Gerstell Academy coach Ben Thompson has raised the expectations for his Falcons this winter.
With all five starters returning from last season's squad and two talented freshmen on the roster, Gerstell has the talent to compete with any and all rivals in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference.
The Falcons open conference play Dec. 12 with a home game against Chapelgate Christian Academy.
“It could be our best season,” Thompson said. “It’s a coach’s best-case scenario to have all these guys back. This is definitely the most talented and experienced team I’ve had. We have a shot to contend for the conference championship this year.”
Thompson certainly has not been able to make similar predictions in past seasons, considering that the Falcons' best effort was a fifth-place finish in 2015.
But with senior forward Brad Witt, senior shooting guard Khyle Washington, junior point guard Anthony Carpenter, junior forward Tyler Tillery, and senior guard Colin Rimel back in the fold, things are looking up for Gerstell.
“I think this team has been slowly built to have all the pieces to be successful,” said Thompson, whose team went 14-14 last year. “We have a little bit of everything. We have a big guy (Tillery) who can score underneath. We have Brad, who brings versatility and toughness.
“We have Colin who is one of the best shooters in the county,” he added. “We have an experienced point guard. We have Khyle, who can score and defend.”
Witt led the team in scoring (12.8 points per game) and rebounding (5.7) last year after transferring from Winters Mill. He is a good shooter with soft hands, Thompson said, and displays a nice variety of moves while also being a solid rebounder and defender.
“Brad’s versatility makes us a much better team,” Thompson said. “He has the ability to play inside or outside. He is strong and physical. He can guard the other team’s best player while being able to sustain offensive production.”
Washington is another versatile performer who can drive to the hoop, shoot from the outside and handle the ball well.
“He definitely has the potential to put up 20-point scoring nights,” Thompson said. “He is one of our best defenders and we put him on the other team’s quickest guys or most experienced scorer. That has made him one of our most valuable pieces.”
Rimel has a good touch on the perimeter. He led the Falcons with 56 treys last year.
“We are striving to reach our full potential every day as we grow as a team,” Stem said via email. “We are an athletic team that will rely on our depth, length, and defense to compete this year.”
“Teams have to game-plan for him,” Gerstell assistant coach Scott Johnson said. “He just can go off at any time. He will draw a lot of attention, which opens up a lot of things for everybody else on the team.”
Thompson’s two freshmen, point guard Ahmad Harrison, and shooting guard Karell Booker, have earned immediate playing time.
Harrison has even earned time as a starter, filling in for Tillery, who is sidelined with an elbow injury. Harrison is ranked 12th nationally in the class of 2021 by coast2coastpreps.com.
“He’s played some pretty high level basketball on the AAU scene,” Thompson said of Baltimore’s Team Thrill. “His biggest asset is his basketball IQ. He can defend and is a pass-first point guard. He makes his teammates better, but he has the ability to score. And he brings a toughness that really resonates with the rest of his teammates.”
Senior guard Will Reed works as a top reserve and Gerstell’s depth will get a boost when junior guard Max Friedman returns later in the month from a hand injury.
Junior guards Kevin Malone, Malachi Darden and Lamont Jackson, and senior guard/forward Tyrin Hawkins, are competing for minutes.
“We have a lot of depth at each position,” Johnson said. “We have guys that can handle the ball, shoot and get to the basket. We have guys that are really stepping up inside. It’s fun to watch them in practice.”
Gerstell opened the season 2-4, losing to MIAA A Conference foes Loyola Blakefield, Mount Carmel, St. Frances, and McDonogh, while beating Gilman and Milford Mill.
“We have played a strong schedule and held our own,” Thompson said. “That experience bodes well for us down the stretch.”
The Falcons are trying to improve on last year’s 9-14 record, and with first-year coach Shane Stem they’ll do so playing a scheduled filled with Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B and C Conference opponents.
Gerstell returns its backcourt from last winter in junior guard Tyra Echevarria and senior guard Kymiah Carpenter, while senior forward Jillian Wilson mans the post.
The Falcons (3-3) evened their record Wednesday with a convincing win over Cristo Rey, 59-28. Carpenter led the team with 15 points, and Gerstell collected 23 steals and 10 assists. Those stats will likely be vital toward achieving more team success this season.
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“We are striving to reach our full potential every day as we grow as a team,’ Stem said via email. “We are an athletic team that will rely on our depth, length, and defense to compete this year.”