Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Even before The Haverford School’s basketball team took the court against St. Benedicts, it was easy to tell that the Fords were in for quite a challenge.
Although Haverford’s program has made significant improvement under first-year coach Henry Fairfax, they certainly don’t have the roster that the Gray Bees have, with six players already signed to Division I universities and another few on the roster who could join them by the season’s end.
Led by Syracuse-bound Tyler Ennis and Pitt-bound Mike Young, St. Benedict’s blew the game open early and coasted to a 71-26 win on Sunday evening in the final game of the 2012 Kyle Lowry Famjuice Tip-Off Classic, hosted at Philadelphia University.
“You approach the game, you have a game plan, and you try to execute it,” Haverford coach Henry Fairfax said about preparing to face a team with the firepower of St. Benedict’s. “You find out where you are, and I think what we found out tonight is we got a lot of work to do. We had a couple wins that highlighted some things but also, I thought, hid some things, and when you play against the highest level of competition, you can’t hide. That was something to take from it, is we got a lot of work to do.”
Haverford (2-1) hung with St. Ben’s early, but after a Shawn Alston layup cut the Gray Bees’ lead to 9-8, Isaiah Briscoe took over. The impressive 2015 guard, who ESPN has ranked 17th overall in his class, scored nine straight points to kick off a 33-5 run that lasted the vast majority of the second quarter.
Fairfax, talked to his team about Floyd Mayweather before their season-opening win last week over Shipley, went to a boxing comparison again before the game on Sunday. This time, he showed his team a speech that Muhammad Ali gave before his first fight against Sonny Liston, back in 1964.
“He was just saying ‘nobody thought I could do it, we had a chance to shake up the world’ so I wanted to let the kids know that we’re not going over here to lose, we’re going here to win,” Fairfax said. “And I thought we started out pretty well, and then we hit some adversity and we didn’t respond in a way we needed to respond.
“The game plan was to slow the game down. I thought my last unit actually did that–they didn’t make many shots, but they definitely slowed the game down and ultimately that was the way to attack them, because they’re gonna get out in transition and try to turn it into a track meet. We weren’t gonna win a track meet, so that’s what happened.”
Ennis, a 6-2 point guard who ESPN has ranked as the 44th-best player in the Class of 2013, played a big role in that stretch, contributing a number of steals as part of an impressive defensive display by St. Benedicts (6-0).
“Defensively I thought we did a very, very good job,” St. Benedict’s coach Mark Taylor told CoBL afterwards. “It’s tough to get up every night and so far this year our guys have played ‘D’ every night and that’s the thing I focus on. I would have liked us to rebound a little bit better overall–but you know what, Haverford, they hit the boards hard. They’re not a bad team, we just I think overpowered them on the defensive end on the floor.”
The Gray Bees’ length played a big role in that staunch defensive effort. Young, a very athletic 6-8 forward, proved capable of guarding a fairly quick pair of Haverford guards in Shawn Alston and Sean Lloyd when he found himself matched up against them. He also contributed six points as part of a very balanced scoring effort that was led by Briscoe’s 13.
“Mike, I thought, brought our team to another level this year,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have Mike last year, he transferred in, which we’re very thankful because not only is he a great player, he’s a great person. He was actually elected one of the captains, so he’s been a great asset so far. I think he’s gonna be a great asset when he gets to Pitt, both on and off the floor.
“The thing that makes Mike so hard is he’s versatile. He can shoot the three, he can handle the ball a little bit, he rebounds well, he can get to the rim. He’s a tough guard and he makes it tough for people to match up with us.”
Young’s Panthers and Ennis’ Orange are both headed from the Big East to the ACC next season, and it’s expected that the two schools will play each other four times in a three-year span. Although going from teammates to rivals is still a few months away, according to Taylor the pair have definitely addressed the issue.
“They do, they do, they’re laughing about it, they think it’s pretty funny,” he said. “I think the way the league is, yeah I think they will play each other every year so they’re pretty excited about that.”
Another familiar face that Ennis could see on the court in an opponent’s uniform next season is his older brother Dylan Ennis, who’s currently sitting out his transfer year after leaving Rice for Villanova. While the current conference rivals won’t be in the same league next year, it’s expected that the Orange will try to maintain their relationships with the Wildcats as well as another former Big East foe or two.
“That’d be great, it’s something I look forward to my whole life,” Tyler Ennis said. “Hopefully it happens, it would be a great matchup. Syracuse and Villanova always played each other tough, so being able to play my brother in that type of game like that would be great too.”
Both Ennis brothers are strong, physical guards with a high basketball IQ, and it’s clear from watching both that they just love playing basketball. Soon, they’ll both be playing at the highest level of collegiate hoops.
“I grew up watching him, learning from him, so now that we’re closer to playing each other, now we can play against each other and learn from each other as well,” Tyler said about his brother.
The older brother showed off an impressive all-around game in the Delco Pro-Am this summer, while the younger Ennis was described by his coach as “the complete package.”
“Tyler’s a game facilitator, he can do so many things on the floor, off the ball, with the ball, he can impact the game from the defensive side,” Taylor said. “So you know, Tyler’s game has improved consistently over the last two and a half years at St. Benedicts, and I think he’s gonna keep improving because he’s that type of kid, he works so hard.”
Haverford’s next game is on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Valley Forge Military Academy.