Last year, expectations were through the roof for Snider basketball. A full group of returners, not a single senior and just about every piece to a championship puzzle; or so it seemed. That Panther team finished 14-9, winners of eight of their first nine games. But that title never came, out in the finals of the SAC Holiday Tournament, short of the 3-way tie atop the SAC regular season standings and a night one elimination from Sectional play.
But Panther head coach Jeremy Rauch looks at the positives and the learning that his group was able to do. They will return eight varsity contributors this season.
“You can just tell our guys are focused in practice with the way they get along. They are excited to get back in the gym and that is what we wanted,” Rauch said. “When we handle it with a bit of maturity then we don’t get caught up in the outside and I think being a year into that, if you play for Snider you’ll have a target on you we’ve got to the point hat we embrace that and handle it in a way that allows us to appreciate the recognition but know that it is going to come with a certain level of responsibility.”
The Panthers have one of the best duos in the area with returning leading scorers Dillon Duff (17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Michael Eley (14.5 points, 6 rebounds). The senior and junior respectively are considered two of the best overall players and scorers in this area. Duff brings a difficult to guard driving element to the game because of his unorthodox and long limbed drives to the basket. Eley, who has been labeled as a shooter in the past, has really developed his ability to get to the basket and is starting to toughen up against contact.
Stopping one or the other is possible, but being able to stop both Duff and Eley in the same game hasn’t been something too often conceivable.
“Everybody knows what Dillon can do and I think he has really embraced the idea of becoming a vocal leader, the guy that everybody can kind of turn to,” Rauch said. “I think Michael is ready to have a big breakout year. I think he is ready to embrace that and knows what it takes to compete at a high level. I thought he had a great summer.”
Jayshawn Underwood (2.9 assists, 1.9 steals) will return as the starting point guard for a third year and one of the few true point guards in the area with the ability to distribute and play harassing on ball defense, both as good as anyone in the city. Isaac Farnsworth (6.2 points) will return as a big intangible guy for the Panthers, who’s defense was important in big games last year but he will be relied on to score more this season, a trait he has been getting better at. Farnsworth have a high quality summer, stepping up several times when the Panthers were missing some of their The football players.
One of those football players is another returning senior in Jon Barnes Jr. The quarterback on the football field, Barnes’ leadership will be an important element as he can also be a streaky shooter and quality fundamental defender. The Panthers also return seniors Airyan Thomas and Jordan Moore to the lineup. Thomas is coming off a torn ACL that kept him out all summer, but has been a good spot up shooter. Moore, who backed up Underwood last season, has show flashes of being a tough on ball defender who will need to buckle down on his role in this deep lineup.
“I think we started last year with the idea of letting guys play through some things and seeing where they could contribute in games,” Rauch said. “I think our focus now is they have to prove it to us in practice. Your game play will be determined by your practice habits. We know we have a solid core and anybody else who comes in is going to have to come in and bring defense and energy. We are in a good place.”
Karson Jenkins will return for his sophomore season after a little playing time on varsity last year. Jenkins can put himself in the argument as one of the best pure shooters in the area. Fellow sophomore Aiden Lambert will join the varsity lineup as well after a good summer. Another senior and an All-State springer, Alonzo Derrick will join the varsity lineup as a helpful defender after a successful season on the football field.
One more new face will be senior Elijah Wimby who missed all of last season injured. Wimby provides toughness and a good looking shot. His energy will be needed for a team who needs some more help on the interior after losing most of their post play.
With Duff and Eley’s decisions to play football this season, the Panthers’ varsity team will feature five guys who contributed on the football field.
“Its a surprise that we have everybody and assuming that we keep everybody healthy, we will have everybody for our scrimmage which will be the first time since I’ve been here,” Rauch said. “I think football did help for the guys to get a break and come back refocused and reexcited about what we have coming up. We are in a good place right now.”
Snider has tremendous depth for a team that four players from the start of the 2018-2019 season to transfer. They are loaded with talent and experience, more so than so many other teams. Yes, what they do with it is still to be seen (more on that next), but the talent and experience is there nonetheless. You can’t teach that experience in the SAC.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
We are in a wait and see pattern with the Panthers, who underachieved in the eyes of area pundits last season. Was that on us for anointing them too early? Or on them for not winning games that they possibly should have?
Either way, the Panthers are going to have to work for some good will early this season. Fair or not, that is just a fact at this point.
JAN. 17 AT HOMESTEAD
These two teams have the chance to meet before this in the SAC Holiday Tournament, as they did in last season’s final. But that is inconsequential at this point. What is of consequence is that any road to a SAC title goes through Homestead nearly every year. You want to be considered one of the big boys? You want a trophy? Go win at Homestead. This late in the year, both teams should be clicking on all cylinders so this one is a can’t miss showdown on the Southwest side of the city.
ELIJAH WIMBY, SENIOR
We haven’t gotten to see Elijah Wimby in some time during a high school regular season. What he brings to this team is a quality shot and plenty of fresh energy. He has said that he made a point of paying as best attention he could last season from the sideline so he can bring a fresh perspective for growth and leadership. There are a lot of Panthers we all know what to expect from. Wimby, on the other hand, has some intangibles that few can prepare for at this juncture.
Not to mention, he’s got a pretty solid bloodline when it comes to Snider basketball.