Oscar Tshiebwe throws one down (H/T Sharon Herald)
Kennedy Catholic finished the three-peat in 2017-18, capturing their third straight Pennsylvania 1A State Championship while finishing with a 21-4 record under head coach Rick Mancino. The Golden Eagles return four starters from last year’s state championship team, including highly-heralded 6-foot-9 big man Oscar Tshiebwe. Kennedy Catholic will be making the jump from 1A to 6A - Pennsylvania’s highest level of play. The move will come with a decent amount of pressure attached to it, but that didn’t stop the Golden Eagles from beefing up their non-conference schedule, as they’ll face ranked foes Imhotep Charter and SPIRE Institute. It’s important to note that team chemistry should be already intact. The top four players in Kennedy’s rotation all played for the ITPS Wildcats on the Adidas Gauntlet over the spring and summer, earning a top 35 ranking in the final PrepCircuit top 50.
Tshiebwe is a man-child down low. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward committed to West Virginia on October 20th, choosing the Mountaineers over Kentucky, Baylor, and Illinois. Tshiebwe is ranked 32nd in ESPN’s updated 2019 class rankings, and that actually might be a bit low. He’s an excellent rebounder, plays with a motor and runs the floor like a gazelle. Simply put, he bullies the opposition with his physicality, making it imperative that he stays out of foul trouble for the Golden Eagles. Tshiebwe is on the shortlist for top players in America, and his presence on the floor makes Kennedy Catholic a formidable opponent for anyone.
Tshiebwe is joined by a trio of returners that assisted him in guiding ITPS through the Adidas Gauntlet. Senior forward Mattia Acunzo will join Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, but the 6-foot-8 Toledo commit provides a different type of individual game. Acunzo can stretch the floor with his jump shot and has an easy time getting his shot off due to his size. The Italian native should be considered a gem of a commitment for the Rockets, and his shot-making ability turns Kennedy Catholic into a major contender. Maceo Austin leads the backcourt, and the combo guard is a terrific overall defender capable of playing on or off the ball offensively. Verbally-committed to Duquesne, Austin is the pacemaker for the Golden Eagles offense, and he is coming off a standout summer for ITPS. Not only is he a budding star on the court, but Austin is also a member of the National Honor Society. 5-foot-11 senior guard Manis Norman returns and assumes his starting role next to Austin. Norman is tough as nails, sneaky athletic and is a vocal presence on the court. Junior Ike Herster figures to round out the starting lineup for Kennedy Catholic. The 6-foot-5 swingman already holds offers from division one programs and should slide in nicely to the starting rotation.
Kennedy Catholic has a great chance to rise up the rankings, as they will test themselves early and often. They start the season off against fringe-ranked foes First Love Christian and ASPIRE Academy, so it won’t be long until we get a gauge on the national value of the Golden Eagles. Assistant coach Tom Droney, also the co-director of ITPS, is fired up about the upcoming season:
“Coming into this season, expectations at Kennedy Catholic are higher than they have ever been,” Droney said. “After winning three straight State titles in single A, the smallest classification in PA, we are getting ready for our first season in 6A. Our non-conference schedule will include national level opponents such as Imhotep Charter, Our Saviour Lutheran, and SPIRE Institute among others.”
Challenges lie ahead for Kennedy Catholic, but Droney likes his rotation.
“We have four returning starters,” Droney said. “Ike Herster, a 6-foot-5 junior with multiple D1 offers, will round out the starting 5. If we stay healthy, we have the talent to win a lot of games and make a run at another state championship.”