Tech March 16 in the final at Rutgers. Pitman lost to Linden March 18 in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions opener but Delaney put up 20 points and seven boards in helping the Panthers to their first South Jersey state title since 1998.
Teammate Eric Stafford, a senior at Pittman who is also committed to Lafayette, is among a half-dozen guards on the squad. He added nine points and 12 rebounds in the Panthers' win over Bloomfield. Jones, Bryant, Silpe, and Devon Moore, a 6-3 junior at DeLone Catholic in McSherrystown, make up the remainder of the group of guards.
Simeon Fryer, a 6-6 sophomore at Upper Dublin and Justin McFadden, a 6-5 senior at Lower Merion who is committed to Binghamton, represent the Montgomery County contingent. McFadden was a starting shooting guard for the PIAA state champion Aces in 2013. He played forward this season after a sea of departures last year at Merion.
Shooting the three for the Bucks team is Trey Lowe, a junior who averaged 28 points-per-game at Ewing this season. Lowe is receiving interest from Temple, Rutgers and Seton Hall.
"He's skinny but he's a prototypical player that a lot of colleges look for these days,' said Kenny.
"When I say he's skinny, I mean he's lean and can jump out of the gym.
"Him and everyone on this team can efficiently put the ball down.'
A huge common denominator among the current group is the Jersey Shore Warriors. Jones, Lowe, Silpe, Stafford, Moore and Fryer are all JSW products.
Kenny is hoping the Warrior factor can put his team over the top. A win on March 27 puts Bucks into a Round of 16 matchup against Waterview Triple Three on April 1.
The tourney runs until April 15. There are no games on Fridays and of course, none on Monday, April 7 — the night of the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship.
A big college hoops fan himself, Kenny is glad for that. He just hopes his squad is still alive on Tax Day. Maybe this is the year Bucks wins it all.
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NOTES: Back in the day, all the big-name Division I coaches used to hang out at the Fellowship House on Harry Street, says Kenny. Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Jim Boeheim — they were all there looking for the next big talent coming out of the Delaware Valley. Coaches still come but mostly Division III these days, says Kenny.
Justin McFadden's father is none other than Ervin McFadden a Harry S Truman product who played back in the day for the Tigers.
Hilliard (38 points), Nicholas (24) and Morgan (23) scored all but 14 points in the 2011 Donofrio final for Bucks, which shot 12-of-36 from beyond the arc.
Now a sophomore at Villanova, Arcidiacono was a freshman on the 2009 Bucks team that went to the finals, thanks to Dalton Pepper's 24 points and 16 rebounds in a Donofrio quarterfinal win over the Old School Cavs and his 39 points scored in a double OT triumph over the Sonny Hill Juniors. A product of Pennsbury and Temple, Pepper scored 45 (16-for-28 from the floor and 10-of-12 FTs) in the final, a 106-90 loss to I-3.
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2014 Bucks Donofrio All-Stars
Derrick Woods, Pennsbury
Mekhi Bryant, Pennsbury
Cameron Jones, Pennsbury
Jake Silpe, Cherry Hill East
Tim Delaney, Pitman
Eric Stafford, Pitman
Matt Klinesewski, Eastern Camden
Devon Moore, Delone Catholic
Justin McFadden, Lower Merion
Simeon Fryer, Upper Dublin
Trey Lowe, Ewing