By: Rich Flanagan
Photos/Videos: Zamani Feelings, Kathy Leister & Mike Nance
PHILADELPHIA –The Philadelphia Catholic League season officially began on January 29, but it was not without its ups and downs. Six teams played on opening night while several games were postponed. On the plus side, the city of Philadelphia announced that schools within the county could host home games this season. This means that city schools will not be playing all of their games on the road.
The first two and a half weeks have had more than its fair share of postponements and schedule changes but the league is still rolling along and has also had some fantastic moments in the early going. With no formal playoffs, only two teams will advance to the title game and an early start will help each program’s cause.
Here are some noteworthy performances in the early part of the Philadelphia Catholic League season:
Archbishop Wood’s four D1 seniors are leading the way
After losing the league semifinals and not being able to complete a run to a second consecutive PIAA Class 5A title game appearance, the Vikings have played like a team on a mission to complete what they set out to do two years ago.
UConn commit Rahsool Diggins (18.0 points per game) and La Salle commit Daeshon Shepherd (16.3) have been members of the rotation since their freshman year. They were the first class to come into the program following the outstanding 2017 class led by Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Matt Cerruti (Lock Haven) and Keith Otto (Moravian College) that won the Philadelphia Catholic League and PIAA 5A title.
Coming in after the most successful class in school history graduates is a lot to live up to but Diggins, Shepherd, Jaylen Stinson (8.5), a James Madison commit who is in his third year as a starter, and Marcus Randolph (17.5), a Richmond commit and second-year starter, have made their own progress and have Archbishop Wood (4-0) in early position to get back to where they have been before.
They opened the season with an 80-43 victory over Conwell-Egan where Shepherd scored 20 points, Randolph added 15 points, and Diggins had 16 points, six assists, three blocks and three steals. Next, they cruised to a 29-point win over La Salle followed by a huge matchup with defending champion Neumann-Goretti.
The Vikings dropped last year’s matchup against the Saints. In a season where every game means so much more than ever, the seniors had something to prove.
Led by Muneer Newton, the fifth starter who had a game-high 17 points, Archbishop Wood forced overtime on a backdoor layup by Shepherd. They outlasted Neumann-Goretti in the extra period to claim an 80-79 triumph. Newton, Diggins (16 points), Randolph (15), Shepherd (14) and Stinson (12) all scored in double figures, the eighth time the starting five has scored 10-or-more points over the last two seasons.
Avoiding a letdown, the Vikings survived a tough outing against Bonner-Prendergast, 68-67. The Friars led by eight entering the final quarter but 18 points between Shepherd, Randolph, Newton and Diggins, who had 22 of his 28 points in the opening half, closed things out down the stretch.
The last two games have been won by a total of two points but they will still go down as wins and, during this gauntlet of a season that is all that matters to these Vikings.
Three programs progressing with new rosters
Bishop McDevitt’s Will Chavis, Bonner-Prendergast’s Kevin Funston and Roman Catholic’s Matt Griffin are three of the most respected coaches in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Not only have they led their teams to success within the league, but also in the state tournament. All three have reached the state semifinals at least once since 2018.
Chavis and Funston saw the graduation of their most accomplished classes in school history while Griffin saw two of the most heralded recruits in Pa. transfer to a powerhouse program in Fla. and the graduation of one of the program’s winningest players. The Lancers 2020 class, led by Robert Smith and Jamil Manigo, helped put Chavis’ program on the map. The Friars 2020 class, led by Tyreese Watson and Donovan Rodriguez, played in the 2018 league title game and the 2019 PIAA 4A title. Justice Williams and 6-foot-10 big man, Jalen Duren, transferred to Montverde Academy and Lynn Greer III is doing a prep year at IMG Academy.
To no surprise, all three head coaches are overseeing brand-new rosters with young players and trying to show them what previous classes have done at the highest level, especially Griffin who has led the Cahillites to three consecutive league title game appearances.
Bishop McDevitt is off to a 2-0 start behind 6-4 sophomore Terrell Pitts, who is avg. 13.0 ppg, and 6-1 junior point guard Justin Moore, a transfer from Cheltenham. Moore opened the season with a 24-point contest against Devon Prep, the most points by a Bishop McDevitt player in a game since Manigo had 23 versus Camp Hill in the first round of the PIAA 3A Tournament last year. Pitts had a career-high 20 points against Father Judge while Moore chipped in 11.
The Lancers have had solid contributions from other players such as 5-9 senior Naim Walker, an Overbrook transfer who has 12 points versus the Tide, and 6-2 junior Shawn Smith, who is avg. 6.5 ppg.
Bonner-Prendergast (1-2) secured the season opener with a 70-55 victory over Devon Prep behind Malik Edwards (18 points), Mandoe Seapoe (14), James Welde (13) and Nick Marabito (11). Welde, the 6-3 football standout who is avg. 13.6 ppg, contributed 14 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks in the win. Edwards, the 6-foot-1 senior and only returning starter from a year ago, is avg. 23.0 ppg. He missed the potential game winner against the Vikings. Seapoe and Marabito combined for seven three-pointers in the opener. While the Friars have dropped their last two games, they lost both by a total of four points, including three-point loss to St. Joe’s Prep, 74-71.
Roman Catholic (2-0) is also unbeaten to begin the season behind two skilled juniors in Khalil Farmer and Daniel Skillings Jr. The pair combined for 48 points in their debut, 76-47 win over Archbishop Carroll. They followed that up with a strong outing against Conwell-Egan as Farmer, a 6-4 junior transfer from the Shipley School, scored 23 points and Skillings, a 6-6 junior transfer from St. Joseph’s High School (N.J.), added 20 in the 68-50 victory. Sophomore Xzayvier Brown, the only returning starter, is avg. 7.5 ppg on the season and 6-1 junior Jhamir Martin had 10 points versus the Eagles.
It’s a new season with new challenges but these three programs, with a history of winning and coaches who know how to bring teams together, are having success with new rosters.
Devon Prep finding its way in year three
The Tide have won a total of five games within the Philadelphia Catholic League in their first two seasons since coming over from the Bicentennial Athletic League. Through four games, Devon Prep (2-2) is off to a respectable start to the year despite dropping its first two league games to the Friars and Lancers.
The early success has come from a number of different areas including freshman Ty Mishock, who scored 14 points against Bonner-Prendergast. The 5-8 guard is avg. 10.3 ppg through four games. Senior Eamon Walsh, a four-year starter erupted for 24 points versus the Lancers. IV Pettit, the 6-2 West Chester Rustin transfer, is avg. 14.5 ppg, which included a 25-point game in Devon Prep’s 68-34 victory over Archbishop Carroll. Lucas Orchard, the 6-4 sophomore forward who saw time as a freshman, had 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Patriots and is avg. 9.8 ppg on the year. The Tide also toughed out a three-point 59-56 win over St. Joe’s Prep.
Head coach Jason Fisher was hoping his team was ready to take the next step as a program in a league as loaded and talented as the Philadelphia Catholic League and, while there is plenty of basketball left to be played, they appear primed to do that.
Year of the freshman
Last year, Brown stepped onto the court for Roman Catholic as a freshman and made an immediate impact. Others like Orchard, Pitts and Dean Coleman-Newsome at Archbishop Carroll were players who took off in their first season at the high school level.
This season, several freshmen are making their mark in one of the toughest leagues in the state. Mishock has been a spark plug for Devon Prep. Robert Wright III, a 5-9 freshman, converted the game-winning layup at the buzzer for Neumann-Goretti in its opener against La Salle. Moses Hipps, the 6-3 freshman for the Patriots, scored 20 points in his debut against St. Joe’s Prep. Fellow Archbishop Carroll freshman Chase Coleman, a 6-1 guard, has seen action in every game this season. Elijah Duval, a 6-3 guard for Bonner-Prendergast, scored eight points in the loss to the Hawks.
In a league that seems to reload every season, a youth movement has spurred and showing why there’s a bright future for multiple programs for years to come.
Neumann-Goretti senior and Temple commit Hysier Miller posted a triple-double with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the Saints overtime loss to Archbishop Wood. He became the first Saints player to record a triple-double since Jordan Hall (St. Joe’s) had a 15-point, 11-rebound and 10-assist performance against West Catholic on Feb. 9, 2020. The 6-2 guard is avg. 26.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists this season.
La Salle has seen impressive performances from two particular players. Horace Simmons, a 6-5 sophomore, had 26 points, including six three-pointers, in the Explorers opener against the Saints. Three contests later, Sam Brown, the 6-3 junior guard and standout on the gridiron, posted 28 points against the Patriots.
St. Joe’s Prep senior guard Jimmy King is avg. 25.0 ppg this season. The 6-1 combo guard erupted for a career-high 36 points against the Friars, which was the highest by a Hawks player in a game since Trevor Wall (Ursinus) had 30 versus Archbishop Carroll in the first round of the league playoffs last year.
Anquan Hill, a 6-8 senior forward, is avg. 14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks for Archbishop Carroll this season. He has two double-doubles this season, including a 20-point and 14-rebound performance versus Devon Prep.
Archbishop Wood (4-0)
Bishop McDevitt (2-0)
Roman Catholic (2-0)
Devon Prep (2-2)
La Salle (1-2)
St. Joe’s Prep (1-2)
Archbishop Carroll (1-3)
Archbishop Ryan (0-0)
Cardinal O’Hara (0-0)
Lansdale Catholic (0-0)
West Catholic (0-0)
Father Judge (0-2)
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