Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed note: Over the next few weeks, high schools all around the greater Philadelphia area will have open gyms for their basketball teams after school, giving college coaches a chance to see drills and scrimmages. CoBL will be attending many of the open gyms; yours truly checked out AAAA powerhouse Lower Merion on Thursday night.)
The Lower Merion Aces have been one of the strongest programs in Class AAAA over the years, from Kobe Bryant’s championship teams in the mid-90s to Garrett Williamson and Ryan Brooks bringing home a title in 2006. Now, after finishing as runner-ups to Chester in last season’s title game, a hungry and athletic Aces squad will look to bring home the school’s seventh state title in 2012-13.
Small Forward, Class of 2013
Johnson, a 6-foot-7 wing, has seen his recruiting stock soar over the last six months. A very young senior, the 16-year-old was hearing from Patriot League schools at this time a year ago but now has a final quartet of Big East options to choose from. Johnson named Temple, Villanova, Syracuse and Rutgers as the schools he’ll make his decision from, but added he hasn’t yet set any official visits.
“He’s an athletic 3-man, a winger, very bouncy,” Lower Merion coach Greg Downer said about Johnson. “Very good 3-point shooter, and really improved over the last six months. Getting better with the dribbling, getting stronger, but at the end of the day he is a high-flying wing that can shoot.”
Johnson showed off that shooting ability on Thursday night, hitting several 3-pointers during a full-court exercise; the athletic wing gets nice elevation and has very smooth form both off the dribble and as a spot shooter. Still working on his strength, as Downer noted, but he’s certainly not the skinniest or weakest wing around; his ability to get in the lane and hit the mid-range jumper will determine a lot about how effective he is immediately at the Big East level.
Forward/Center, Class of 2013
The younger brother former Philadelphia 76ers center Samuel Dalembert, Yohanny is an athletic 6-8 forward/center whose game is still very much a work in progress. Like many kids who are introduced to the game late–neither Dalembert played basketball until they arrived in the United States from Haiti–Dalembert’s dribbling and shooting skills are behind the curve, but he’s certainly got a Division-I body.
“He’s an evolving four, five-man type,” Downer said. “Raw but very athletic and improving. We’re hoping for some big things out of him this year and if he’s clicking like we hope, that’s really gonna make us a better team.”
Dalembert had a big game in Lower Merion’s second-round win over Roman Catholic in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs last season, with 17 points and 10 rebounds in one of a few starts he made as a junior. Now that Darryl Reynolds has graduated, it’ll be Dalembert’s job to hold down the middle for the Aces in his final season in high school. With a year of prep school, it’s possible Dalembert could find his way into a low-major D-I program; otherwise, a D-II school will be getting an instant impact player at that level.
Guard/Forward, Class of 2013
Howland isn’t the first guy who would jump out at you if you checked out Lower Merion’s practice. A 6-5 guard/forward, Howland barely played last season on a team stacked with D-I talent, but the D-III prospect should play valuable minutes for the Aces in his senior season.
“He’s gonna be a good surprise this year,” Downer said. “Probably a Division-III prospect and someone who didn’t play really at all last year but…someone that will really do some good things for us coming off the bench.”
Howland seemed to be doing a little bit of everything at the open gym–hitting 3-pointers, crashing the boards, getting into the lane and dishing to his teammates. Keep an eye out for him this season as an energy guy off the bench whose contributions might not show up in the box score but were certainly evident on the court.
Small Forward, Class of 2015
One of Lower Merion’s younger players with a high ceiling, this lanky 6-5 wing still has a ways to go before he’s ready to play major minutes but certainly displays some promise as a potential D-I down the road. Brown has long arms and quick feet which make him out to be a potential plus defender, but his offensive game still needs work. A flat shot and below-average handle are his biggest issues to date, but his athleticism and potential should have area scouts checking him out to see how his game improves over the course of the next 12-18 months. Looks like a kid who’s still growing into his frame.