The emergence of junior guard Jack Nealon this season is one of the reasons why Abington Heights captured the PIAA Class 5A basketball championship.
In the final against Mars, Nealon scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 9-0 run to open the third quarter that put the Comets ahead for good. He then sank 5 of 6 free throws late in the fourth quarter to help seal the 67-55 victory.
Here is more from Nealon’s interview:
Favorite teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Celtics, Pittsburgh Steelers, Notre Dame football
Athletes you admire: Chris Paul. Being a point guard, I feel like he models the position best. He gets everybody involved, takes the great shot and hustles, always giving 110 percent.
Superstitions and rituals: For breakfast, I eat pancakes on every single game day. I love them. Load them up with syrup.
Favorite food: My mom’s steak and mashed potatoes
Three people I’d like to have dinner with: Gerry McNamara, Kobe Bryant, Joe Montana
During the district and state playoffs, you were 22 for 26 from the foul line. Coach Bianchi said there was a game earlier this season where you missed a bunch of foul shots, but worked on them ever since: It was the Downingtown East game we lost. I went 1 for 5 from the line. The very next day, I went to Clarks Summit Elementary School and made 100 of them. I knew I didn’t want that to happen again. Luckily, our last couple of games came down to free throws. I wanted to have the ball in my hands because I knew I would make them.
How about your overall improvement from last season to this? What were some of the things you did? At our banquet, the coaches give us a note card that tells us strengths we need to work on. One of mine was getting stronger. So I tried to go to the weight room as much as I could. Jackson (Danzig) helped me out big time with that. My second one was to get my shot up faster. I improved that, and with the strength I felt my ball-handling get better. I thought I had control of the ball at all times. Sometimes I made a couple of stupid passes, but I felt I was able to handle the pressure pretty well.
Go back to the state semifinal game against Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast. How were you able to defend their best player, Isaiah Wong, and hold him to four points in the second half? We were going box-and-one against him. At first, they put Corey (Perkins) on him, but he picked up fouls. So I was the next guy. I have to accept the challenge. It was fun to guard him because I know he’s going to be a Division I player. I thought if I could take him out of the game, we could win. I tried to make it uncomfortable for him to get shots off. It was hard to deny him the ball when they were setting a bunch of screens. But my job was to make everything for him uncomfortable, don’t give him any space. That’s all I tried to do.
The end of that game was wild. Abington Heights is leading by three, but foul and then a technical foul is called with one second left and Bonner-Prendergast is shooting four free throws. What was it like standing there watching that? It was very nerve-racking. At one point, we huddled together in a circle and George (Tinsley) said, ‘Pray he misses this one.’ When we saw the (fourth shot) bounce off the rim, honestly it was a great feeling. We felt like we were getting gypped of what we worked so hard for. I did feel bad for the kid, though.
Did you feel like a team of destiny after that? A little bit. In overtime, once we got the ball, we felt we could get any shot we wanted. Coach Bianchi said in the huddle, ‘We already beat them once, why not go beat them a second time?’ That’s exactly what we did.
What does winning the state championship mean to you? It means a lot. It hasn’t hit me yet that we are state champions. But I know later on in life, looking back at the memories this team has brought to me, it’s going to be very special. Whenever we get together (in the future), we’ll have these (gold) medals. We’ll all have something in common. Right now at Abington, no one else can say they’ve done this, so it’s very special.
Describe the bus ride home from Hershey after winning the state title. The first 30 minutes were pretty loud, played some music. But it was like 12 o’clock at night, so some of us just crashed. But it was enjoyable. Jackson Danzig and Tucker Schimelfenig, two seniors on the team, gave a little speech of what this meant to them. It kind of choked you up a little bit because you realized this was your last game playing with these two brothers. That’s the biggest thing I’ll take away from that bus ride.
Post-graduation plans: I want to obviously attend college. Playing basketball, I’m still uncertain. I’d like to study business and finance. I’m a math guy.