S. ABINGTON TWP. — The Abington Heights boys basketball team returns three starters from the team that advanced to the semifinals of the Class 5A state playoffs last season, but several other players will have to emerge for the Comets to repeat that postseason success.
Senior guard/forward Jackson Danzig (second-team) and junior forward George Tinsley (third-team) were recognized as All-State selections by the Pennsylvania Sports Writers after last season.
Junior Trey Koehler also returns to the starting lineup after finishing third on the team with 342 points last season.
“They are the toughest kids we’ve had here in a while and I’m glad to have them back, but we still need the other two (starters),” Abington Heights head coach Ken Bianchi said. “We’re looking for a point guard and a big man inside. It’s a work in progress; I’m just hoping we get better every day.”
According to Bianchi, juniors Jack Nealon and Drew Nealon, along with sophomores Corey Perkins and Jimmy Lefchak, are competing for playing time at guard.
Senior Alex Derry, sophomore Mike Malone and freshman Harry Johnson have been working at forward and center during the preseason.
“We’re fooling around with the pieces and we’ll see who fits in,” Bianchi said. “We’re going to use the exhibition season to solidify our offense.”
What kind of offense the team runs is still to be determined.
“We’re going to try some new offenses this year and we’re going to run a lot more,” Bianchi said. “They like to run, so we’re going to let them run up to a point.”
The Comets regularly played five or six players down the stretch last season, but Bianchi recognized that more people will need to contribute if they play at a faster pace.
“If that’s the style we play, we’re going to have to use eight or nine (players) each game,” he said.
Bianchi has been concerned with the team’s play at the defensive end of the floor during practices and preseason scrimmages due to the loss of guard Tommy Rothenberger and 6-foot-10 center Seth Maxwell, who both graduated.
“The toughness that Tommy brought is hard to duplicate,” Bianchi said. “Also, defensively, we’re having some problems now because they were used to gambling and they always had the big guy behind them. I’m trying to express to them that he’s not there anymore. We have to make sure we don’t gamble as much and we’re having a little struggle with that, but we’ll work our way through it.”
Abington Heights has won six consecutive district titles — three in Class 3A, two in Class 4A and one in Class 5A — and advanced to the state playoffs the last 11 seasons.
“It’s a great tradition and we really want to keep carrying on coach Bianchi’s and coach (Jeff) McLane’s legacy here,” Danzig said.
Tinsley feels the team’s returning players and newcomers are working well together as the season approaches.
“We’re getting used to the plays and trying to help the younger guys figure them out,” he said. “We’re trying to move our offense really fast. We have a lot of fast players and we’re moving the ball well.”
After falling two wins short of their ultimate goal last season, Koehler believes the Comets have the potential to make an ever bigger run in the state playoffs.
“I feel like we can get further than we went last year,” he said. “I really hope that we can win the state championship because I know our team is capable of doing it.”
Abington Heights will host Holy Cross to open its season at 7:15 p.m. Dec. 8.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.