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BOYS BASKETBALL: New Year, Same Goal – The Quest for a Philadelphia Catholic League Title

By Rich Flanagan , 12/17/21, 11:15AM EST


See 2021-22 PCL Season Preview – Sponsored by Gwynedd Mercy University

Photos/Videos: Gracie Cleveland, Peter Delpo, Donna Eckert, Zamani Feelings, Rich Flanagan, John Knebels, Kathy Leister & Mike Nance. 

By: Rich Flanagan

PHILADELPHIA –  At this time last year, only a handful of high school basketball teams were beginning play. Following the opening night of the 2020-21 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Tom Wolf imposed a second shutdown of Pa., forcing a halt to the season before it even truly started. In the midst of the uncertainty and upheaval, the Philadelphia Catholic League had no formal plans to have games, or, even more so, practices.

Weeks passed as other leagues tipped off and finally a season was constructed with the top two seeds slated to meet in the title game. Following the end of the regular season, semifinal match-ups were announced and eventually Archbishop Wood claimed the championship on the floor of Cardinal O’Hara.

Despite all of the questions on whether or not a season would take place and how the standings would materialize at the end of the season, a champion was crowned and another year of hoops was put into the record books.

2021 PCL Championship Highlights & Net Cutting Ceremony! - PSD Videos by Rich Flanagan & Donna Eckert

One program removed from the record books was Bishop McDevitt, which closed its doors for good at the end of the academic year. The Lancers program had been on the rise under Will Chavis, now an assistant at Drexel, but that progress was stymied by the decision passed down in November 2020. Including John W. Hallahan, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has closed five high schools since 2010, making the league much smaller.

Fast forward to the 2021-22 season and a sense of normalcy has returned to the Pa. basketball landscape, particularly in the Philadelphia Catholic League.

The Vikings (19-1, 14-0) nearly finished off a perfect season before falling to Reading in the PIAA Class 6A championship game in Hershey in the closing seconds.  The star-studded senior class of Rahsool Diggins (UConn), Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle), Marcus Randolph (Richmond), Jaylen Stinson (James Madison), Muneer Newton (William Penn College), Dan Prior (Penn State Abington) and John Donahue (Penn State Abington) closed out their careers with a 68-59 victory over Roman Catholic in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game.

The 2021 class went 41-6 over the last two seasons and Diggins, Shepherd and Stinson were starters on a team that fell to Moon in the 2019 PIAA 5A title game.

PIAA 6A Championship Highlights Wood vs. Reading High - PSD Video by John Knebels:

Diggins, Randolph, Shepherd and Stinson were all named First Team All-Catholic, making Archbishop Wood only the second team all-time to have four players make first team, joining Roman Catholic in 2018-19.

Head coach John Mosco cannot understate what last year’s class did for the program.

“Collin Gillespie’s 2016-17 team was the start and opened everybody’s eyes but this class solidified us as a big-time program,” Mosco said. “They left as one of the winningest classes in school history. They got what they wanted with that Catholic League title.”

Diggins succeeded Gillespie (Villanova) at point guard, became a four-year starter and finished his career at the program’s all-time leading scorer (1,513 points). Shepherd was a three-year starter and scored 1,099 career points. Randolph was a multi-dimensional lefty, Stinson was one of the premiere shooters in Pa. and Newton’s athleticism made him a great complement last season. With all five starters gone, the Vikings lost 92 percent of its scoring output from a year ago but have new options ready to step in and flourish.

Senior guard Justin Moore continues a line of succession at point guard for Archbishop Wood that went from Tommy Funk (Army) to Gillespie to Diggins. The 6-foot-2 Drexel commit comes over from McDevitt after averaging 12.2 points, 4.4 assists and 1.9 steals as a junior. A prototypical floor general who began his career at Cheltenham, Moore brings “leadership and experience on how to play the position,” according to Mosco.

Mike Knouse, a 6-4 senior guard, started two state playoff games against William Allen and Lower Merion while Shepherd was out and scored 10 points in each contest. He hit 11 three-pointers and with the move to the starting lineup, his opportunities to showcase his skillset will increase.

Wood senior Justin Moore discusses what it's going to take to win another PCL title, team goals and the values he's looking to instill in his underclassmen teammates - PSD video by Kathy Leister:

Tyson Allen, a 6-3 senior guard, will also start in his final year. He was one of the elite defenders in the league last season and should be once again. Basil Laster, a 6-4 junior who holds an offer from St. Peter’s University and played sparingly last season but has a lot of potential, will be in the starting lineup. Mosco noted that he began his career on the freshman team and “he’s a coach’s dream who plays hard.”

Down low, Carson Howard will provide scoring and rebounding, much like Newton did last year. The 6-7 junior forward, who also boasts an offer from St. Peter’s, transferred over from Lacey (N.J.) and avg. 18.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks last season. “He’s learning to finish better and getting more of an opportunity to play against tougher players in this league,” Mosco states. Sherod Cannedy, a 5-10 senior guard and another McDevitt transfer, “is a solid point guard who can really pass the ball.”

Jalil Bethea, 6-4 sophomore guard who holds offers from Temple, Albany, Jacksonville and Robert Morris, and Josh Reed, a 6-2 sophomore guard, saw limited action as freshmen but should explode on the scene this year. Markus Dixon, a 6-4 forward and Second Team All-Catholic tight end on the football team, will see minutes. He holds football offers from Penn State, Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. “They will provide energy and scoring power off the bench,” as Mosco describes. Milan Dean, a 6-2 freshman guard who “will push for minutes and has a real knack for the basketball”, leads an impressive incoming group including Judah Hidalgo and Deuce Maxey.

Bonner-Prendergast (3-4, 3-3) was affected the most by the pandemic last season. While the Friars were limited to seven games and the program was shut down for nearly a month, they nearly snuck into the PIAA 5A Tournament but fell to Archbishop Ryan, 52-50 in overtime. They played three of the four league semifinalists, beating Devon Prep and losing to Archbishop Wood by one. Malik Edwards, the William Penn College commit, is gone after avg. 22.4 ppg last season. Also gone are Nick Marabito (Washington Adventist University) and James Welde (football at Villanova). The Friars lost two players due to transfer in Hadir Boswell (Math, Civics & Sciences) and Elijah Duval (Martin County (Fla.)).

Two seasons ago, the Friars were a Jalen Duren buzzer-beating put-back away from the Palestra and they were primed for a state title before the pandemic ended things. Go back three years to when Isaiah Wong (Miami (Fla.)) and Tariq Ingraham (Rider) were starters and they advanced to the PIAA 4A title game where they fell to Imhotep Charter.

It was a memorable season for positive and negative reasons but head coach Kevin Funston, entering year four at the helm, stressed that this group learned a lot from a short season.

“We played all of the toughest teams very tough,” Funston said. “To me, the kids understood how to battle adversity with being shut down for a month then having to turn around and play Archbishop Ryan. You can point to a lot of different things but the mental fortitude that they had to consistently show up and generate the energy to be competitive was amazing.”

Two starters return for the Friars in 5-11 senior guard Mandon Seapoe and 6-5 junior guard Brady Eagan. Seapoe avg. 9.0 ppg and had 14 points against the Tide last season. He is recovering from a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury that he suffered in the summer and required surgery but should be ready for the season. Eagan, whose brother, Connor played on that team two seasons ago with Tyreese Watson and Donovan Rodriguez, will provide leadership and a steady presence in the backcourt.

Funston brought in an impressive freshman class last year and that group will look to take the next step in their development. Touri “Deuce” Ketner, a 6-5 sophomore, is the brother of Albany freshman Tairi and son of the late Roman Catholic standout Larry Ketner. “He’s a point forward and a very good passer,” according to Funston. Kodi Johnson, a 6-4 sophomore guard, Kyree Latimer, a 6-3 sophomore guard, and Jamal Hicks, a 6-1 sophomore guard, will compete for minutes. Two freshmen should also be in the mix in 5-11 guard Elijah Gunther, who is “a really smart player and a leader. He could be captain for our team,” and 5-9 guard Saaid Lee, who is a “throwback guard,” as Funston frames it.

The Friars welcome two transfers from the Philadelphia Public League, both of whom will be major contributors from the get-go. Shakur Smith, a 6-4 senior guard, comes over from Imhotep where he helped the Panthers secure the 2021 Public League title.

Bonner-Prendergast returns 5-11 senior guard Mandon Seapoe (#13) - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Seapoe will be backed by youth in Kyree Latimer (#1), a 6-3 sophomore guard for MBAP - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

He avg. 10.5 ppg as a sophomore and “he’s the ultimate leader and hardest working kid we have. He never quits and has a high motor to match it,” Funston notes. He suffered a fracture in his foot and only got his cast off on Dec. 1 but should be ready for the start of the season. Baasil Saunders, a 6-4 junior guard, played at Constitution and was a member of the rotation for the 2021 PIAA Class 2A runner-up. He had 12 points against Sankofa Freedom in the regular season.

Lansdale Catholic has not made the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs since 2013 but seventh-year head coach Joe Corbett feels he has the depth in the backcourt to potentially put an end to that.

A year after boasting one of the biggest and most versatile front courts in Kellan Ward and Jimmy Casey, who is doing a prep year at the Peddie School (N.J.) and has reclassified to the class of 2022 for football, the Crusaders (2-10, 2-9) will become a more guard-oriented team for the first time in several years. Casey avg. 13.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks and Corbett will look to find different ways to make up for the loss of his skilled big man.

“This is probably the most guard heavy team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Corbett said. “Every one of those guards needs to score double figures for us. We need these guys to get into the lane and make a smart decision with the ball.”


Corbett recalls having bigs like Luke Godzieba (Ursinus College), Casey and Ward in the post but the perimeter will be the focus now. Liam McDonnell, the 5-10 senior guard and third-year starter and captain, returns to the point. He avg. 5.5 ppg and scored 15 points against La Salle. “He is the leader. We’ve asked him to be more vocal with the guys and he’s excited for the challenge,” according to Corbett. Jake Coonahan, a 5-10 senior guard, and Brandon Thomson, another 5-10 senior guard, will be looked to provide scoring. Thomson poured in 14 points versus Bonner-Prendergast. James Juarez, a 6-1 senior guard, is a projected starter. “He’s a great on-ball defender and can play the opponent’s best scorer,” as Corbett notes.

With the loss of Casey and Ward, 6-3 junior forward Evan Lojewski, who swung JV and varsity as a sophomore, “will get the first shot at playing the five,” per Corbett. He posted seven points against West Catholic. Matt Hopkins, a 6-3 junior wing, will compete for minutes at multiple positions. Dan Curran, a 5-9 sophomore guard who transferred from Archbishop Carroll, and 6-foot sophomore guard Brendan Stewart could see time as well.

Francis Bowe begins year four at Archbishop Carroll (9-7, 7-5) without its dominant big man. Anquan Hill, now a freshman playing at Fairleigh Dickinson, avg. 17.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in leading the Patriots to the District 12-4A title over Martin Luther King before falling to eventual champion, Allentown Central Catholic in the PIAA 4A quarterfinals. Also gone are two starting guards in Tyler Seward and Caleb Carter, who each avg. at least 10 ppg, and Chase Coleman, an impact freshman last season, transferred to Coatesville.

Archbishop Carroll has not made the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals since 2018 when AJ Hoggard (Michigan State), Luke House (Drexel) and Justin Anderson (Bloomsburg) controlled the backcourt but Bowe has a plethora of guards that are hoping to build off of last season’s success.

Moses Hipps was the most talented freshman the league has seen in a few years. Names like Quade Green and Lynn Greer III burst onto the scene but not to the magnitude or efficiency as Hipps. The 6-4 sophomore guard avg. 13.6 points with four 20-point games and hit 37 three-pointers. He was named Pa. All-State Class 4A Second Team, becoming the first Philadelphia Catholic League freshman to be named to the all-state team since Duren in 2018-19.

Already boasting offers from VCU, Temple, La Salle and Fordham, Bowe thinks Hipps still has a lot of other facets of his game to display.

“His decision-making with the ball in his hands is one of the things he will continue to develop,” Bowe said. “I don’t call him a shooter anymore. He has turned into a scorer and that’s because of the comfortability to put the ball on the ground. He can make plays for others because there are going to be a lot of eyes on him.”

Two seasons ago, Dean Coleman-Newsome avg. 9.2 ppg and scored 20 points in the first round of Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs against St. Joe’s Prep. Coming into his sophomore season, he suffered a major knee injury, which forced him to miss the entire year. Now standing 6-4 and full frame, the junior guard is primed for a breakout campaign. “Physically, he can impose his will on the game. He’s a foul magnet. He can finish through contact,” according to Bowe.


Jake West comes over from Plymouth Whitemarsh after seeing action in his first season at the high-school level. The 5-9 freshman, who holds an offer from St. Francis (N.Y.), “is a spark plug” and “he has a very large basketball IQ,” as Bowe states. He can run the point but has grown more comfortable playing off the ball. Shawnn Smith, a 6-3 senior guard, comes over from McDevitt after avg. 8.1 ppg with five double-figure games. “He does his job every day and “he’s changed the program and puts it all together,” as Bowe emphasizes.

With Hill having moved on, 6-6 senior lefty Harold Ivery, who played in 15 games last year, will man the middle. He’s rangy and can defend multiple positions. Sal Monastero, the 6-4 senior who saw action in seven games as a junior, will also see time down low. He can rebound well and has range out of the three-point line. Blake Deegan, a 6-4 junior, played JV last season but should contribute this year.

Adam Bowen’s fourth season at the helm of Conwell-Egan (2-11, 2-11) will see him welcome seven new players into the fold. The Eagles are searching for their first Philadelphia Catholic League postseason berth in five years but will have to do it without a few key pieces in Donald Imo (Chestnut Hill College), Derrick Dolan (Cairn University), Jalen Cary (Montgomery County Community College) and Andrew Garwo, now playing football at Temple. Imo evolved into an elite big man, avg. 12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last season.

For Bowen, there is a different feel to this year’s group than in the past and he’s hoping they can take advantage of the depth up and down the roster.

“For the first time, since I’ve been here, we’ve taken an enormous step in the right direction,” Bowen said. “I very much expect us to be competitive and we’re ready to compete for a playoff spot.”

His optimism starts with 6-6 senior forward Jordan Garrison, who avg. 7.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He posted a 20-point game against Devon Prep and will be a starter in the front court. The former Bristol High School transfer has been battling a left knee injury but “if he can stay healthy, he’s going to have a breakout season. He transferred in early and wanted to challenge himself,” according to Bowen.

Garrison is one of several holdovers from last season who will be in the starting lineup along with 5-8 sophomore guard Aidan Mondragon, 6-2 junior guard Brendan Lynch and 6-2 junior guard Tyraiq Corbin Jr. Mondragon saw extended time as a freshman. Lynch is a team captain after swinging between JV and varsity as a sophomore and “will play a really big role for us this year,” as Bowen notes. Corbin will provide leadership and scoring in his third year in the program.

Conwell-Egan junior guard Tyraiq Corbin Jr (#15) will be one of coach Adam Bowen’s key returner's this season - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister

The starting point guard will be newcomer Niame Scott, a 6-1 junior guard who avg. 8.4 ppg at Boys’ Latin a season ago. “He’s going to be our point guard and he’s going to have the ball in his hands,” Bowen described. Two football players will be part of the rotation in 6-3 junior forward Mekhi Harper, who was a starting defensive back and led the Eagles with four interceptions, and 6-4 junior forward Zamire Cottrell, who recorded nine tackles for loss and two sacks on his way to Blue Division First Team All-Catholic.

Two transfers from Father Judge should compete for minutes in 6-4 junior forward Brian Jeter and his cousin, 6-4 junior forward Kevin Conway. Bowen expects big things from 6-foot freshman guard Antwone George, who broke his wrist during tryouts but should be ready to play this month once his cast comes off.

Father Judge (3-13, 2-10) begins a new regime under first-year head coach Chris Roantree. Roantree, a ’99 Judge grad, was an assistant at Archbishop Wood for eight years where he worked under Mosco and helped develop players such as Diggins, Shepherd, Gillespie, Tyree Pickron (Long Island University) and many more. At the AAU level with Team Final 17U squad, he was integral in helping players such as Duren and Emoni Bates, both freshmen playing at Memphis for Penny Hardaway, along with Westtown’s Dereck Lively II (Duke) and former Roman Catholic standout Justice Williams, now playing at LSU, among several others.

He’s a players’ coach and his influence on the growth of some of the top players in the area speaks to that. For a team seeking a return to the postseason for the first time since 2019, Roantree has seen a change in the culture and playing style in this group.

“We’ve adjusted really well to a different style and tempo and they’ve picked things up well,” Roantree said. “Our guys are learning what it takes to compete and win every, single day to be able to play in our league as many don’t have the experience having played in it.”

Nahseer Johnson (Arcadia University) and Justin Blythe (Alvernia University) were one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league over the last three seasons. Johnson left Father Judge as the second 1,000-point scorer in school history, joining Marc Rodriguez (East Stroudsburg). The duo combined for 87 three-pointers as seniors. There are a multitude of new faces in new positions but a few mainstays will help ease the transition. Jalen Flowers, a 6-2 senior guard in his third season in the program, will be given more opportunities to score and distribute. He avg. 5.2 points and 1.2 steals per game. “In terms of leadership, he’s a guy that I can count on” and “defensively, he’s in the right spots,” according to Roantree. Jordan Rhinehart, a 5-11 senior guard who avg. 5.9 ppg, will come off the bench and be a major contributor. He had 17 points against Conwell-Egan.

Judge senior manager Logan McHugh catches up with Crusader's senior guard Jalen Flowers on how Judge is preparing for the upcoming league schedule:

Mike McCusker, a 5-11 junior guard and member of the Crusaders soccer team, will be a starter as well. He posted 11 points against St. Joe’s Prep and 15 points vs Lansdale Catholic. In the front court, 6-7 sophomore Anthony Lilley, who had 13 points against Neumann-Goretti, should take a major step forward after success in year one.

The biggest addition to the Crusaders may be 6-4 junior guard Kyle Jones Jr., Diggins’ cousin and a transfer from Langston Hughes (Ga.). He had 23 points in a game against Troup County last season and holds offers from DePaul and Virginia Tech. Roantree noted that “he might be one of the better passers that I’ve coached” but also “has the ability to score 25 or 30 points.” Father Judge will welcome several Bishop McDevitt players to its rotation in 6-4 junior guard Paul King, 6-4 junior forward Tearran Peete and 6-foot junior guard Nolan Waldon.

King figures to be in the mix for a starting spot and “I think Paul is going to be one of our top players” and “he’s scratching the surface of what he can do,” as Roantree stressed. Peete will play a role similar to the one former Archbishop Wood forward Rob Jackson, now playing football at Cincinnati, did. Waldon is a “great shooter” and “will give us minutes off the bench.” The final transfer is 6-3 sophomore guard Laquan Byrd, who was part of Constitution’s run to the 2021 PIAA Class 2A title game, and “he’s going to be a big piece of us,” Roantree states.

Jason Fisher and Devon Prep (9-5, 9-4) will no longer be catching an opponent by surprise after making the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals for the first time in school history in only its third year since coming over from the Bicentennial Athletic League. After winning five league games in their first two seasons, the Tide won nine a season ago and have put the other programs on notice.

Fisher has prepared his team for several years on what to expect and how to handle whereas now they have become the enforcer.

“This is our first go-around in the Catholic League where we know what to expect,” Fisher said. “During our first year, we had no idea. This is our first year where we’ll have [city championships.] I know we had it the first year but realistically we had to learn everything about District 12. We’re approaching the nonleague schedule as almost like scrimmages for the league itself.”

Four-year starter Eamon Walsh and sharpshooter Chris Patton are playing at Kings College and forward Mike Ferry has also moved on. A year after transferring from West Chester Rustin, 6-2 senior guard IV Pettit returns after avg. 14.2 ppg and being named First Team All-Catholic. He hit 29 three-pointers and has scored 1,073 career points in three high-school seasons.

“Last year was tough with transferring in but he has settled in and become who he really is as a person and a basketball player,” according to Fisher.

Allen Cieslak, a 6-2 senior guard and Susquehanna University commit, avg. 4.0 ppg but “will be another huge piece this year,” per Fisher. He transferred in prior to his junior season from Haverford High and should be a terrific second option to Pettit.

Fellow senior guard Jake Kenney will be called upon to provide leadership. Ty Mishock, the 5-8 sophomore guard, made his presence felt in year one avg. 8.7 points and 3.1 assists. He hit 21 treys and shot 42.9 percent from behind the arc. He led the Tide with 14 points in the semifinal loss to Roman Catholic.


Lucas Orchard is one of the most versatile players in the Philadelphia Catholic League. The 6-4 junior forward avg. 7.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.6 steals. He hit 13 three-pointers and his 37 steals were good for third in the league. “He absolutely has the potential to score 20 points a game and he has so many intangibles that make him effective,” as Fisher notes. Another versatile player is 6-4 junior lefty Jacen Holloway, who Fisher stressed “is going to be a tough matchup.” He scored 16 points against Archbishop Wood last year. Fisher is very high on 6-4 freshman forward Zane Conlon, who will compete for minutes down low.

Two seasons ago, Ryan Nemetz led Cardinal O’Hara (3-10, 2-10) to its first winning league record since 2001 with a postseason berth to top it off. With their four-guard offense, the Lions took the league by storm but with some many key players having moved on, they took a step back a season ago. Big man Jax Trickey is playing at Marymount University while Adrian Irving and Trey Roberts also moved on.

Nemetz is overseeing a young but extremely talented group and, if all goes well, they could duplicate the results from 2019.

“Despite the challenges of last year, we benefited a lot from our younger guys playing so much,” Nemetz said. “Experience is the best teacher for them. They know the offense and small details on adjustments we make. I’m anticipating we will make a jump like we did two years ago.”

Several sophomores figure into the rotation this season. Hunter Johnson, a 6-2 sophomore guard, started as a freshman. He avg. 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds with his best game being a 20-point contest against Conwell-Egan. “He has the size and physicality to get to the rim and be a more, well-rounded lead guard in our system,” according to Nemetz. Another guard, 6-4 sophomore Amir Speights, also started in his first season. He avg. 8.8 points and 3.2 rebounds with a 22-point game vs. Neumann-Goretti. “After playing so much varsity time, he has added pieces to his game,” per Nemetz. While he played sparingly, Pearse McGuinn, a 6-6 sophomore guard, should see extended playing time and be the anchor of the defense. Nemetz noted that “he could have the most upside out of this group due to his size, length and shooting ability.”

Izaiah Pasha enters as one of the most impactful juniors in the league this season. The 6-5 guard from Central Dauphin East had 14 points in a game against Carlisle last year and holds an offer from Siena. ““He’s a game charger from a talent perspective,” as Nemetz states. Massai Harris, a 6-foot senior guard who avg. 8.8 ppg, can be a lethal scoring threat and “his speed in the open court is unmatched.” Josh Coulanges, the 6-1 junior guard, led the Lions in scoring (10.9 ppg) in his first season after transferring in from Trenton Catholic (N.J.). He had 20 points against Archbishop Carroll followed by 21 vs. St. Joe’s Prep in back-to-back games.


Other options for Nemetz include 6-foot sophomore guard Zuri Harris, Massai’s younger brother, Christian Cervello, a 6-2 junior guard, Kory Jones, a 5-11 sophomore guard who saw action in six games, and 6-3 freshman guard Brendan Horan, who will see the floor in year one.

Miguel Bocachica enters his fourth season with the freshmen class that came in when he started as seniors. Two years ago, West Catholic (7-5, 6-4) advanced to the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs for the first time since 2014 then last season it finished with a winning record in league play for the first time since 2009. The Burrs lost one starter in Eric Chamberlain, who led the team with 11.7 ppg and is now playing at Albright College. One player who transferred was Anthony Finkley, who is playing at Huntington Prep (W. Va.). Otherwise, everyone else returns on a team loaded with talent and postseason aspirations.

While the Burrs haven’t been to the league semifinals since 1999, Bocachica, who won two state titles as a player at Imhotep under Andre Noble, wants this team to relish the opportunity to achieve something they never have before but understand what it takes to get there.

“I’ve been trying to lead by example,” Bocachica said. “It starts with me and I don’t get wrapped up in it. I’m pushing them harder than I ever have and holding them accountable in the same exact way. They’ve all taken steps forward as players. The expectations are something we’re embracing but we do want to stay as humble as possible.”

Everything starts with twin brothers Kaseem and Kareem Watson, both of whom are committed to Cal State Bakersfield. The 6-7 senior forwards have been members of the rotation for four years and enter their third season as starters. Kaseem avg. 9.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists while Kareem 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds last season. Kaseem poured in 17 points against St. Joe's Prep. “They’ve always been part of a team that consists of equal opportunity” and “they’re prime examples of what we’re trying to do here,” according to Bocachica.

Nasir Griffin, who avg. 8.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks, also adds size and versatility on the perimeter. The 6-7 senior forward is committed to East Stroudsburg. He can light it up like he did with a 23-point outburst vs. the Hawks. “He has the most mileage and been through everything. It’s all about winning,” per Bocachica.

West Catholic senior forward Kareem Watson is a key returner for the Burrs - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Kaseem Watson (Kareem's twin) is also a key senior returner for West Catholic - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Adam “Budd” Clark, who avg. 4.9 points and 2.4 steals per game, returns at point guard. “He holds the keys for us” and “has made everyone else’s lives easier,” as Bocachica notes. Zion Stanford (7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Marcus Branker Jr. (3.5 points, 3.0 rebounds), both 6-5 junior wings with offers from Bryant University, will be key to the Burrs success. Stanford, who has started in various games since his freshman year, “is starting to put it together as far as what kind of player he is.” He had 11 points against Math, Civics & Sciences in the PIAA District 12-3A title game. Branker scored 10 points vs. the Vikings last year.

A vital addition was Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui, a 6-3 junior guard who transferred in from Sankofa Freedom. He avg. 11 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals and helped the Sankofa reach the Public League semifinals. Bocachica calls him “a perfect fit” for this team and system. A few freshmen should see time, particularly 6-6 wing Isaac Cole, 5-9 guard Naseem Perez and 6-5 forward Jaden Banner. Cole “has been very impressive since he’s been around” and “he’s in the mold of a lot of the other guys.”

Archbishop Ryan (12-6, 8-4) put together the best season in school history in 2020-21 with its run to the PIAA Class 5A title game, their first state title game in program history, before falling to Cathedral Prep. Add that to the Raiders fourth Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal appearance in six seasons and head coach Joe Zeglinski, in his sixth year, has turned his alma mater into one of the best in the area. Led by Pa. All-State Class 5A Player of the Year Aaron Lemon-Warren, who is doing a prep year at Mt. Zion Prep (Md.), Christian Tomasco (Hofstra University) and Dominic Vazquez (Arcadia University), the Raiders made an incredible run through the state tournament, which included a semifinal victory over Chester at the Clip Joint.

Zeglinski reflected on the historic season and what the returning players can take from that memorable run.

“It all came together at the end of last season,” Zeglinski said. “Our goal was to win a championship and while we fell just short, I couldn’t be more proud of the resiliency of that group with what they went through the last two years. Those guys are going to be missed and the young guys learned a lot from last year in how to be resilient.”

Luke Boyd is one of two starters returning from last season. The 6-1 senior guard who holds an offer from West Chester avg. 9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while nailing 37 three-pointers. While known for his shooting ability, “he’s starting to use his athleticism to his advantage getting to the rim, at the defensive end and getting out on the break,” according to Zeglinski. Jalen Snead, the 6-3 senior guard, is the other returning starter and one of the best lockdown defenders in the league. After avg. 7.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.8 steals as a junior, “we’re going to have the ball in his hands a lot more this year, as Zeglinski notes.

Following in a line of versatile big men under Zeglinski that includes Matiss Kulackovskis (Bowling Green), Gediminas Mokseckas (Campbell), Lemon-Warren and Tomasco, 6-9 sophomore Thomas Sorber may be the most evolved at this stage in his career. The Trenton Catholic transfer has terrific touch around the rim, can control the glass at both ends, block shots and occasionally step out to hit the three. Zeglinski raves that “he has great hands and feet and has been a really good teammate. Eventually, he’s going to be a big-time recruit.”


Jalen Snead (#13) is another key senior leader for Archbishop Ryan - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert

The difference maker for the Raiders may be 6-4 sophomore guard Darren Williams. The lefty appeared in 13 games as a freshman and moves to the starting lineup in year two. He possesses much of the game that Iowa State standout Izaiah Brockington once did. “He plays above his age with a lot of poise,” Zeglinski stressed.

David Wise, a 6-foot senior, is a strong defensive player and will provide depth off the bench. Michael Paris, a 5-11 junior guard, avg. 3.7 ppg last season but “you’re going to see him breakout this year. He’s going to play like a starter and he’s a spark off the bench,” per Zeglinski. Jaden Murray, a 6-6 sophomore forward who had nine points against Cardinal O’Hara, will come in when Archbishop Ryan wants to play with a smaller lineup.

Carl Arrigale, the longest tenured head coach in the Philadelphia Catholic League at 23 seasons, is coming off a season where Neumann-Goretti (4-6, 4-6) missed the league semifinals for the first time since 2018. A talented senior class consisting of Hysier Miller (Temple), Zaakir Williamson (University of Buffalo), Chris Evans (Claflin University), Blaise Vespe, who is doing a prep year at IMG Academy (Fla.), and Solo Bambara, who is playing football at Buffalo, have moved on. Miller, the Pa. All-State Class 3A Player of the Year, avg. 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.9 steals and was a starter of the 2019 Philadelphia Catholic League title team. Evans was one of the most prolific shooters in the area having hit 143 three-pointers in the last three seasons.

Senior guard Masud Stewart (#4) will be an "unquestionable leader" according to head coach Carl Arrigale - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Neumann-Goretti junior Shawn Battle (#5) is taking his talents from the gridiron to the court - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

It’s not so much a rebuild for Arrigale because this year’s team is loaded with talent at multiple positions but the lack of experience will be something to watch.

“This group really didn’t get a chance to know what it’s like to play in those games,” Arrigale said. “We have some talent running around in our gym but how are they going to react in certain situations will be determined. They lack a little maturity, which is understandable, and we have to block out the outside noise.”

Leadership will be provided by 6-1 senior guard Masud Stewart, who holds offers from Wagner, Holy Cross, Rider and St. Peter’s. He avg. 9.5 ppg as a junior. “He was a contributor on the 2019 Catholic League title team” and “he has to be a trendsetter and the unquestioned leader,” according to Arrigale. Aamir Hurst, a 6-1 senior guard who saw action last year, will finally get his shot to contribute. Bruce Smith, a 6-1 junior guard, “has been the biggest pleasant surprise” and “has finally put it all together,” Arrigale noted. Shawn Battle, the 5-11 junior lefty who avg. 3.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, is back after helping the Neumann-Goretti football program reach the PIAA Class 3A semifinals. He had three rushing touchdowns on the year. Bruce Smith: 6-1 junior guard. “Has been the biggest pleasant surprise” and “has finally put it all together.”

The Saints welcome two new additions to the rotation in Great Britain native Sultan Adewale, the 6-8 junior forward who transferred in from St. Louis Christian Academy (Mo.). He posted 29 points and nine rebounds against USBA N3XT Select (Ore.) last year. He holds offers from Memphis, Rutgers, Georgia Tech, Washington and DePaul while also receiving interest from Kentucky. “The fact that he does play with energy and aggression is good because he can go get his own sometimes,” as Arrigale describes. Luke Bevilacqua, a 6-10 sophomore forward, comes over from St. Augustine Prep (N.J.). While still young and raw, “his touch around the rim and on his jump shot has gotten better” and “his ceiling is very high,” Arrigale said.

The strength of the Saints is in their sophomore class. Robert Wright III, the 6-foot guard, avg. 5.9 ppg and had 13 points against Lansdale Catholic as a freshman. He holds offers from Wichita State, Wake Forest, Seton Hall and La Salle. He has a little Tyreek Duren in him but he’s a better shooter at this stage in his career,” Arrigale said. Backcourt mate Khaafiq Myers, the 5-11 guard who holds offers from Wichita State, Temple, Binghamton and North Texas, is a “great penetrator and distributor as well as a much improved shooter.” Amir Williams, an athletic, 6-5 wing with offers from Wichita State and Binghamton, “can be an outstanding defender” but “we have to unlock his potential,” Arrigale stressed.

Chris McNesby is back for round two at Roman Catholic (10-2, 9-1) after a five-year hiatus. He went 168-56 with two Philadelphia Catholic League and PIAA Class 4A titles behind Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostick and Lamar Stevens, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers. McNesby takes over for Matt Griffin, who won a pair of league titles and a PIAA 6A crown before taking an assistant coaching position at Albany. The Cahillites, who own the most Philadelphia Catholic League titles all-time with 32, have played in the last four championship games and it’s McNesby’s hope that he can duplicate his success despite a prolonged layoff.

“It’s been a few months since I’ve been back but a lot of former players always come through, watch practice and work out with the guys over the summer,” McNesby said. “This group is starting to get the sense of the tradition and not going off what they’ve heard. Some of the guys from last year’s team didn’t even take a shot in our gym.”

Cincinnati commit Daniel Skillings Jr. leads the way after avg. 19.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season. The 6-6 senior forward had eight 20-point games and three double-doubles. “He really wants to be good” and “he realizes to play at the next level he needs to be ready,” according to McNesby. Hofstra commit Khalil Farmer poured in 22 points in the league title game against Archbishop Wood. The 6-4 senior guard avg. 19.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. Additionally, he hit 20 three-pointers while shooting 42.6 percent from behind the arc. “He can make shots and score at different levels” and “rebounds well for a guard,” McNesby notes.

Xzayvier Brown heads into his third consecutive season as a starter. The 6-1 junior guard, who holds offers from Marquette, VCU, St. Joe’s, Drexel, Cleveland State and Fordham, avg. 10.1 points and 6.9 assists per game. His 83 assists were third-most in the Philadelphia Catholic last year. “He’s starting to feel more explosive and defensively he’s starting to get into that end of the floor,” McNesby described. Matija Radunovic, the 6-6 senior forward from Montenegro, “got to Roman late so for him, it’s about getting adjusted to American basketball then Roman Catholic basketball so it was a big adjustment for him,” McNesby said. He avg. 5.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in his first season with the team. Quadir Brown, a 6-2 senior guard who has been a member of the program for three seasons, is someone McNesby sees having an opportunity to make a big leap. “If he gets healthy, he’s going to add a lot to our depth and what we’re doing.”

Senior Cincinnati commit Daniel Skillings Jr. (#0) will pave the way for the Cahillites this season - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Xzayvier Brown (#1) will be a key junior returner for Roman Catholic - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Toby Ojukwu, a 6-foot sophomore guard with an offer from Manhattan, played in 12 games with three starts as a freshman. “He’s physical and he’s going to be a really good guard in our league for the next few years,” McNesby stressed. The Cahillites welcome 6-7 freshman forward Shareef Jackson, the son of former Roman Catholic and Temple standout Marc Jackson who played seven seasons in the NBA, to the mix. McNesby indicated that “he’s as coachable as you would imagine with a great basketball IQ and he’s a truly cerebral player.” Kyree Womack, a 5-8 sophomore guard who transferred in from Chester, will also be part of the rotation. He had seven points in the Clippers District 1-5A title victory over West Chester Rustin then hit three clutch free throws to force overtime against Crestwood in the state quarterfinals.

Mike McKee and La Salle (9-5, 8-5) return almost its entire core group from a team that nearly advanced to the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals. McKee led the Explorers to the title game in his first season and has a wealth of talent on his roster back. Charles Ireland is now a walk-on at La Salle University while a pair of guards in Jackson Conroy and Connor Donahue also moved on.

A former two-time Philadelphia Catholic League champion at Roman Catholic as a player, McKee has a loaded roster with a year of experience, and, while it was relatively short, it has added to their hunger.

“Our guys care and they put a lot of time into it,” McKee said. “At the same time, they understand how talented some of these teams are up and down the Catholic League. I think for us it’s about being consumed with our development as a program and not about who’s coming and going at other schools. That’s where we have to put our focus and our guys are doing a good job of that. The more we can focus on ourselves and grow, who knows what can happen.”

Rutgers football commit Sam Brown was a member of that team that advanced to the title game in 2019. The 6-2 senior guard avg. 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a junior. “He’s a leader by action” and “he’ll be vocal as needed but he’s more about getting things done,” according to McKee. He also rushed for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. His backcourt mate, Nix Varano, avg. 12.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. The 6-2 senior guard and Army commit nailed 37 three-pointers, tied for the fourth-most in the league a year ago.

Horace Simmons burst onto the scene as a sophomore by hitting six three-pointers in the season against Neumann-Goretti. The 6-6 junior forward avg. 12.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks and holds offers from Marquette, St. Joe’s, Richmond, Penn, Drexel, Albany and Fairfield. He hit 22 three-pointers and shot 51.2 percent from deep. McKee notes that “he’s an extremely hard worker and he acknowledges his weaknesses.” Chris Williams, whose father, Dan, was a longtime head coach at Holy Family, played in 12 games last year and will start on the wing. McKee also expects major contributions from 6-foot senior guard Connor Seiberlich.

Rutgers football commit Sam Brown (#2) will be a key playmaker for the Explorers - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Nix Varano (#5), a senior committed to Army, is La Salle's 3-point weapon - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

In the front court, 6-8 junior forward Caleb Bryant, who earned his first Division I offer from Delaware State this summer, will start in the middle after a strong season of development followed by an impressive AAU season with Team Final alongside Howard, Imhotep Charter’s Justin Edwards and Rahmir Barno, Reading’s Ruben Rodriguez and George School’s Kachi Nzeh. “It’s about catching, finishing and rebounding for him,” as McKee notes. Anthony Rivers, a 6-6 senior forward, and Tim Jennings, a 6-7 junior forward, “provide good depth and size.” Rivers is “a very good decision maker and gets his teammates involved.”

Jason Harrigan took the job at St. Joe’s Prep (3-11, 3-10) in June 2020 and had to navigate not only a brand-new position but also keep his new roster of players afloat until a season was unveiled. Richard Thomas is playing at Del-Val University, J.P. Egan is playing at Mount Saint Mary College and Jimmy King, who avg. 20.4 ppg in eight games, is playing baseball at Holy Cross. After taking over for legendary coach William “Speedy” Morris, Harrigan, the former head coach at Del-Val Charter and Cardinal O’Hara now has a full offseason of working with the team and that should greatly benefit this crop of Hawks.

Harrigan’s second season begins with a very young team but the talent and untapped potential are there. He’s hoping to unleash that.

#11 Jaiden Vargas is the standout senior leader for St. Joseph's Prep - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister

“We’re going to get better every day but a big thing we work on is their spirit and ensuring they control the things that they can,” Harrigan said. “They’re a tight-knit group who work together and, while they may have highs and lows, I want them to be there to support each other when they’re going through those lows. This is a journey and that they’re going to lead on each other at times.”

The leader of the group is 6-1 senior Jaiden Vargas who avg. 6.1 points and 2.0 steals while making nine starts. “He’s an unbelievable leader” and “he’s going to end up getting some serious college interest from a lot of the local schools,” according to Harrigan. Two seniors in 6-4 guard Ethan Bird and 6-3 guard Thomas Hart, who avg. 3.2 ppg last season and will be a knockdown shooter, should provide leadership and stability.

Tristen Guillouette comes over from Life Center Academy (N.J.) and immediately fills a void in the middle of the Hawks lineup. The 6-9 sophomore forward had 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against Sinai Christian (N.J.) last season and burst onto the scene at Philly Live over the summer. “He’s coming into a space where all eyes are on him and he’s going to get a lot of attention,” Harrigan noted. Luke Brown, a 6-8 sophomore forward who transferred in from Salesianum (Del.), is “going to start at times for us” and “gives us some versatility,” per Harrigan. Jackson Gaffney, a 6-6 junior forward and strong lacrosse player, transferred in from the Haverford School and should be a solid inside-outside threat. Jalen Harper, a 6-3 sophomore guard who played JV last season, should be a key contributor.

The Hawks welcome two players with deep ties to Philadelphia basketball lore. Olin Chamberlain Jr., a 5-11 freshman, will start at point guard. He’s the grandnephew of the late NBA Hall of Famer and 76ers legend Wilt Chamberlain. Harrigan stated that “he’s poised and it feels like he’s been there before. I’m trying to get him to learn the position of point guard and evolve his leadership.” Jaron McKie, a 6-1 freshman, is the son of former NBA Sixth Man of the Year and Temple head coach Aaron McKie. He will start opposite Chamberlain. “He’s going to be a really good player. He’s grown physically and his game has grown. He comes in with a load of talent and can do a lot of different things,” as Harrigan described.

The non-league slate is back and the uncertainty and dread of a monumental 2020-21 season has subsided. The attention of the Philadelphia Catholic League programs shifts to completing a full season and an eventual return to fabled Palestra to crown the next champion. A sense of normalcy has returned and, for a league with as much upside and talent across the board, this may be anything but a normal season.