I want all scouts and media to recognize the Academy of New Church (ANC) Lions, a team perfectly named as their play shows the heart of a lion. Coach Kevin Givens, leader of this pride, and his staff have done a Phenomenal job turning their undersized, undermanned and underestimated team into perennial giant killers, coming away not only with respect, but some big wins! Having a roster full of sleepers who galvanize to stifle teams defensively, forcing teams used to playing in the 60s, to figure out how to win in the 40s. This pride of young lions have continually made every team work and prove their worth.
Their strategy seems simple. Defend every basket like our lives depend on it and run the ball down your throat every chance we get regardless of being undersized at every position. While 15-7 may not seem like the greatest record, when you look at their 8-1 Friend’s League record and some of the powerhouses this team gave fits, you better understand their heart. The belief began with a good showing in their 4th game against 22-0 Inter-Academic League and National Powerhouse, Haverford School. Losing 56-48 to a team that regularly destroys teams by 20+ said something about ANC. The respect given after that game by Haverford let everyone in the building know this may as well been the toughest game Haverford would play all season.
ANC would go on a 7 game win streak that involved what may be the most improbable upset of the season, beating mighty Westtown 48-47 on December 12th in a thriller at home. A true David and Goliath matchup pitting ANC with no starters over 6’4″ against Westtown’s frontline which at times has 3 players 6’8″ and above, and other size still on the bench! ANC’s band of unknowns versus the D1 prospects of Westtown led by D1 UConn commit Jalen Gaffney. The game went back and forth Westtown celebrated early only to watch ANC March right back into the game until it was ANC with the lead the majority of the game. In the first half it was 6’1″ junior Isaac Marshall tormenting the Westtown front court, and 6’2″ junior Glen Saab playing power forward on this night tormenting Westtown’s giants on the inside all second half.
Westtown looked confused and shocked much of game that this little team were able to not only hang all game, but return every big blow delivered and never stop fighting. For every supposed knock out punch Westtown delivered, ANC would return in a basketball version a Rocky Balboa, bloody and battered but intent on winning at all costs. ANC would keep coming forward without hesitation, and without pause chasing Westtown around the ring, or court all match, or game. The ANC approach is exhausting and you can see that look on many teams faces when they play ANC. And on this night Westtown was no different.
Later in the season earning more respect in a loss, ANC faced another powerhouse, 20-5 Shipley. ANC running out of gas late to lose 58-53, again showed the strategy confuse an opponent but Shipley’s tandem of 6’10” Ray Somerville and NBA star Billy Owen’s son 6’6″ Chaz Owen’s proved too much on the interior. ANC just couldn’t find the rebounds on a night of off shooting to stay close enough to make a run. But the game was tense and a wire to wire fight…respect earned!
ANC would March into the Friend’s League Semi-Final a double digit underdog against a Shipley team that was sailing on a 10 game win streak which saw them beating teams by 22+ points a game. Everyone believing that their first meeting with ANC was a fluke, there was no way ANC could hang again with the Shipley powerhouse looking ahead at a destiny date with Westtown in the Friend’s League Final. That’s the game everyone wants to see, right? A game full of D1 recruits and commits. Almost 7 foot frontlines battling for Friend’s League supremacy. Can’t miss college and NBA projected wings going head to head…that’s what the people want right? And with one of ANC’s only all season contributing size, 6’4″ undersized junior Kai Allen out with a season ending knee injury, there was no way ANC could even put up resistance right?
ANC had very different plans for this cold winter’s night. Friend’s League Semi-Final taking place at historic Philadelphia University (Now Jefferson University), home of national treasure Coach Herb MaGee known for his prowess in teaching wings how to manage games and shoot may have been prophetic. Just as in the season, ANC has contributions up and down the line up and on this night we saw three positions step forward that were clearly supposed to be a Shipley advantage. 5’10” junior point guard Devon Bryant would play nearly every minute in a flawless display of masterful court generalship. Single handedly destroying the Shipley press until they abandoned this strategy.
Point guard Devon Bryant would find unlikely hero 6’2″ sophomore Jordy Dawkins on the wing exposing the extended Shipley defense all night. Jordy Dawkins would have a huge game on the wing, cutting, driving and slashing quicker than Shipley could react. And the biggest surprise of the season was 6’3″ freshman, yes true freshman, Anthony McCall completely shutting down the nearly 7 foot Shipley interior. Anthony McCall started the season as an unknown 14 year old, yes as I said true fresh man, from Cheltenham and the tiny personal training program iamBASKETBALL (Www.iambasketball.net). Throughout the season Coach Givens would see his extremely high IQ as a gift, as well as his ability to frustrate offensive players with his wiser than age defensive guile and 6’7″ wing span. On this night Shipley’s front line were no match for this one man child. He would frustrate, confuse and befuddle their bigs all night. Getting stops on the defense, and making plays on the offense. Remember the name Anthony McCall, there is an extremely bright future for this young man.
This game was weird! You can hear the doubt in the crowd almost all night. Even up 31-17 at the half, you could hear Shipley and ANC fans alike expressing worry about what the second half would bring. “Shipley will make a run!” “Shipley can’t lose this!” “Shipley, Shipley Shipley!” That second half run never happened. ANC would outscore Shipley 18-7 in the third quarter to start a masterful half that would see Shipley’s players heads fall and visibly concede the game at the start of the fourth quarter. Shipley’s coach would rapidly keep shuffling the lineup going up and down the bench looking for answers while a locked in ANC with their now 6 man rotation, due to injury, would simply keep pushing the pace rarely even using timeouts testing Shipley’s fitness which on this night was not up to the task. At the end of the game you could see the amazed looks on everyone’s eyes as the final score had the Shipley powerhouse losing 65-31 to the undersized, scrappy and hard nosed ANC Lions.
Checkers vs Chess! Coach Kevin Givens showed his gifts on this night. ANC were the better prepared team. This game was a kin to watching a Gregg Popovich basketball orchestra or Bill Bilichick master class using dusted off moving parts to beat the better collective in convincing and frustrating fashion. This little team couldn’t possible beat the vaulted Westtown again…could they?
The Friend’s League final was simply put a great game start to finish. On this night again, the 3 captains Isaac Marshall (2020), Devon Bryant (2020) and Glenn Sabb (2020) would lead the undersized and undermanned ANC Lion young army into battle. Several shakey and inexplicable calls on freshman Anthony McCall (2022) and sophomore Jordaine Dawkins (2021) early would change the entire game as ANC was still using just a 6 man rotation. Having to play more careful due to foul trouble, ANC were forced to hunker in and take advantage of every possession. However, it was weird watching Mighty Westtown depend on free throws and 50-50 balls to stay in the game…yes ANC would lead most of the first half. ANC headed into the break losing 24-25 with Westtown garnering the lions share of breaks, a very low score given the typically high scoring Westtown offense.
This night would find Westtown coming out the victor, but I would assume the win wasn’t the way they expected or wanted. Late in the game a phantom foul call sending sophomore Jordaine Dawkins (2021) to the bench with his 5th foul, also sending ANC who were up into the penalty. At that time it was 7 fouls against ANC to 2 fouls against Westtown, yes 2 fouls called the entire half at that point? The remainder of the game was then anti-climactic after some grown man big time shots by 6’3″ senior UConn commit Jalen Gaffney pushed Westtown to a late lead. Already in the penalty, Westtown would close the game out on the free throw line as ANC scrambled to make attempts to get back in the game. The final 52-48 Westtown…probably the correct outcome but somehow seemed unfair to most in attendance, as ANC garnered surrogate fans left over from a very good Friend’s League Girls Final that occurred prior.
The ANC Lions return this core of players next year. The entire area high school basketball landscape need to take notice. Coaches, reach out to Coach Givens, schedule a game…I dare you. This team is a hard hat group with way more talent than they are given credit for having. I can see several of these players being big contributors on the collegiate level, D1, D2 or whatever. Put your D1 recruit in the gym with these young men, and trust me you will leave a believer. Scouts, take a trip to their Bryn Athyn campus for a game, it’s not that far. You will get to see true old school Philadelphia basketball in the suburbs. Defend and run…simple! And done with the heart of a lion!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
Basketball Coach / TraineriamBASKETBALL…
Intelligence+Aptitude&Mechanics…The foundation of GOOD basketball!