Newark High’s 2018-19 basketball season ended in gut-wrenching fashion in the first round of the state tournament.
With the game tied in the waning moments of regulation, A.I. duPont’s Jamir Dantley was fouled with under a second left in the game. He stepped to the free-throw line and calmly sank the shot to give the Tigers a one-point lead. Dantley then intentionally missed the second shot, the buzzer sounded, and A.I. celebrated the upset victory in front of a stunned Newark crowd.
It was a moment that remains firmly in the minds of three of the starters who return this year with hopes of ending this season on a much more positive note.
Junior forward Kamau Lately, who at 6-foot-4 is the tallest of the returning Yellowjacket starters, averaged eight points and six rebounds a year ago. The other two returning starters are 6-foot-3 senior center Donald Burton (10 points, five rebounds, three assists) and sophomore guard Luis Serrano-Gil, who was a part-time starter as a freshman. The trio gives head coach Shannon McCants some stability heading into his 11th season.
“My philosophy every year is to concentrate on the defensive end and get the kids to believe in the system and trust me as a coach and leader,” McCants explained. “At Newark, we get key different players from year to year, so offensively it could take time for all the new pieces to gain chemistry. However, if they buy in on defense, we can stay in most games.”
McCants is relying on several newcomers to step into roles quickly. Among them is sophomore point guard Briheim Kelson, a running back/defensive back on the Yellowjackets’ football team whose proven quickness on the field will easily transfer to the hardwood floors.
“I will have more overall team speed this year, so I might look to use more full-court pressure this year,” McCants said.
Other returning varsity lettermen are forward Chris Lazear, a 6-foot-3 senior, and 6-foot-4 junior forward Mekhi Brittingham. Both add size to an already tall frontcourt.
“Chris is a solid fundamentally sound player who is good around the basket,” McCants said. “Mekhi saw some varsity action last year and can rebound, block shots and has developed offensively from all three scoring levels.”
Javon Brown, Corey Howard and Mikey Dennis also saw varsity action last year, and Artemus Flippin is also expected to get some minutes this season.
Newark scrimmaged Appoquinimink High and Newark Charter School in preparation for the home opener on Dec. 5 against Freire Charter School. As coaches usually do, McCants learned a great deal during those two games.
“I learned that our returning varsity starters will be counted on heavily to start the season,” McCants said. “We have a lot of battles going on at the guard spots, so I am not sure who will be starting.”
Newark is playing in the Blue Hen Flight B conference for the first time in program history and so will play a different regular season schedule than in past years. In addition, the Yellowjackets are playing in two one-day tournaments in January and have games against strong out-of-state opponents Strawberry Mansion and Chester High.
“If we can play under control and cut down on our turnovers, we should be able to compete in Flight B at a high level,” McCants said. “Overall, I am happy with the players and the coaches that we have this season. We have some tough games on the schedule this year, and I hope we have a chance to compete for a Flight B title.”