By: Rich Flanagan
Photos by: Kathy Leister and Mike Nance
PHILADELPHIA-Since taking over at Archbishop Wood in 2014, John Mosco has had the same philosophy when it comes to developing players and getting them to buy into what he and his staff are teaching them each day in order to achieve something they never have before. That indelible message got across to Tommy Funk (Army), Luke Connaghan (DeSales), Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Tyree Pickron and the list has gradually grown from there.
As an assistant at Neumann-Goretti under Carl Arrigale, Mosco learned what it took to get star players to see the bigger picture and understand individual accolades are meager compared to team goals. More specifically, championships. His mantra was never more evident than in his leadership of the 2021 Vikings class, which featured four Division I prospects in its starting lineup.
The lineup of Rahsool Diggins, Marcus Randolph, Daeshon Shepherd and Jaylen Stinson understood that if they wanted to reach their potential as players, they needed to learn how to incorporate other skilled players and play to their strengths. Mosco preached this to them constantly and, by all accounts, they achieved that about as well as any team as in the history of the Philadelphia Catholic League.
“They wanted to win and they became winners,” Mosco said. “They realized they cannot win on their own and they need help. It shows that they’re willing to give and take help while playing the part where they’re needed. They’re going to go to big-time colleges. They understand they will have to be part of the program and it works out easier that way.”
Along with senior Muneer Newton (11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks), the 2021 class compiled a 41-6 record over the last two seasons, which included the program’s second Philadelphia Catholic League title, a 68-59 win over Roman Catholic. After completing an undefeated league season, it was a revenge game as the Cahillites had downed the Vikings in the semifinals at the Palestra the season prior. Diggins had a Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal record 35 points in that loss.
Diggins, the 6-foot-3 point guard and UConn commit, was named 2020-21 Pa. All-State Class 6A Player of the Year, marking his third consecutive selection to an all-state first team. The four-year starter has been a part of 74 wins during his time at Archbishop Wood where he succeeded Gillespie, the last Vikings player to win an all-state player of the year award, at point guard.
He knew what stepping into that role meant on a team with Pickron, Andrew Funk (Bucknell), Seth Pinkney and Karrington Wallace, and he performed as well, if not better, than anyone could have imagined.
“I was coming in playing right away and playing a lot of minutes on a senior-oriented group coming off of a championship season,” Diggins said. “We had a target on our back and played a national schedule. There were high expectations.”
Diggins avg. 16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game. His 133 assists this season led the Philadelphia Catholic League. A year after avg. 20.2 ppg, his scoring dipped slightly but he showcased the type of facilitator and floor general that he could be.
Mosco firmly believes he answered a lot of questions about his game and the type of player he could evolve into.
“There were some knocks on him saying he was only a scorer and not a point guard,” Mosco said. “This year, he answered a lot of those questions in getting everybody involved while still scoring his points. He’s leaving as one of the all-time great players in Wood history.”
Diggins surpassed Pickron as the all-time leading scorer 25 points against Archbishop Carroll in March and finished his career with 1,513 points. Some players in Philadelphia Catholic League history who have scored more than 1,500 points include Carroll’s Derrick Jones Jr. (Portland Trail Blazers), Neumann-Goretti’s Ja’Quan Newton and Quade Green, Roman Catholic’s Eddie Griffin and St. Joe’s Prep’s Steve Vasturia.
The fabled point guard led Archbishop Wood to two state championship games, the first as sophomore. Last season’s heartbreaking, 58-57 loss to Reading at the Giant Center was tough as the Vikings had an opportunity to win the game with only 3.9 seconds remaining but a late turnover cost them that chance. Still, two state title games appearances along with two league semifinal trips and a title amounts to a lot and that is something that Diggins is focusing on when reflecting back on his career.
“It was a sad moment but I tend to turn the negatives into positives,” Diggins said. “Personally, I thought we had a great year because we almost couldn’t have played at all with COVID-19. We kept our heads up and stayed positive. Everyone is moving onto a new school.”
Randolph, the 6-4 Richmond commit, avg. 16.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals on his way to joining Diggins on the 6A First Team. The lefty poured in 24 points in the Vikings comeback victory over Lower Merion on the road in the state semifinals. While talented, Randolph was not as polished when he first joined Archbishop Wood as a junior after two years at Willingboro (N.J.). “When we were pushing him, he saw he had a lot more to give,” according to Mosco, and he put in a lot of time to get up to speed with the rest of the roster. “When he got going downhill, he showed that he’s a college ready player.” He finished his career with 1,437 points.
Shepherd came off the bench as a freshman on that team with Pickron and Funk but he moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore and continued to excel. The 6-4 La Salle commit and second team all-state selection avg. 14.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game this season. He had 23 points in that game versus the Patriots. He scored 1,099 career points at Archbishop Wood.
An extremely athletic forward, the knock of Shepherd was his inability to shoot but he improved there and also became one of the premiere defenders in the league, as Mosco notes.
“He turned into one of our better defensive players, particularly against the opponent’s toughest guy,” Mosco said. “When you’re playing with four Division I guys, they have to give a little. They all gave but Daeshon would give on the perimeter but they found him when he was open.”
Stinson, the 6-foot James Madison commit and second team all-state pick who began his career at the Haverford School, avg. 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game this season. He hit 34 three-pointers and shot 40 percent from behind the arc. He hit five treys on his way to 21 points in the Philadelphia Catholic League final against the Cahillites. He scored 1,086 points in his high school career.
“He showed his playmaking ability and getting guys the ball. We didn’t simply have Rahsool as the playmaker. He stepped up in that sense where he was distributing it,” according to Mosco.
While all four players made the all-state tea, they were each selected First Team All-Catholic, joining the 2018-19 Roman Catholic team of Hakim Hart (Maryland), Seth Lundy (Penn State), Lynn Greer III (Dayton) and Jalen Duren, as the only two programs to ever have four players named first team in Philadelphia Catholic League history.
For Diggins, while he did not win a state title, claiming that league title will be his crowning achievement. He said the grind to win that title alone will be the sole reason he is cemented in Archbishop Wood basketball history.
“I want to be remembered as a winner,” Diggins said. “It took me four years to win a PCL championship. I would rather be considered a winner over all of my accolades.”
Under former head coach Matt Griffin, Roman Catholic advanced to its fourth consecutive Philadelphia Catholic League title game before falling to the Vikings. While Duren and Justice Williams, both at Montverde Academy (Fla.), as well as Greer, now at IMG Academy (Fla.) had moved on, a new influx of talent was added to Griffin’s roster in the former of Khalil Farmer, a transfer from the Shipley School, and Daniel Skillings Jr., a transfer from St. Joseph’s (N.J.). Farmer, a 6-4 combo guard, avg. 19.1 points and 5.9 rebounds on his way to second team all-state. He poured in a team-high 22 points, including going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, in the league title game. He has 1,087 career points.
Griffin, who joined Dwayne Killings’ staff at the University of Albany after the season, knew Farmer’s physicality made him one of the best guards in the league.
"He’s probably the most physical guard in the league,” Griffin said. “He gets off his shot extremely well. He was a very consistent player who brought it every night. He didn’t have any bad nights and had some impressive shooting performances.”
Skillings, a third team all-state selection, avg. 19.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game this season. The 6-6 versatile forward, who boasts offers from La Salle, Temple and Drexel, had eight 20-points games, including a season-high 30 points versus Bishop McDevitt. He has scored 1,013 career points to date.
Griffin helped mold Skillings into a better ball-handler and worked with him to play off the ball. Both paid dividends in his first year with the Cahillites program.
“He’s not scared of the moment and he was always coming up big for us,” Griffin said. “Near the end of the end of the season, his ball-handling improved and I don’t know how many people realize that he’s a terrific decision maker.”
Xzayvier Brown, the 6-1 sophomore guard and two-year starter who boasts an offer from St. Joe’s University, joined Skillings on the third team after avg. 10.1 points and 6.9 assists per game. He had a season-high 21 points in a loss to the Vikings in February. With Chris McNesby taking over the program once again, Griffin expects this trio to have a phenomenal year upcoming. “There’s no guarantees but they’re going to be in great shape to do something special next year,” according to Griffin. Griffin succeeded McNesby, who coached Roman Catholic from 2009-16 winning 168 games along with two Philadelphia Catholic League and PIAA Class 4A titles.
Diggins was joined on the first team by fellow Big East commit, Wilson’s Stevie Mitchell, who avg. 25.6 ppg and closed out his career with 2,060 points. He is headed to play for Shaka Smart at Marquette.
Moro Osumanu, the 6-6 West Chester University commit, avg. 13.7 points and 9.4 rebounds this season. He had 22 points and 12 boards in leading Reading over Archbishop Wood in the PIAA 6A title game, the program’s first state crown since 2017.
2020-21 Pa. All-State Class 6A Boys Basketball Team
Rahsool Diggins, Archbishop Wood, 6-3 senior (POY)
Devin Carney, Butler, 6-0 junior
Stevie Mitchell, Wilson, 6-2 senior
Moro Osumanu, Reading High, 6-6 senior
Marcus Randolph, Archbishop Wood, 6-5 senior
Ruben Rodriguez, Reading High, 6-1 sophomore
Khalil Farmer, Roman Catholic, 6-3 junior
Christian Fermin, Pocono Mountain West, 6-8 junior
Josh Jones, North Penn, 6-5 senior
Demetrius Lilley, Lower Merion, 6-9 junior
Daeshon Shepherd, Archbishop Wood, 6-5 senior
Jaylen Stinson, Archbishop Wood, 6-0 senior
Daniel Alcantara, Reading High, 6-6 junior
Xzayvier Brown, Roman Catholic, 6-1 sophomore
Kai Cipalla, Warwick, 6-3 senior
Daniel Skillings, Roman Catholic, 6-5 junior
Drew Stover, Upper Dublin, 6-7 senior
Eli Yofan, Fox Chapel, 6-2 junior
Coach of the Year: Rick Perez, Reading