By: Rich Flanagan
Photos: Mike Nance
PHILADELPHIA – Archbishop Ryan was rolling. They had a 12-4 record heading into their matchup with Northeast Philadelphia rival, Father Judge and the leading scorer in the Philadelphia Catholic League. During practice the day before the game, Aaron Lemon-Warren landed awkwardly, breaking his right foot and ending his season. Just like that, the 6-foot-5 junior forward, who was avg. 24.4 points per game at the time, was lost for the year and the optimism of a potential run to the league title was sucked out of the gym.
While the Raiders did reach the league semifinals and even made a run to the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinals before the tournament was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Joe Zeglinski was even more disheartened at the rehabilitation timeline for his player.
“It was a huge blow for us, for him and his recruiting when he broke his foot,” Zeglinski said. “It came at a terrible time when everything was shutting down due to COVID. We weren’t working out in the summer then stuff in the weight room in the fall. We couldn’t get him back in a rhythm where he was but it’s a credit to him where he took it upon himself to rebuild that muscle memory.”
Lemon-Warren battled back and, while it took some adjusting due to a number of different factors, led the Raiders to the 2021 PIAA 5A title game in Hershey, the program’s first-ever state title game appearance. He was named Pa. All-State Class 5A Player of the Year after avg. 18.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
He scored 22 points in his debut against Lansdale Catholic on Feb. 13. The last game he played in prior was Jan. 20, 2020 versus Devon Prep. It took some time to regain confidence in that foot but the latter part of the schedule showcased what Lemon-Warren could really do.
“In the beginning of the season, there was a lot going on but toward the second half, we knew we had to buckle down and get it done,” Lemon-Warren said. “I didn’t perform the way I wanted in the first half but the playoffs was where I had to perform. I had to get myself situated and do what I had to do.”
A year after being named Second Team All-State, Lemon-Warren became the first Philadelphia Catholic League player to be named 5A Player of the year since Archbishop Wood’s Collin Gillespie in 2016-17. He’s also the first Archbishop Ryan player to be named first team all-state since Izaiah Brockington that same season. He avg. 30 points and 11.3 rebounds over the three first games of the state tournament, including a historic semifinal performance.
Zeglinski was in awe of what Lemon-Warren did down the stretch.
“Then, you start to see what he could do in March in that state run where he had 36,” Zeglinski said. “It was an all-time performance, not just by an Archbishop Ryan player but any Philadelphia Catholic League player.”
In that game Zeglinski referenced, Lemon-Warren had 36 points and 11 rebounds in the Raiders dominating 85-63 victory over Chester in the semifinals. Those 36 points are the most ever by a Philadelphia Catholic League player in a state playoff game as well as the most by a visiting player at the historic Clip Joint. The previous record by Philadelphia Catholic League players was 33, scored by Roman Catholic’s Tony Carr and Neumann-Goretti’s Zane Martin, who both recorded that total in 2016. Despite losing to Cathedral Prep in the state final, he had 16 points and six rebounds in that game and finished his career with 984 points.
His frontcourt mate, 6-9 senior forward Christian Tomasco, was named Class 5A Second Team after he avg. 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. The big man also had his best performance of the season against the Clippers with 26 points on 12-for-13 shooting with six boards and six rejections. With Lemon-Warren and Tomasco’s selection, this is the second straight season Archbishop Ryan has had two players selected to the all-state team (Lemon-Warren and Gediminas Mokseckas in 2019-20). Tomasco will do a prep year at IMG Academy (Fla.) next season.
Lemon-Warren, who holds offers from Fordham, Penn State, Drexel and Richmond, rebounded from a tough injury to put together a memorable final season in helping the Raiders win their first-ever District 12 title. He saw how certain players, like Tomasco and Arcadia commit Dominic Vazquez (10.7 ppg) stepped up in his absence last year and that helped fuel the state title run.
“Our team we had this year was something special, especially with some guys who came back but didn’t play as much,” Lemon-Warren said. “When I went down, they got their feet wet and understood what to do as a team. We really found ourselves. With all of the accomplishments and hard work we put in, we definitely deserved it.”
The entire team followed Lemon-Warren’s example and that spearheaded another trip to the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals before the state tournament. Zeglinski took note of that and how it pushed everyone else’s performance up and down the roster.
“The team needs to see that confidence in their leader,” Zeglinski said. “That’s what that did with Izaiah and down the stretch they looked to Aaron with how his body language was as well as his mentality at both ends. They looked to their leadership to turn it on and they followed him. It was evident once he got into a rhythm down the stretch that nothing was going to stop him.”
Another Philadelphia Catholic League guard, Bonner-Prendergast’s Malik Edwards was named Class 5A First Team, becoming the fourth different Friars player to make the all-state first team in the last four seasons, joining Tyreese Watson (2020), Tariq Ingraham (2019) and Isaiah Wong (2018-19). The 6-2 William Penn College commit avg. 22.4 ppg in a shortened season for the Friars, who only played seven games due to the pandemic. He scored 18 points in the season opener against Devon Prep then closed out his career with 30 points in the finale versus Cardinal O’Hara.
Head coach Kevin Funston told Edwards he was going to be the go-to guy and leader on a younger Friars team and he certainly lived up to that billing.
“He was always a piece of the puzzle and important to our success,” Funston said. “He never had to be the guy and always benefited because he was in the right places and he did that really well. This year, we needed him to do everything and he never once complained. I know we only played seven games but he played through everybody’s best, even though they game planned for it.”
A three-year starter that was integral to Bonner-Prendergast’s run to the 2019 PIAA Class 4A title and the team’s run to state quarterfinals a year ago, Edwards scored 25 points in a loss to league champion, Archbishop Wood and 22 versus Bishop McDevitt. He ends his high school career with 643 points.
His rise to a high-level scorer and college recruit was indicative of the advice and counsel he took from players like Watson, Ingraham and Wong. Funston is the first to attest to that.
“Malik carried the torch as well as anyone could carry it,” Funston said. “Being on that team as a sophomore with Isaiah and Tariq, it taught him a lot, especially when playing at a high level and the expectations. Last year, being one of the big three with Donovan Rodriguez and Tyreese, who were incredible leaders, he had to do it his own way.”
The Raiders defeated the Friars in overtime in a District 12 5A play-in game for the right to play the Academy at Palumbo in the city title. Lemon-Warren had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Tomasco had 10 points and seven boards. Edwards posted 13 points to lead his side.
2020-21 Pa. All-State Class 5A Boys Basketball Team
Aaron Lemon-Warren, 6-5 Sr., Archbishop Ryan (POY)
Karell Watkins, 6-5 Sr., Chester
Khali Horton, 6-8 Soph., Erie Cathedral Prep
Rodney Gallagher, 5-11 Soph., Laurel Highlands
Brayden Reynolds, 6-2 Sr., Chartiers Valley
Justin Edwards, 6-6 Soph., Imhotep
Malik Edwards, 6-2 Sr., Bonner-Prendergast
Griffin Barrouk, 6-5 Sr., Bayard Rustin
C. J. Miles, 6-1 Sr., Bangor
Mike Dunn, 6-3 Sr., Trinity
Christian Tomasco, 6-9 Sr., Archbishop Ryan
Liam Galla, 6-5 Sr., Erie Cathedral Prep
Fareed Burton, 5-11 Sr., Chester
Rhamir Barno, 6-0 Soph., Imhotep
Jayden Statum, 6-0 Jr., Shippensburg
Ty Burton, 5-10 Fr., Lampeter-Strasburg
Nate McGill, 6-4 Sr., Northern
Mike Wells, 6-3 Jr., New Castle
Denzel Figueroa, 6-5 Jr., Engineering & Science
Coach of the Year: Steve Piotrowicz, Erie Prep