by Jonathan Vander Lugt
There’s no way around it: Germantown Academy basketball is finally rebuilding.
Not retooling, as it has done on its way to at least a share of the past five Inter-Ac championships. Rather, long-time head coach Jim Fenerty and his cohorts have had to engage in a full-scale, only-one-player-returning-with-varsity-minutes-type rebuild.
“I have to bite my lip when we make those mistakes that go along with youth,” Fenerty said. “I’ve been spoiled the past four or five years having pretty much the same kids. This time last year, our guys knew what we wanted and knew what was expected, but these guys are all brand new.”
His one returning contributor is junior forward Brian Basile, but he’s been out most of the year with an injury. In a year where they’ll need one, it’s been tough for the Pats to catch a break.
“Along with the fact that we’ve had to replace basically an entire team, we have run into every bump in the road that we could find,” Fenerty said. “Our one returning player has been out all year. We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve missed Jordan Longino. We’re starting two freshman, two sophomores and a junior. We’ll see how it goes, but I think we’re getting better.”
Most of the team, in fact, has been out at various times with different bumps and bruises as well as a mid-December bug that swept through the roster. In all, it’s a bit of an accomplishment that the team’s record even stands at 4-7.
That mark represents the team’s worst in quite a while, and it puts it in danger of finishing below the .500 mark for the first time since 1991— a full decade before most of the team was born. It’s been a foreign experience for Fenerty, but he feels like the team is performing about as well as they could be expected.
“I think the young guys are starting to believe,” Fenerty said. “Believe might not be the right word – but I think they’re understanding what it takes to be a varsity basketball player in the Inter-Ac. They’re realizing that success doesn’t come so easily. It’s a huge jump. They’re starting to understand what we want them to do, and what GA basketball is about.”
There have been bright spots, including their performance at a holiday tournament at Penn State. There, GA beat Loyalsock High School and hung in tough against a good State College team. In the State College game, the Pats went down 18-2 at one point in the first quarter, only to bounce back and eventually take a 21-20 late in the first half. They eventually lost by a dozen, but Fenerty was nonetheless pleased with the effort.
“It’s taken 11 games for me to really figure out what the best mix is,” he said. “It’s not a team where we can rely on one scorer and get out of the way. I’m feeling more and more confident and comfortable in our lineup.”
Fenerty’s one mainstay has been freshman Jordan Longino, who the coach is already talking up as a future Division-I point guard. Just 11 games into his varsity career, it’s easy to see why. He has a level of precociousness and a feel for the game that are rare at any level.
His brother, Evan-Eric, plays basketball at West Chester after graduating last year with one of the more decorated careers in GA history. Fenerty has needed the younger Longino to shoulder the team in addition to finding a way to live up to his family name.
“Going into the season, I knew that we’d get points from Brian and from Jordan, and that we’d have to figure out the rest,” Fenerty said. “Well, Brian hasn’t been in there so there’s been an awful lot of responsibility for a freshman. That’s never something you really want to do, but (Jordan) has handled it like a trooper. He still has some stuff that he has to work on, but he’s a terrific talent. What I love is when you get kids this talented with the ability and willingness to listen, and Jordan definitely has that.”
Elsewhere, Fenerty has found help from Zach Anderson (when healthy), and now that Basile is hopefully back for good, he hopes to rely on the junior for around 15 points of production. Asked to grade his team’s season thus far, Fenerty gave an incomplete.
“It’s incomplete, and I’d give myself a C,” he said. “It’s taken me longer than I thought to actually learn these guys. I’m not the type of coach to have a uniform approach to the players – I’ll treat each kid in a way that they’ll respond to the best, and it’s taken me a while to get to know the personalities. I know the kids off the court, but you never know how to handle them once they get into competition.”
It’s hard to blame him too, considering he hasn’t really had his full roster at any point.
“I feel good about that now, and that I’ve got a pretty good handle on it,” he said. “For the kids, it has to be an incomplete though. They’ve given me an A in effort, but our level of consistency has to improve. We can’t have a great practice followed by a lousy one. There have been times where we’ve played really well against a good team like West Catholic, and then go out a couple games later against Father Judge and get blown out. But the way you learn those lessons is by playing in those types of games. It’s a maturation process, and that’s where we are.”
Midseason Grade: Incomplete