The six SCH Academy seniors following their final game with the program on Friday (from left) Scott Bandura, Delonce Hines, Jared Sprague-Lott, Ke’Shawn Williams, Owen Norton and Dave Robinson. …
By Ed Morrone
When Julian McFadden took the head basketball coach job at his alma mater four seasons ago, the 2006 SCH Academy graduate didn’t mince words as to where the program stood at that time.
“When we took over, it was a basketball graveyard at SCH,” McFadden said.
Four years later, the Blue Devils are set to graduate one of the most successful senior groups in the school’s recent memory. McFadden’s six seniors — Jared Sprague-Lott, Scott Bandura, Delonce Hines, Ke’Shawn Williams, Dave Robinson and Owen Norton — did not win a league championship, finishing second this season; however, the group did completely change the perception of the program moving forward.
“For them to go from babies to what we are now, which is a recognizable basketball brand … they have made SCH basketball what it is” said McFadden, who was 1,000-point scorer for the school’s team as a player. “They showed our community that we’re a tough team, but at the end of the day, we are respectful young men and great students. It’s all from them. They started this.”
McFadden was speaking on Friday afternoon, the day the basketball season ended for good for the senior six. The 10th-seeded Blue Devils traveled out to Malvern to take on No. 7 Phelps School in a first round PAISAA Tournament contest, and for three quarters, SCH was right there with a taller, stronger, more talented team. They led 46-44 going into the final quarter before Phelps broke through, going 16-for-16 at the foul line en route to a 72-57 win.
It was a game SCH would have lost by 30 to 40 points a couple of seasons ago, McFadden said. Now, everything is different, and it’s because of this senior class that came in and turned things around. Three of them — Sprague-Lott, Hines and Williams — played varsity together for four seasons, while Bandura joined as a sophomore and Norton and Robinson came in as juniors, the latter a transfer from North Penn. The team got progressively better every year, from 0-10 in McFadden’s first season, to 3-7, then 4-6 and finally a 7-3, second-place finish in 2019-20. Last-minute losses to Malvern and Episcopal had SCH that close to 9-1.
“With this group, we built a culture,” said Hines, the team’s leading scorer. “Before us, SCH was not known for basketball. Once we got that first Inter-Ac win sophomore year, that’s when the wins started piling up. Senior year, we finished second, which nobody expected us to do.”
One of the most remarkable aspects about this basketball turnaround is that hoops isn’t even the primary sport for a few of these guys. Sprague-Lott and Bandura are baseball players first and foremost. The duo led the program to a league title as juniors and hope to snatch another one before they move on to their college teams: Sprague-Lott to Richmond, Bandura to Princeton. Meanwhile, Williams is a star on the football field, as the wide receiver/cornerback is committed to continue his career at Wake Forest in the fall.
“I wasn’t even going to play this season,” Williams recalled. “But this is the closest group of guys we’ve had, and I felt like I’d be letting them down if I didn’t show up and play. It’s all because of the love I have for them. If Scott and Jared weren’t sitting out, then why should I?”
“A lot of us, our main sport isn’t basketball,” Sprague-Lott added. “But we still always hung out together off the court. When basketball came around, we all focused on the same goal, and we believed in that and each other.”
For many of the seniors, the end was bittersweet. Yes, they turned around the SCH basketball culture, but it was also the last time they would play together on the court, and in the moments following Friday’s loss, the stinging of that reality hurt the most.
Bandura said he’s been playing with Williams since sixth grade, and has known Norton and Sprague-Lott since that time, while Williams and Hines began playing together in fifth grade. Robinson was the last one to join the party as a dominant forward the team desperately needed to complement its strong guard play, and despite being the new kid on the block, he bonded immediately with his new teammates.
“I met Ke’Shawn on my visit and I felt it in the environment right away,” he said. “I knew I was going to come and make an impact here. We may not get along all the time, but these are my brothers no matter what. We wanted to win so badly this year, and even though we fell short, we never gave up on each other.”
Even Norton, who unlike the other five didn’t move off the bench very often, felt the same pain. When the seniors emerged from the locker room to reflect on their careers, Robinson made it a point to make sure Norton was included with the rest of the group. Even without much playing time, he was just as big a part of this than anyone else.
“I knew I wasn’t going to play much, but I still wanted to come back,” Norton said. “These guys are my family. We always end our practice huddles by saying ‘family,’ and that’s what this team is to me.”
Bandura said he’s been in school at SCH his whole life, so the end of his basketball journey hit him pretty hard. He and Sprague-Lott still have another title to try to win on the baseball diamond, but Bandura wasn’t ready to think about that yet.
“This is my 14th year here, and I spent the first 10 counting down to when I could get on the basketball court,” Bandura said. “Some of the best memories of my entire life have been with this group of guys. It’s something we’ll never forget. As we get ready to go our separate ways, all six of us will be in each other’s corners for the rest of our lives.”