La Salle stays fresh, moves on to semifinals

Posted: March 18, 2014

JALEN HERDSMAN might not be much of a bowler, but that doesn't mean his work between the lanes didn't help his skills on the court for La Salle High.

Well, indirectly anyway.

High school basketball can become a grind after hours of schoolwork during the day followed by hours of practice in the evening and gobs of homework at night.

And then - lather, rinse, repeat - for months.

With that in mind, it may seem peculiar for Herdsman and La Salle to have appeared so energized in Saturday's PIAA quarterfinal win against Lower Merion, which had previously vanquished District 12 top-seed Roman Catholic.

The Explorers' 71-48 conquest matched their highest point output since late January.

So, what gives?

"At this time of the year, our coaches and I have talked about this," said La Salle coach Joe Dempsey. "It's about keeping the kids' interest fresh. The basketball culture now is that these kids are playing year-round. And certain teams just hit a wall. And for us, we've done everything we can to keep it fresh for the kids."

To that end, the Explorers took some time off after the Catholic League playoffs and then again before the Class AAAA state playoffs began. They even recently went bowling and did some work in the community.

"I think it definitely helped us because coming into the gym every day does get tiring," Herdsman said. "So taking some time off and being able to hang out with each other and do other things besides basketball [helps]. When you're off, it gives you the urge to want to go back and play basketball.

"It was a lot of fun," he continued. "I found out I wasn't a great bowler, but I still competed."

The team also spent time with special-needs basketball players in conjunction with Athletes Helping Athletes.

"It just helps you appreciate the game more and thank God that I'm capable of doing the things I can," Herdsman said. "And you're also happy to help others."

On Saturday, the 6-5 senior forward led the Explorers (22-6) with 14 points, 11 rebounds and some tenacious defense on Lower Merion senior strongman Justin McFadden (16 points). The point total wasn't Herdsman's season-best (he had 20 and 17 in nonleague play), but it did follow a scoreless game against Cedar Crest last week.

"Jalen saved his best ball for Game No. 28," Dempsey said. "He really got us started early by playing defense, rebounding, getting to the rim, and I'm so proud of him. He's worked hard and done everything we've asked, he's a great kid and I'm happy for him."

Junior guards Shawn Witherspoon and Najee Walls finished with 14 and 13 points, respectively, while senior Sean Greenberg (nine points, four rebounds, three steals) and sophomore Shane Stark were big off the bench.

Stark, who Herdsman called the team's best bowler, added six points and four rebounds after earning little to no time earlier this season.

"Those guys [Herdsman and Stark] made me look smart," Dempsey joked after the game.

The Explorers led, 15-5, after the first quarter and, 33-12, at halftime. And to the surprise of many, but not Herdsman, they never looked back.

"We expected it from the jump," he said with a smile.

After La Salle lost seven seniors to graduation last season, including Division I players Amar Stukes (La Salle) and Steve Smith (Fairfield), Herdsman was forced into a leadership role.

"It just means being more vocal," he said. "Just trying to tell the younger guys where to go and what to do out there. Just try not to take a front role and be a support guy to help the team."

Next season, the Germantown resident hopes to play basketball at Gwynedd Mercy University where former Explorer Darnell Artis is currently a sophomore guard. Herdsman is also contemplating a degree in business.

However, tomorrow's 7 p.m. semifinal matchup with Chester in Coatesville will come first.

"I definitely want to be remembered for getting that first state title," Herdsman said. "That's really at the top of my agenda right now. I just want to do whatever I can for my team to get that done."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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