By: Rich Flanagan
Photos: Mike Nance, Kathy Leister, Patty Morgan & Geanine Jamison
PHILADELPHIA- Will Chavis watched from the sideline as players went through drills and five-on-five games. With a pen and paper, he wrote down the names of players who caught his eye. As the program director for the AAU program, We R1, Chavis was tasked with putting together teams with some of the top talent from the Philadelphia area.
One player in particular impressed him. The player didn’t even make the team but Chavis remembered his name: Robert Smith Jr.
“I remember the first time I saw Robert was before his tenth grade year and he hadn’t enrolled at McDevitt,” the Bishop McDevitt head coach said. “That’s how I identified him as one of the players that I wanted to come in. I always knew he could play. He was always hard-nosed, competitive and strong for his position.”
Under Chavis, Smith helped engineer a resurgence at Bishop McDevitt alongside Jamil Manigo. Both Smith and Manigo were named Pa. All-State Class 3A First Team selections. Smith avg. 16.2 points which included five 20-point performances and he never finished with less than 10 points in any game this season. The 6-foot-1 lefty began his career in the Roman Catholic program but transferred to Royal Avenue prior to his sophomore year and was a starter from the moment he arrived. He finished with 1,203 career points, second-most in school history, and will play a Division 1 program next year (undecided).
Chavis did not know the true potential Smith, a third team choice last season, had but the intensity he showed during that tryout was enough to convince him this young guard had what it took to help change a program.
“He was a smaller guy but he was just relentless,” Chavis said. “You could tell that he really wanted to make the team. He didn’t make the team but I had written his name down and I remembered him. At this time, I wasn’t even coaching high school basketball. He made that much of an impression on me.”
Manigo, a first team pick last year, avg. 15.5 points this season and was part of a dynamic inside-outside combination with Smith. He scored the game-winning basket at the buzzer against Palmetto High School (Fla.) in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic in Louisville, Ky. He added another game winner, this time versus Neumann-Goretti in the regular season with 19.6 seconds left, to cap a dominant 26-point, 13-rebound performance. He closed out his career with 1,106 points and will play at West Chester University next season.
While he had been in the Lancers program since his freshman year, Manigo had a lot of work to do in order to eventually become an all-state selection, but with the help of Chavis and teammates like Smith he eventually evolved into that type of player.
“Jamil was a work in progress when I got there,” Chavis said. “We saw potential in him and we tried to push him to the point where he could be the best version of himself. At the beginning, he fought against it but toward the end, especially last year when he started having success individually, he started to buy in more. It was more of a war for him to believe in his teammates and coaches while continuing to work hard.”
Before Smith and Manigo were named to last year's team, the last Lancers player to be named to the Pa. All-State Team was Tyrell Long in 2014.
Bishop McDevitt (17-8) advanced to the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs three straight seasons including a trip to the Palestra in 2019, the first time in 30 years, behind the impressive tandem. They added a run to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals that season, defeating the Saints in the quarterfinals and ending their run of five consecutive state crowns. The Saints and the Lancers created a little rivalry over the last two seasons, playing a total of four times but they did not get to add to that in the postseason this year.
Neumann-Goretti returned to the top of the Philadelphia Catholic League by defeating Roman Catholic, 66-58 to give Carl Arrigale sole possession of the all-time league record for titles (11) by a head coach. Jordan Hall was named Pa. All-State Class 3A First Team, Hakim Byrd and Cameron Young were named Second Team and Hysier Miller was selected Third Team. The last time Neumann-Goretti had at least three players named to the Pa. All-State Team was 2015-16 (Quade Green, Zane Martin, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree).
This group appeared to be on its way to winning the program’s ninth state title but the PIAA basketball tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the Saints (24-4) put together a strong season hitting 292 three-pointers in 28 games (10.4 per game). Some of their strong three-point shooting performances were against Bonner-Prendergast (14-for-20) and Skyridge High School (Utah) in the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas (19-for-30).
All of those open jumpers and fluid offense began with Hall at point forward. The 6-8 St. Joseph’s commit, who began his career at Cardinal O’Hara, avg. 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists this season. He also hit 42 three-pointers and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Performances like his 12-point, 11-rebound and eight-assist outing against Archbishop Ryan in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals exemplified how he controlled several facets of the game and it’s something Arrigale believes goes unnoticed when looking at Hall.
“You always get a different view of Jordan from a lot of different people,” Arrigale said. “I think most of the time it comes on the short end because people look at his points per game and they say, ‘How is that kid going to St. Joe’s?’ They don’t realize he’s our leading rebound and assist guy. He pays big guys and wing guys. His versatility was crucial to our success.”
Byrd, a Marist commit and a member of the last Neumann-Goretti team to win a state title (2018), avg. 14.7 points and 2.0 steals while draining 43 three-pointers and shooting 41 percent from deep.
The 5-10 guard had 23 points vs. Archbishop Carroll in the regular season and was an electrifying player in the Philadelphia Catholic League over the last three seasons.
Young stole the show in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds. The 6-6 Bowling Green commit avg. 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
He shot 45 percent from three-point range and knocked down 53 triples.
Young’s maturation from a player who Ariggale thought might never be a part of the rotation as a sophomore to one who led the way at the Palestra was astounding.
“Cam might be one of the most improved guys in the area and in the program,” Arrigale said. “When he was a sophomore, I wasn’t sure he’d ever play for us because he wasn’t getting it. He came back after that summer and you saw the light go on. He’s a good leader and the night he had in the Catholic League final is something he’ll have forever.”
Miller transferred in from Martin Luther King before the season and immediately gelled with Hall, Byrd and Young by avg. 14.1 points and 2.8 steals. The 6-1 guard figures to be the focal point of the Saints offense next year and he had his share of standout contests including a 24-point performance against Archbishop Wood and a 17-point game against Roman Catholic in the league title game.
Arrigale noted that Miller’s presence might have been the piece that Neumann-Goretti was missing over the last two seasons.
“His addition was unbelievable to our team,” Arrigale said. “The fact that’s he’s on the third team I don’t think people pay attention because he could very well be first team. Toward the end of the year, he was playing so well.”
Smith and Manigo culminated their careers by making the Pa. All-State Team, but according to Chavis, they would not have had this type of individual success without their supporting cast of fellow seniors who were integral to Bishop McDevitt’s success.
“I think without their teammates they wouldn’t have been able to have their own success individually,” Chavis said. “Their teammates get a lot of credit for that. I know people don’t talk a lot about their accomplishments but if not for Glenn Smith, Shamir Mosley or Kevin Young guarding or pushing them in practice, it wouldn’t have been possible. I think they feel the same way as well. They pay respect to the players who sacrificed for success.”
For this group of Saints, Arrigale stressed how winning the Philadelphia Catholic League title reestablished the program was one of the best in the state and hopefully set them on a path to once again add to the program’s total.
“It was a turning point for a lot of those guys,” Arrigale said. “We weren’t getting where we usually get and while we won some state titles, the Catholic League was the one we always wanted to get back.”
Chance Westry, 6-4 Jr. G Trinity
Jalen Worley, 6-5 Jr. F, Westtown
Noah Collier, 6-7 Sr. F, Westtown
Jordan Hall, 6-8 Sr. F, Neumann-Goretti
Jamil Manigo, 6-4 Sr. F, Bishop McDevitt
Robert Smith, 6-0 Sr. G Bishop McDevitt
Hakim Byrd, 5-10 Sr. G, Neumann-Goretti
Isaac DeGregorio, 5-11 Sr. G, North Catholic
Franck Kepnang, 6-10 Jr. F, Westtown
Aiden Gair, 6-2 Sr. G Loyalsock
Cameron Young, 6-6 Sr. F, Neumann-Goretti
Ed Holland, 6-6 Jr. F, Friends Central
Cam Polak, 6-1 Sr. G, Steel Valley
Isiah Smith, 6-0 Sr. G, Lincoln Park
Matt Bengel, 6-3 Sr. F, Mercyhurst Prep
Jake Perry, 5-11 Sr. G, Camp Hill
Hysier Miller, 6-1 Jr. G, Neumann-Goretti
Aaron Collins, 6-0 Jr. G, Erie First Christian
Player of the Year: Chance Westry, Trinity
Coach of the Year: Dave DeGregorio, North Catholic