EXETER, N.H. – At Phillips Exeter Academy, the academic qualifications of the players are not in doubt. The program annually sends most of its players to elite academic schools, which for Division I often means the Ivy and Patriot Leagues. On the hardwood, this year’s team appears to have a little more talent than those of recent years, so college coaches coming by will like what they see even more.
Jay Tilton’s team doesn’t have a lot of size, but the talent, intangibles and chemistry all look good right now. His one true big man, Kendrick Morris (6’9″ Jr. PF-C, Houston (TX)), has a good frame and moves well, and while not a big offensive factor he isn’t a major liability, either, as he is fundamentally sound. One knock on him Thursday night was that he didn’t always finish close shots, something he’ll need to do better.
They won’t lack size entirely, though, as Max Eaton (6’7″ Sr. PF, St. Petersburg (FL)) and Duncan Robinson (6’7″ Sr. SF-PF, New Castle (NH)) also give them some size in the frontcourt. Eaton has a wide frame and a mature body to go with three-point range on his jumper, and after a nice start to Thursday’s workout he cooled off a bit later. That was something Robinson didn’t do, as he was hot from long range all night long, especially off the catch. His body isn’t there yet and he can do more than shoot, but that was the big highlight for him on the evening.
The first option on the wing is likely Chris Braley (6’4″ Sr. SG-SF, Newport (ME)), who returns for his second season at the school after a fine spring and summer. Possessing a mature body and above-average athleticism, he looked to drive much more than shoot, and he seemingly got to the hoop at will and generally finished well. Tony Karalekas (6’3″ Jr. SG-SF, Naples (FL)) has a good body and hit several shots off the catch out to long range, and Keon Burns (6’3″ Sr. SG-SF, Beaverton (OR)) had a nice showing on the night and should get plenty of minutes. Tilton said Burns has been shooting the ball well since arriving, and he did more of that on Thursday, especially later on. Max Kirsch (6’2″ Fr. SG-SF, Atkinson (NH)) will also see some time but figures to be a bit player as a freshman on this veteran team.
Among the guards, Wisconsin commit Jordan Hill (6’3″ Sr. SG, Los Angeles (CA)) will surely have the biggest impact. Athletic and with a good frame that hasn’t filled out yet, he was very active and drove often, looking more to pass on the go than finish, although he finished as well. He was very aggressive, and at times he looks like he tries to play a little too fast, but there’s a lot to like about what he can do.
Harry Rafferty (5’10” Sr. PG, Durham (NH)) will likely run the show from the outset and should have an impact that goes beyond any numbers he might put up. Simply put, Rafferty is a winner and one of the best kids you’ll ever meet as well, and now he’ll put those to work with this group. The lefty passes well and can play more than one speed, has a mature body and won’t miss often if he left open from deep. His intangibles alone will be worth points on the scoreboard every game.
Davis Reid (6’2″ Sr. SG, Lenexa (KS)) and Curtis Arsenault (6’2″ Sr. SG, Berlin (NH)) will also figure into the mix on the perimeter. Reid is a lefty who may first catch your eyes with his shooting ability, but he’s solid all around as he also had a nice steal and breakaway layup one time and later drove and finished while getting fouled to clinch a game. Arsenault has a good body and made a nice block of a Morris layup attempt one time down, then he turned right around and hit a three-pointer at the other end.
Phillips Exeter will play a demanding schedule, in part because Tilton doesn’t want them to travel far often in part because of academic considerations. They will play a number of “up” games against Class AAA and AA schools, so the players will get the chance to play their way into a college scholarship if they haven’t already done so.
It’s not really new since the school used to compete in the old Class A (now AAA), but it’s worked well over the years and Tilton doesn’t see a need to change it. This time around, his team should be even more competitive than usual and might win a game or two they probably shouldn’t.