New Castle's Anthony Richards is about to shoot his way into some select company.
Richards is a senior guard at New Castle who has meant so much to the team's success the past few seasons. The way he plays defense and the way he dives for loose balls, I've said he's as tough as a bad steak. But a big part of his game is also shooting. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say he will go down as one of the best 3-point shooters in WPIAL history.
Richards has been on the varsity since his freshman year and has 294 career 3-pointers. New Castle starts the PIAA playoffs tomorrow. If Richards gets six more 3-pointers, he will become only the fourth player in WPIAL history to have 300 career 3-pointers.
The others are Highlands' Micah Mason, Chartiers Valley's T.J. McConnell and Chartiers Valley's Mike Colbert. Richards doesn't have a realistic chance to catch Mason, who had 346 from 2008-12, or McConnell, who had 334 from 2006-10. But Richards does have a chance to catch Colbert, who had 302 from 1994-98.
As for the select company Richards has a chance to keep, Mason (pictured to the left) is now a sophomore at Duquesne University and leads the country in 3-point shooting percentage. McConnell (pictured to the right) plays for one of the top teams in the country (University of Arizona) and has been called one of the top point guards in the country.
Philadelphia-area teams are always major players in the PIAA boys basketball playoffs. Here is a look at some Philly teams to watch. Team thumbnails are written by Josh Verlin of cityofbasketballlove.com, a good web site that covers Philadelphia high school and college basketball.
AAAA Chester (1-1)
Record: 22-5 overall, 8-2 Del Val
Recent history: The Clippers are the four-time defending District 1 champions and won it all in both 2011 and 2012 before falling to Lower Merion in the title game last year. A championship this year would be the powerhouse's fifth in the last 10 years and ninth overall.
Key players: Conrad Chambers (Sr., G), Mahir Johnson (Sr., G), Tyrell Sturdivant (Sr., F)
Why they could win it: Up front, Chester has one of the toughest forwards in all of AAAA in Sturdivant. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound power forward can step out and hit the 3 but is devastating in the low post; he had 17 points and 18 rebounds in the District 1 title game. He and Mahir Johnson, the team's leading scorer at over 19 ppg, transferred back home from Glasgow (Del.) in the offseason, and if they're on top of their game there's no better inside-out duo in AAAA. An athletic squad behind them features several tough role players and a lot of length around the court--it is Chester, after all.
AAAA: Martin Luther King (12-2)
Record: 22-5 overall, 7-3 Public League
Recent history: The Cougars have taken quite a leap under second-year head coach Sean Colson, going from the 'C' Division of the Public League last year to winning its first-ever Pub title this season. Now, they have their sights set on another first: a state title.
Key players: Greg Bennett (Sr., G/F), Sam Foreman (Jr., G), Jahmir Taylor (Sr., F)
Why they could win it: Despite bringing in a number of transfers this year, King has developed solid chemistry thanks in large part to a coach that understands how to relate to his players and get the most out of them. Foreman, who was known as a ball hog early in his career, has really improved his passing skills and become a dangerous scoring guard, while Taylor, at 6-8 and 210 pounds, brings some size up front. They still rely on a lot of youth, including a trio of sophomores in Jabri McCall, Xzavier Malone and Rasool Samir, but Colson has had this bunch playing well all season.
AAAA: Pennsbury (1-2)
Record: 22-5 overall, 12-2 Suburban One
Recent history: The Falcons have been successful at qualifying for the District 1 Class AAAA Playoffs; however, states has been a different story. Pennsbury last qualified for the State Tournament in 2009-2010. Former Sixer and current Indiana Pacer Lavoy Allen led the Falcons to State berths in 2006 and 2007, while current Temple Owl Dalton Pepper took the reigns for the next two years.
Key players: Mekhi Bryant (Jr., G), Cameron Jones (Jr., G), Derrick Woods (Jr., F)
Why they could win it: Pennsbury is a very reliable, balanced and consistent basketball team. They're highlighted by 6-foot-8 forward Derrick Woods, recently offered by Binghamton, who is capable of putting up a double-double on any given night. The dynamic duo of Mekhi Bryant and Cameron Jones give the Falcons a lethal force on the wings - specifically the perimeter. The junior trio would not be what it is without their senior point guard Steve Ciotti, a true court general who glues everything together. This may be new territory for these Falcons, however, Pennsbury has not shied away from the light thus far in postseason play.
AAAA: Roman Catholic (12-1)
Record: 22-4 overall, 13-0 Catholic League
Recent history: The Cahillites' performance in the PIAAs hasn't been stellar, including a first-round loss to District 1 ninth seed Norristown last year. But they did go on an undefeated tear through the toughest league the state this year before falling to Neumann in the PCL final at the Palestra.
Key players: Shep Garner (Sr., G), Rashann London (Sr., G), Manny Taylor (Jr., F)
Why they could win it: Guards win basketball games at this level, and the Cahillites have a very good trio of them. Garner (Penn State) and London (Drexel) are both 1,000-point scorers and easily capable of dropping 20 on any occasion, and sophomore point guard Tony Carr might be better than both of them by the time he finishes his high school career. They need starting forward TreVaughn Wilkerson, who's missed the last few games with a foot injury, to get healthy--especially if they want to beat physical teams like Chester and King.
AAA: Archbishop Carroll (12-3)
Record: 21-4 overall, 11-2 Catholic League
Recent history: Paul Romanczuk led his team to the state finals last year--and though a few key pieces are gone, this is a group that knows what it takes to get there. They're waiting for a major title to solidify their place as one of the state's elite programs.
Key players: Ernest Aflakpui (Jr., F/C), Derrick Jones (Jr., F), Austin Tilghman (Sr., G)
Why they could win it: There's no deeper team in the class, as Paul Romanczuk usually goes five or six players into his bench--the Patriots have had more than 14 players score in a game twice this season! Jones, a freakish athlete at 6-7, has offers from the likes of Kentucky, Arizona and Syracuse, while Aflakpui, a 6-9 native of Ghana with numerous high-major offers, is perhaps the most improved player in the area. They have their flaws for sure, but when they can get out in transition, Carroll is the Dunk City of Pennsylvania.
AAA: Imhotep Charter (12-4)
Record: 20-6 overall, 8-2 Public League
Recent history: Andre Noble has the current longest winning streak in the PIAA Playoffs, with three consecutive championships--last year in their current classification as well as the 2011 and 2011 Class AA titles. Brandon Austin (Oregon) is gone, so the Panthers have gone with a lead-by-committee approach.
Key players: Jakwan Jones (Sr., G), Sean Lloyd (Jr., G/F), Basil Thompson (Sr., F)
Why they could win it: There's no star on this team, with Noble going nine-deep with players who could all contribute on the offensive end. They're not the most skilled team but they're certainly tough, with players like Thompson (a St. Francis (Pa.) commit) and Lloyd, a Division I recruit, fitting right into the Panther mold. Four members of the rotation sat out the 3-4 seeding matchup with Carroll, so they need to get healthy quick if they're going to make a run.
AAA: Neumann-Goretti (12-1)
Record: 22-4 overall, 12-1 Catholic League
Recent history: The most dominant team in Catholic League history, the Saints won three consecutive PIAA Class AAA titles from 2010-12 before losing to Donegal in the quarterfinals last season. The six-time defending PCL and District 12 champions know how to win playoff games.
Key players: Troy Harper (Sr., G), Ja'Quan Newton (Sr., G), Tony Toplyn (Sr., F)
Why they could win it: When you need a bucket, there's no better player to turn to than Ja'Quan Newton, who's headed to Miami (Fl.) next year after leaving as the most impressive in a line of Division I guards to come out of the South Philly institution. The 1800-point scorer has got plenty of D-I talent around him, including Campbell-bound duo Harper and Toplyn, plus junior point guard Lamarr Kimble, a CAA/A-10 recruit with several offers. And if you didn't notice above, this senior class has done a lot of winning in their years at the school.
AA: Constitution (12-1)
Record: 23-5 overall, 8-2 Public League
Recent history: The 2012 PIAA Class A champions moved up to AA last year but found the road a little tougher, losing to Division 2 top seed Holy Cross in the quarterfinals. Rob Moore didn't have any seniors on that team, and now his juniors--freshmen the last time the Generals won it all--are ready to lead their own run.
Key players: Ahmad Gilbert (Jr., G/F), Raheem Liggins (Sr., F), Kimar Williams (Jr., G)
Why they could win it: Despite all the transfers in the Philadelphia region last offseason, Constitution's roster remained nearly unchanged thanks to a lack of a senior class and no real roster needs. Williams, a quick 5-11 slasher, has become a bona-fide Division I prospect in his junior year, while Gilbert, a 6-6 wing with good range, has solidified his standing as a mid-major-plus recruit. They've got some size with the 6-5 Liggins, 6-6 Chad Andrews and Gilbert, but their strength is pressure defense and using turnovers to create mismatches on the offensive end.
A: Math, Civics & Sciences (12-1)
Record: 11-14 overall, 4-6 Public League
Recent history: The 2011 PIAA Class A champions have quickly become a state powerhouse, considering the whole program is not yet 10 years old. Last year they were bounced in the semifinals by eventual champion Rysheed Jordan and now-closed Vaux HS.
Key players: Samir Doughty (Jr., G), Louis Myers (Sr., G), Mike Watkins (Sr., F/C)
Why they could win it: It's been a rough year for the Mighty Elephants, but they still have more raw talent than anybody else in the classification--if they can put it all together. Watkins, a Penn State commit, is an athletic monster in the frontcourt, and Doughty (offers from Temple, Rhode Island, La Salle, SJU and more) leads a number of capable scorers in the backcourt. Head coach Dan Jackson has to hope a disappointing regular season leads to an inspired postseason.
AAAA: Abington (1-6)
Record: 22-5 overall, 14-0 Suburban One
Recent history: Last year, the Galloping Ghosts were the third seed in District 1 but wound up with a tough draw against St. Joseph's Prep in the first round and didn't advance.
Key players: Amir Hinton (Jr., G/F), Anthony Lee (Sr., F), Matt Penecale (Jr., G)
Why they could win it: It was known that head coach Charles Grasty had one potential Division I recruit in Penecale, but Hinton has emerged this season right alongside him; they're both athletic and bouncy and can shoot it quite well. There are solid pieces around them, including Lee, stretch-forward Lazaros Mackrides, Jordan Neely and more. A pair of regular-season wins over Pennsbury proves they can play with the top teams in one of the toughest districts in the state.
AAAA: Conestoga (1-3)
Record: 24-5 overall, 16-3 Central League
Recent history: Conestoga has not qualified for the state playoffs since the 2008-2009 season, where it went 29-4 and fell in the second round. Last year's Pioneers, dropping nine games by 15 points combined, failed to earn a spot in Districts. In 2011 and 2011, Conestoga fell in the first round of the District playoffs. Experience is scarce, however that only adds to the motivation of this year's edition of Conestoga.
Key players: Zack Yonda (Sr., G), Andrew Diehl (Jr., G/F), Martin Dorsey (Jr., F)
Why they could win it: This year's Pioneers are known for their smart and tough playing style. 'Stoga is not the most athletic team in the field, however their size and depth are what got them here - and they'll continue to ride the wave of that. Senior guard Zack Yonda, Swarthmore College bound, is the man behind it all and one of the purest scorers you will find in Pennsylvania. 6-foot-4 Andrew Diehl and 6-foot-3 forwards Martin Dorsey and Dan Vila are the men in the middle.
AAA: La Salle College HS (12-3)
Record: 19-6 overall, 9-4 Catholic League
Recent history: Despite seven seniors on last year's squad, including current D-I players Steve Smith (Fairfield) and Amar Stukes (La Salle), the Explorers fell just short of a berth in the state tournament. But this current group is playing without any such expectations in the school's first trip to the PIAAs since 2011.
Key players: David Krmpotich (Jr., F), Najee Walls (Jr., G), Shawn Witherspoon (Jr., G)
Why they could win it: Despite a large percentage of the minutes (and scoring) coming from a junior class that only saw spot minutes last year, the Explorers came in fifth in the Catholic League. Krmpotich is a long and lanky 6-7 forward with Division I interest, while Walls and Witherspoon are the primary ballhandlers. They'll need players like senior guard Sean Greenberg and sophomore wing Chuck Champion to knock down shots if they're going to advance.