Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Westtown coach Seth Berger’s main goal is to get all of his players into a college program. For one of the new additions to the school’s boys basketball program, that goal isn’t high enough.
The West Chester, Pa. boarding school made some international news this summer with the addition of Georgios Papagiannis, and the team’s public debut on Sep. 22 at the Big 64 event in West Chester did not disappoint. At 7-foot-1, with an already advanced offensive game and solid footwork in the post, Papagiannis looks to be on the path to the best basketball league in the world.
“The only thing that will stop George from being a lottery pick in 2016 is a significant injury,” Berger said. “He’s incredibly talented, already strong, super smart, learns really fast, there’s nothing that’s going to stop that kid. He can just about already do everything.”
Papagiannis certainly looked the part of an NBA prospect in his American debut. He can post up with either hand, hit a 13-foot jumper and blocked shot after shot on the defensive end. His defensive timing is not perfect but far from raw, and he caught nearly everything that thrown or bounced in his direction.
His biggest strength, however, is his ability in the pick-and-roll. He set screen after screen for the Moose’s guards, giving Westtown plenty of open looks around the perimeter as well as a big target in the middle of the lane, depending on the defense.
“If you’re going to play college basketball you have to learn pick and roll, so we run pick-and-roll in our offense all day long,” Berger said. “It’s nothing new for any of our guys, and he naturally does it very well.
“He’s already done it over in Europe, they run a lot of Euro-ball-screen stuff anyways, so he knows exactly where to go, exactly where to move. That’s the basis of our man offense, the pick-and-roll.”
Of course, in order to run a solid pick-and-roll, Berger needs more than just a good big man–he needs good guards. That starts with senior Jared Nickens, a sharpshooting wing headed to Maryland next fall. Nickens told CoBL that to prepare for the ACC, he’s lifting weights six days a week to add muscle to his frame.
“Strength is the number one thing,” he said. “[Then] my speed, agility, being in great shape for when I get to Maryland and just staying mentally tough and getting physically tougher. After that, I just continue to work on my skill set.”
Running point out at West Chester was Jair Bolden, a 6-3 guard who’s also new to the program after transferring in from St. Anthony (N.J.). The athletic sophomore has a solid handle and understanding of the offense, and as long as his shot comes around he looks to be a solid mid-major prospect.
“I think it’s pretty clear, Jair’s come in and in a lot of ways this is his team,” Berger said. “His motor’s always high, he’s always playing really hard, he’s a great communicator. For me, the point guard is the most important position in high school and he’s got a chance to be a great point guard.”
Last year, the Moose lacked a true point guard, starting several wings whose handles were often tested against smaller, quicker teams. Bolden brings in a true ballhandler, though against guard-heavy teams players like Nickens are going to have to play big supporting roles in that area.
“I think that the X-factor is going to be if we can control turnovers, and I don’t think that’s one person’s job, I think that’s the whole team’s job,” Berger said. “If we can control turnovers, we’ll be really good. If we start getting into an up-and-down turnover battle, we’re going to have a hard time with good teams.”
Junior wing D.P. Yiljep, brother of American freshman Yilret Yiljep, and senior guard Habib N’Germain are are going to be big parts of the rotation, as will another Greek forward, 6-10 senior Dimitrios Fotopoulos.
The trio of Papagiannis, Nickens and Bolden will have Westtown competing for not only the Friends Schools League title but also the Pennsylvania Independent School Association (PAISAA) title. Berger certainly has the talent to win a lot of games this season, but he insists that his teams’ record is not indicative of his success as a coach.
Successful college players are.
“My goals are always take care of the ball, share the ball, play inside-out,” he said. “Those to me are destinations, not goals. Wins, losses? Never.”