There were concerns about Abraham Lincoln when the season started. How would a new coach and the first roster in nearly a decade without a highly ranked college recruit fare after losing so much star power?
The answer has been “far better than expected” as we get ready to hit the home stretch of the regular season. One of the key reasons is that the Railsplitters’ youth has actually served them well.
Sure, seniors Ezekiel Charles and Greg Poleon have been the steadying forces you expected, and junior Jahlil Tripp is blossoming into the star people believed he could be. But even with all of that, the thing that has put Lincoln over the top and sitting at 17–2 is the play of freshmen Tyler Bourne and Paul “P.J.” Person.
Bourne is averaging 11 points per game and Person 10.3 points to go along with 5.5 assists. The duo played together with the Juice All-Stars travel organization prior to coming to Lincoln, so there is a natural chemistry already.
“P.J. and I have been playing together before we came to the school, so we play very well together,” Bourne said.
They have perfectly complemented this cast of Lincoln players and the type of team basketball coach Kenny Pretlow is asking of his squad. Their impact has been on full display throughout the season, with each one giving Lincoln something different.
The one thing neither of them do is play like freshmen.
“Everyone thinks just because Tyler and I are freshmen we are going to come out and play freshmen level,” Person said. “Every time we come out on the floor we just do what we have to do.”
For Bourne, that means being a calm, clutch, and deadeye shooter. The kid may already be one of the best big shot makers in the city. He brought Lincoln back against Jefferson and hit buzzer-beating shots at the end of the first three quarters in a win over Cardinal Hayes in the Big Apple Invitational. It is the ease and the unassuming nature with which Bourne does it that is impressive.
“He looked at the clock. He said I got enough time to get to half court and that’s my range,” Preltow said of Bourne’s shot to end the half against Hayes. “He buried it … Tyler is a little wise beyond his years.”
Bourne is the outside threat and Person is tough to keep out of the paint. His strength and speed make him a tough cover off the dribble and in transition. Person took over for a short stretch in the fourth quarter against Hayes. Pretlow would like to see him be even more aggressive.
“I think sometimes P.J. hesitates instead of just going,” he said. “He’s tough to stay in front of.”
It’s tough to imagine Lincoln enjoying the level of success it’s having without the contribution of its freshmen. Tripp said he and the veterans told both of them when the season started that they had their backs, to expect bumps in the road, but to play with confidence.
The youngsters have listened and produced.