As an aspiring point guard on an Abington Heights team with aspirations of making the final breakthrough as a state contender, Jack Nealon understood he would eventually have to be prepared for one of the biggest obstacles that has faced District 2’s best big school teams through the years.
“The biggest part of my game I worked on was actually about ballhanding,” said Nealon, who moved into the starting lineup in his junior season during the Comets’ run to the state Class 5A championship. “As you work into the state level and play the Chesters and Archbishop Wood and Mastery North, those are physical teams.
“You have to make sure that, in order to win, you cannot turn the ball over. I just had to focus on that, getting stronger with the ball.”
On the level that Abington Heights ultimately played – a state semifinalist in each of the past three seasons – Nealon needed to combine the skills of handling the ball with the physical and mental toughness needed to stand up to the type of intense pressure defense that the Philadelphia-area teams tend to carry with them into the state tournament.
Nealon’s ability to keep turnover counts down while gradually increasing his own point production helped him evolve from new starter trying to support all-state and all-star teammates to someone who could step into a leadership role, as needed.
That’s just where Nealon found himself last week, hitting the game-winning shot in the second round of the state tournament and closing out an opponent in the quarterfinals. Those efforts made him the PNC Bank District 2 Boys Basketball Player of the Week for the period ending March 16.
Nealon provided the game’s final points with 21 seconds left when he drained the 3-pointer that gave Abington Heights a 54-52 victory over Mastery Charter North in a March 12 second-round game.
“George (Tinsley) did a good job drawing the defender and I just trailed the play,” Nealon said. “He kicked it back out and I just had to have the confidence in myself.
“Thankfully, it went in. Some of my others didn’t fall that night. I picked a good time to make one, I guess.”
Nealon made plenty Friday when the Comets extended their state title defense one more round with a 61-46 victory over Sun Valley. The senior point guard was 3-for-5 from 3-point range and 8-for-8 from the line, including 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter, to finish with 19 points and 5 assists.
With Sun Valley on a 12-3 run and first-team, all-stater Tinsley sitting on the bench with four fouls, the Comets broke from a timeout with their 15-point, third-quarter lead reduced to 6 early in the fourth quarter.
Nealon stepped up and hit a 24-footer to stop the comeback. That began a stretch in which he scored 11 points in less that five minutes to secure the third straight semifinal berth.
The Comets eventually lost there, ending one of the most impressive runs by a senior class in District 2 boys basketball history.
“Obviously, before our class got there, we had never even been to a state semifinal,” said Nealon, who served in a reserve role as a sophomore guard on the first of those teams. “To be in three consecutive ones and, in my junior year, accomplishing what nobody else has done at this school is pretty special.
“Just looking back on it, what we as a group have accomplished is pretty remarkable.”
Jack is the son of Jay and Kelli Nealon of Clarks Green.
The PNC Bank District 2 Player of the Week awards were announced throughout the season on the John Bucci Show, which airs weekly Monday’s at 6 p.m. on NEPA’s ESPN radio. The show is available on demand at http://webca.st/149378 and season archives can be found at www.nepabasketball.com/archives.