The 110th season of Lower Merion Basketball is set to get underway on Saturday night as the Aces take on Pennsbury at 7 PM at Philadelphia University in the annual Scholastic Play by Play Tip Off Classic. It's a time of transition for the defending Central League champions, who will need to make up for the loss of three-year starters Justin McFadden and JaQuan Johnson if they are to make a successful return to the postseason. A youthful Aces squad will look to grow around returning seniors Jule Brown, Corey Sherman and Steve Pendleton, the only players on the roster who saw meaningful varsity minutes last year.
Here are a few things fans should know about the 2014-15 season:
Year in and year out, the Aces play one of the most challenging schedules in Pennsylvania. The 2014-15 campaign is no different. The Aces will play six showcase games against non-league opponents with state title aspirations and face the deepest, most competitive and experienced Central League in years.
First up is a showdown on Saturday with Pennsbury, ranked among the state’s top teams in several polls. The Falcons, who advanced to the District 1 title game in 2014, return most of their key weapons this season. On December 27, the Aces will host Parkland at the Kobe Bryant Classic. A perennial District 11 power, the Trojans are a serious state contender. The winner of that contest will face either 2014 state-semifinalist Abington or Catholic League power St. Joe’s Prep. LM concludes the holiday break with a road trip to tough, talented 3A state title contender Susquehanna Township. The Aces’ non-league schedule concludes with two of New Jersey’s top teams. LM hosts Haddonfield on January 10th in the 1st Hope Classic and travels across state lines to take on Atlantic City on January 25 at Cherry Hill West HS.
The Aces open league play on December 9 at Penncrest, the first of three straight league road games. The team’s first home game is December 19 vs. Conestoga.
The Aces graduated its leading scorer and Binghamton-bound forward Justin McFadden and three-year starting point guard JaQuan Johnson in 2014, but return three starters in Brown, Pendleton and Sherman. With the exception of newcomer Asher Barry ’15 and several players who were deep reserves last season, every other player on the roster moves up from the JV and 9th grade ranks.
Other News & Notes
Five former Aces are playing Division I basketball this season, including Yohanny Dalembert ’13 (James Madison), BJ Johnson ’13 (Syracuse), Darryl Reynolds ’12 (Villanova), Mike Robbins ’12 (Temple) and Justin McFadden ’14 (Binghamton). Raheem Hall ’13 begins his freshman year at West Chester. Aces at the Division III level include Luke Chambers ’11 (Johns Hopkins) and Bryan Shapiro ’13 (Washington).
In the pro ranks, Kobe Bryant ’96 is in his 19th year with the Los Angeles Lakers. Ryan Brooks ’06 continues his career in Germany’s top league for Telekom Baskets Bonn. Garrett Williamson ’06 is playing for the AEK Athens in Greece’s top league.
Gregg Downer enters his 25th season in 2014-15. His record stands at 479-200 (.705). His 479 wins are the most among all active District 1 4A coaches. The team’s tally of 82 victories over the past three seasons is the best three-year mark in team history. The team has advanced to the state playoffs in eight of the past ten seasons, matching the previous ten-year record of eight trips earned between 1936-45.