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League Changes For Phillips Exeter, But Little Else Does

October 1, 2010 Columns No Comments

EXETER, N.H. – One of the toughest jobs in the ranks of NEPSAC is the one Jay Tilton has. A one-time Dartmouth assistant, he leads Phillips Exeter, a school with stringent academic requirements both to gain admission and once a student is there. For many years they played at the highest level of NEPSAC in the old Class A. It might be like a prep school version of Stanford, an elite school playing in the Pac-10. Although they won’t be playing at the highest level of NEPSAC anymore, the schedule will feel like it and the academic requirements haven’t changed.

Evidence of the academic load that students take on at the school was present on Tuesday, as the team’s likely best player was not present because of school work. Cam Shorey (6’5″ Jr. PF, Calais (ME)), the player they will basically run their offense through, was busy in the library while the team worked out. While he will anchor it, he won’t be the only frontcourt option they have.

The leader of the team looks to be Ryan Kilcullen (6’7″ Sr. PF, Hingham (MA)), a skilled forward who will likely face the basket more this season. He has a good body and the tools to be a 4-3 combo forward. Joining him up front is Alex Levine (6’8″ Sr. PF, Weston (MA)), who has a mature body and some offensive skills, although they don’t always show in a consistent fashion. He showed a jump hook, a touch shooting the ball out to long range, and occasionally some nice face-up skills. All of them will help as he tries to go from playing center to a power forward.

The backcourt has another team leader in Ryan Davis (6’3″ Sr. PG-SG, Deerfield (IL)), who Tilton was quick to identify in such a capacity. The son of a coach, he has a relatively mature body and showed a touch shooting the ball, and Tilton plans to use him at both guard spots. Showly Nicholson (5’10” Jr. PG, Manchester (NH)) returns for his third season at the school and has clearly come along with two seasons under his belt. His body is maturing and he’s still not a point guard, which his size dictates he likely plays at the next level, but his progress to date suggests that may ultimately happen. He started for much of last season and figures to do so this year, and he’ll defend and rebound in addition to his offensive abilities.

Justin Norris (6’1″ Sr. SG, South Sutton (NH)) is a wide receiver on the football team and will not work out with the basketball team during the football season. He figures to play a lot of minutes. Also in the mix will be brothers Peter Karalekas (6’2″ Sr. SG-SF, Naples (FL)) and Tony Karalekas (6’2″ Fr. SG, Naples (FL)). Peter has not played much since the beginning of school due to an ankle injury, but doesn’t figure to be out of action much longer. Tony will likely play a limited role while getting acclimated to the prep school level, but he did knock down a long two-point shot and finish a good drive to the basket during the team’s open gym.

Phillips Exeter has moved to Class A of the Enrollment Division in NEPSAC. Despite the move, Tilton didn’t change the team’s schedule drastically, as they will still play about half of the schools in Class AAA that they always played for many years. Due to geography and academic constraints, they will also play a number of Class AA schools that are within a reasonable trip, and they include some of the best.

Part of the scheduling is by design, as Tilton said it’s a selling point for recruits because by playing against the best, they will get a fair chance to play their way into a college scholarship. NEPSAC has rules limiting the number of games a team in an Enrollment Division plays against AAA or AA schools, but also allows for exceptions in the event of some kind of hardship that would occur if they didn’t do it. Given the school’s stringent academic requirements, there doesn’t figure to be an issue.

As usual, Phillips Exeter is certainly not the most talented team around on the court. But Tilton has some good personnel to work with, and the effort certainly looks to be there thus far – both on and off the court.

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