By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA –A year ago, Khalil Farmer teamed with fellow Shipley School guard Khai Champion to create one of the better backcourts in the Friends Schools League.
Farmer, a versatile 6-foot-4 combo guard, was named an all-league first team selection as a sophomore following a dominant season in which he averaged 18.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game for the Gators while Champion avg. 20.7 points and surpassed his 1,000th career point during the regular season.
Farmer, now a junior, and Champion, a senior, were primed for another prolific season but plans for many players changed dramatically in the spring. The coronavirus brought a halt to everything from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) boys and girls basketball tournament to dining at bars and restaurants to schools sending students home to finish the remainder of the semester from their homes. In regard to the basketball landscape, the AAU season was canceled and the live period was moved back further and further as cases have continued to rise across the United States.
Standout Shipley guard, Khalil Farmer, will continue his junior season at Roman Catholic - Photo courtesy of K. Farmer
Farmer was getting set to compete for Philly Pride on the Under Armour Association circuit. He boasted some mid-level Division 1 scholarships such as Binghamton, NJIT and Marist but heading into his junior season, this spring and summer was supposed to bring about a huge catapult in his recruitment. Unfortunately, that entire period was wiped away and he took that opportunity to think about what the future held for him if he remained at Shipley. He didn’t believe the Friends Schools League was going to elevate his game so he decided to look at other potential programs. He decided to look at a school just 20 minutes east on the Pa. Turnpike: Roman Catholic.
The difficult decision to transition from a school where he had begun to come into his own and head to a program that was going through a transition of its own was the best move for Farmer.
“It was definitely a hard decision but it was the best decision for me and my recruitment,” Farmer said. “Coach (Matt) Griffin has a great program over here and he’s going to push me to be the best. It was perfect timing for me and the level of the Catholic League. Competition level is a lot higher than the Friends Schools League.”
Farmer is part of a large contingent of players who have left their respective schools and migrated to the Philadelphia Catholic League both for its historical excellence and its recruiting prowess. He’s the second high-profile prospect to join the Cahillites this offseason, joining Daniel Skillings Jr., a 6-6 2022 forward who avg. 18.6 points and 7.2 rebounds at St. Joseph High School (N.J.) last season. The two newest members to Griffin’s program come on the heels of a difficult offseason that saw high Division 1 prospects in Jalen Duren and Justice Williams make an exodus to Montverde Academy (Fla.), a school that has produced the likes of Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell and RJ Barrett.
Duren, the 6-10 big man and No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2022, avg. 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks while Williams led the Cahillites in scoring at 18.6 points per game. The loss of Duren and Williams only added to an offseason that saw Christian Kirkland return to Friends Select, where he played freshman year before transferring to Roman Catholic, and the graduation of Lynn Greer III, who is doing a prep year at IMG Academy (Fla.).
It was an offseason that sent shockwaves through the Philadelphia Catholic as two of its most notable and heralded players had moved south to one of the premiere high school hoops programs in the nation.
Make no mistake, Roman Catholic is one of the most accomplished programs in Pa. and has produced its fair share of talent during the course of its history but Duren and Williams’ departure signaled a prelude to the rest of the offseason.
As Farmer puts it, the lack of an AAU live period coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic opened the floodgates for potential player movement across the state but notably into the Philadelphia Catholic League.
Former Roman Catholic center, Jalen Duren, has transferred to Montverde Academy (Fla.) to compete this season - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
“At least for me, it’s all about what’s best for the players,” Farmer said. “Certain situations are better for certain players. This is the first time something like this had ever happened and I missed the entire AAU season. If it’s best to be somewhere else, that’s where players believe they have to be. There’s a lot of that going on right now.”
Francis Bowe completed his second season at Archbishop Carroll by nearly beating top seed Archbishop Wood in overtime on the road in the Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinals then advanced to the second round of the PIAA Class 4A Tournament. He was primed to have a core of 2023 guard Dean Coleman-Newsome, 2021 forward John Camden and 2021 6-9 big man Anquan Hill back this season but the uncertainty folding this offseason forced a major change. Camden, the 6-7 Memphis commit who avg. 15.9 points in his first full high school season, decided to transfer to Brewster Academy (N.H.).
Bowe had constant phone calls with Camden and his mother during the spring and ultimately, the decision was made in July. When Camden committed to head coach Penny Hardaway and the Tigers in September, he “FaceTimed me four days before his commitment and told me where he was going. It’s one of those things that he did out of respect and care for me that showed how I helped along the way.”
He knew why Camden and his family chose to make the move and he understood that it boiled down to which states were going to try and play basketball this season and which ones were not.
“If this pandemic didn’t hit, John would have stayed,” Bowe said. “He left, not because he couldn’t get what he wants out of Carroll or the Catholic League, due to the uncertainty if there will be a season at all.”
Archbishop Carroll head coach Francis Bowe, is one of many PCL coaches adjusting to losses and additions of new players - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Players like Hill, who blossomed in AAU heading into his junior season, had offers and Bowe knows he ended up at a terrific program as he holds offers from Bowling Green, Mount Saint Mary’s and Bryant. The focal issue, as Bowe sees it, is younger players not being able to showcase their ability and potentially setting them back in their recruitment.
“I know there’s hundreds of thousands of kids out there that maybe something clicked, they got stronger or their skillset started coming together,” Bowe said. “I feel AAU gives these kids a platform to show out on a larger landscape.”
Former Haverford School guard, Tyler Seward, will play his senior season for Archbishop Carroll this year - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Farmer and Skillings are two of the enormous influx of players entering the Philadelphia Catholic League this season. Tyler Seward, a member of the Haverford School’s undefeated Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association title team in 2018 who avg. 10.3 points last year, is a part of Bowe’s roster this season. Christian Tomasco, a 6-9 senior forward from Bishop Eustace (N.J.) who avg. 10.2 points, will play at Archbishop Ryan.
Devon Prep welcomes IV Petit, a 6-1 junior guard from West Chester Rustin who scored 31 points against Owen J. Roberts a season ago. The defending champions, Neumann-Goretti, welcome Solo Bambara, a 6-6 senior forward who avg. 7.6 points for Cardinal O’Hara, and Zaakir Williamson, the 6-6 University of Buffalo commit who played his last two seasons at Rock Creek Christian Academy (Md.) after beginning his career at West Catholic. Bonner-Prendergast brings in Nick Marabito, a 6-1 senior sharpshooter from Barbers Hill High School (Texas), and the Burrs have added Kaheim Kimbrough-Roach, a 6-7 senior forward from Woodbridge (Del.), and Adam Clark, a 5-9 sophomore point guard from Boys’ Latin.
A year after graduating its most successful senior class in school history, Will Chavis and Bishop McDevitt welcome 2021 forward Hunter Healy, a 6-7 big man who avg. 7.9 points with Lansdale Catholic last season, 2022 guard Justin Moore, a dynamic floor general from Cheltenham who took over at the point when Zahree Harrison (St. Francis (Pa.)) went down with an injury in the team’s opener, and Jaren Morton, a 2022 6-4 guard from Winslow Township (N.J.) who avg. 6.2 points as a sophomore. Moore actually had 14 points including going 10-for-13 from the free-throw line against the Lancers in a regular-season matchup a year ago.
Chavis, program director for the AAU program, We R1, stressed that the Philadelphia Catholic League provides a platform that other leagues in Southeastern Pa. cannot and that led to the overhaul of several programs this offseason.
“I think the Catholic League has always been historically good,” Chavis said. “For a lot of the kids, the exposure that it gives compared to the Suburban One League or the Public League is just a different level of basketball, not in terms of talent but in how much talent is on one team.”
While the pandemic and thwarted AAU season were major concerns for players and their families, the transferring of players from, not only Pa. but also N.J. and Del., may have been a trickle down effect of what is occurring in college basketball. The NCAA transfer portal has exploded in recent years and hundreds of players have entered the portal looking for the opportunity to join another program.
Finding the right spot is paramount for players in this environment and when finding the right college program, Chavis is advising players to pounce on schools that bite early in the recruiting process.
“You saw a lot of the kids commit early and not wait around,” Chavis said. “What’s happening now is that once the transfer portal opens up, there’s no more waiting. High school kids can no longer wait to commit. That’s a suggestion I gave to a lot of the kids I coach. I said, ‘If a school offers you, basically you can’t wait to accept that offer because once the portal opens, they’re not looking at high school players anymore.’ They’re looking at transfers and guys that are ready to play right away.”
Bishop McDevitt coach Will Chavis, welcomes three new additions to his roster this season - PSD Photo by Geanine Jamison
Miguel Bocachica led West Catholic to its first Philadelphia Catholic League playoff appearance in five years last season. While he added two quality transfers, the current roster with twins, Kareem and Kaseem Watson, Eric Chamberlain, Nasir Griffin and Anthony Finkley, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who holds an offer from St. Joe’s, is one of the deepest in the league.
Bocachica, in a similar position as Chavis by being the head coach at West Catholic but also at the helm of the K-Low Elite 15U squad, is seeing the pandemic as an excuse for players to finally make the jump to another program.
“A lot of times players want to move or they want to do this or that but they don’t really have an excuse,” Bocachica said. “Now you have the coronavirus and there’s the reason. You can’t combat that. Players and parents approach you saying, ‘You guys might not have a season,’ and you can’t combat that. All you have to say is, ‘Ok.’”
While the excuse is now valid, he firmly doesn’t believe players chose to come to the Philadelphia Catholic League by chance. There was a specific reason they wanted to come here by not having an AAU season and they’re hoping to amplify their recruitment.
“It’s one of the best in the country and kids are going to be interested in playing in that every year,” Bocachica said. “Not having a live period and being able to go to a program in this league that has players who are known with Division 1 offers, you go team up with those guys and you have college coaches watching you.”
Even with so many additions, the league also saw its share of subtractions.
Duren and Williams were the two biggest losses but the Cahillites losing Kirkland will be felt. Archbishop Carroll lost Camden and Bishop McDevitt lost 2022 guard Trent Middleton, who transferred to Philadelphia Public League power, Math, Civics & Sciences. Cardinal O’Hara was bitten badly by the transfer bug as Bambara, Jameel Burton (Chester) and Ant Purnell, who transferred to the Kiski School and reclassified to the class of 2022, left. The Lions were coming off their first winning league record since 2001 and looked primed to take another step forward but only senior Adrian Irving (14.0 points) returns to the starting lineup after Tre Dinkins (Harcum College) graduated.
Former Cardinal O'Hara forward, Solo Bambara, will continue his senior season playing for Neumann-Goretti this year - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Transfers aren’t uncommon to the Philadelphia Catholic League and, with its track record of giving players a platform to excel at the next level, it’s no surprise that there have been a plethora of them in recent years. 2016 saw Allen Betrand (Samuel Fels to Roman Catholic), Ed Croswell (Math, Civics & Sciences to St. Joe’s Prep) and Ajiri Johnson, who came to the U.S. from Nigeria and enrolled at Bonner-Prendergast. In 2017, Robert Smith and Ahmir Harris joined Chavis from Roman Catholic, Antwuan Butler enrolled at O’Hara after Del-Val Charter closed, Hakim Hart traveled from Kingsway (N.J.) to join the Cahillites, and Isaiah Wong (Notre Dame (N.J.) and Tariq Ingraham (Salesianum (Del.)) helped the Friars become state-title contenders.
Jaylen Stinson, the James Madison commit who came over to Archbishop Wood from the Haverford School, and St. Joe’s freshman Jordan Hall, who joined Neumann-Goretti from O’Hara, highlighted the 2018 movement. Last season saw the additions of Chamberlain (originally at O’Hara), Marcus Randolph (Willingboro (N.J.)), Alassane Amadou (Quarkertown), and Che’ Evans (Dulaney (Md.)), the San Diego State commit who only played one game for the Saints last season due to injury. Additionally, the league has seen prolific recruits leave such as Michigan State freshman AJ Hoggard, who played two years with the Patriots before leaving for Huntington Prep (W.Va.), Stevie Jordan, who led Conwell-Egan to the 2015 Class 2A title before transferring to Advanced Prep Institute (Texas), and Ny’Mire Little, who began at Archbishop Carroll but transferred to the Westtown School prior to his senior season and reclassified to 2021.
Reigning Philadelphia Catholic League MVP, Rahsool Diggins, will be returning to a stacked Archbishop Wood team this year - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Neumann-Goretti and Roman Catholic have combined for 11 of the last 12 league titles.
With the Saints losing Hall, Cameron Young (Bowling Green) and Hakim Byrd (Marist) and the Cahillites without Duren, Williams and Greer, the influx of transfers is giving multiple programs hope that this is the year a new champion can break through and get to the Palestra.
The Vikings, who were the only team during the last 12 seasons other than the Saints or Cahillites to capture the Philadelphia Catholic League crown, boast four Division 1 recruits in Stinson, Randolph, Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle) and reigning league MVP, Rahsool Diggins (UConn).
The resounding question on everyone’s mind as we move into November is will there be a season and how long will it be. Schedules have yet to be formulated and playing at the Cathedral of College Basketball remains up in the air.
Bowe knows things are far from set in stone.
“Is the Palestra even going to be in play this year,” Bowe said. “We’re still trying to figure out our season schedule. Can we honestly get the Palestra knowing there’s going to be capacity problems? It costs money to rent that building out. I don’t know what a Catholic League championship venue will look like and I don’t think anyone is really talking about it.”
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Boys Basketball Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Carroll Boys Basketball Arch. Ryan Boys Basketball Arch. Wood Boys Basketball Bishop McDevitt Boys B-Ball Bonner & Prendie Boys B-Ball Cardinal O'Hara Boys B-Ball Conwell-Egan Boys Basketball Father Judge Basketball La Salle Basketball Lansdale Cath. Boys Basketball Roman Catholic Basketball Saint Joseph's Prep Basketball Neumann/Goretti Boys B-Ball West Catholic Boys Basketball