Penn Charter senior Will Samuel (15) has come into his own of late, and has averaged 12.6 points per game in his last 11 contests. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

Fourteen games into a challenging non-conference slate, Jim Phillips’ Penn Charter basketball sits at 10-4 with – finally – a good feel for the roster.

His rotation goes about nine deep, so it can be tough to get a handle on every member. So far, he’s happy with the way it’s shaken out.

“We’re 10-4 and have been exposed to a lot of different types of styles and teams that give you different looks,” Phillips said. “We’re at a point in the year where I don’t think that anything we’re going to see is going to catch us off-guard. I think we’re prepared and that the schedule that we’ve played has provided an array of things that will prepare us for the league.”

In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Penn Charter looks strong in a year where archrival and perennial league power Germantown Academy looks vulnerable. Phillips has major pieces – Will Samuel and Mason Williams – who are seniors and playing the best ball of their careers. If PC is going to compete for a league crown, this year looks as good as any.

“We’re getting solid contributions from everybody,” Phillips said. “Will Samuel has started to emerge as someone we can count on for some more scoring. Dylan Topaz has been good for us off the bench. I’d say we’re getting contributions from all nine. We’re trying to play a little bit faster and trying to maximize our amount of possessions in a game, and you really need to play nine-deep to play that way. We’re much more comfortable now than we were early on as far as understanding individual roles for our guys, and the team is pretty good about being selfless.”

Sounds like a good recipe for success. In addition to Williams’ 18-plus points per game, Samuel has really come into his own.

“Will is confident, and is a very good three-point shooter,” Phillips said. “We’re able to really have good spacing between him and Mason, and they make it difficult for teams to double up on us. He’s been playing significantly bigger than his size, and has been a terrific defensive presence for us.”

Now that he’s healthy, sophomore Ryan Holmes is providing a major boost as well. He had a ten-game stretch where he scored in double figures, and even when he doesn’t score as much (like he did in PC’s most recent game, against Friends Central), he’s finding other ways to make a difference.

“Ryan is probably our most diverse scorer. He has the ability to really get to the rim for good two point looks, and he has a good midrange game as well,” Phillips said. “We’re starting to isolate him a little bit and get him in spots where he’s comfortable. In that Friends Central game, he did only have four points, but he also had nine rebounds, which was huge. He’s been a lot better on the defensive side of the ball.”

Overall though, he’s seen that kind of improvement across the board.

“I think the more game situations that we get the group into, the better they are at dealing with things,” Phillips said. “It’s mostly about our offensive execution. Rather than making the best decision, at times, we would just make ‘a’ decision. We’re doing a better job now of understanding where we want to get certain guys the ball. We’re very much improved today compared to where we were even two weeks ago. Now that we’ve dotted our Is and crossed our Ts, we have a much better understanding of our individual roles and how they fit together in the group.”

As for a mid-season grade, Phillips was the most bullish of all of the area coaches.

“I would put us at a B+,” he said. “The only reason I say that is because there’s definitely room for us to grow. That’s going to be important. Being better in the second half of the league season than the first half is crucial. We’ve grown since the start of the season, but if that’s the end of the growth, then we’re probably going to be in for some struggles.”

Midseason Grade: B+