Photos: Kathy Leister, Donna Eckert, Krystal Williams & James Quinn
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Catholic League boys season began eerily similar as it did last season filled with cancellations and postponements. A year after playing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, key nonleague tournaments and invitationals were canceled. Huge matchups on the opening night of the season such as La Salle-Cardinal O’Hara and contests between Neumann-Goretti and Bonner-Prendergast as well as Devon Prep and Conwell-Egan were postponed.
The first slate of league games on Jan. 7 saw the postponements of even more games, this time as a result of poor weather conditions with the first snowfall of the year hitting the area hard. The marquee matchup between Neumann-Goretti and West Catholic was moved to Jan. 25. Archbishop Wood-Archbishop Carroll was postponed as was St. Joe’s Prep-Archbishop Ryan.
It’s another year where teams are going to have to be flexible and roll with the punches as games will be moved but the goal of getting a full league slate followed by a return to the fabled Palestra in February is the driving force within each program. Playing all 13 league games to determine the 10-team playoff field is what the league wants to bring back and reignite those fierce quarterfinal match-ups to determine a trip to the Palestra. That hunger and grit that some teams did not get to wholly experience a season ago have returned and then some.
Through the first week of action, here is what we have learned (Jan. 3 - Jan. 9):
A year after arguably the most successful season in program history, the Raiders are rolling out of the gate. After beginning the season 7-1 in non-league play, Archbishop Ryan handled rival Father Judge, 69-59 behind a career-high 31 points from senior guard Luke Boyd. One of two returning starters from last year’s run to the PIAA Class 5A title game, Boyd has been sensational for the Raiders and helped turn the tide as the Crusaders jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter. Known early in his career for his shooting (20 three-pointers through Jan.9), he has evolved into a terrific all-around player by facilitating the basketball and locking in on the defensive end.
Darren Williams has emerged as one of the best newcomers in the Philadelphia Catholic League. The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard played sparingly as a freshman but has taken the league by storm, avg. 12.6 points per game through the first nine games. The versatile lefty had 18 points and five rebounds against the Crusaders. Down low, Thomas Sorber, who earned an offer from Georgetown earlier this season, has been an absolute force. The 6-9 sophomore has terrific footwork and a nice touch around the rim. He had 11 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and seven blocks against the undersized front line of Father Judge.
Head coach Joe Zeglinski has propelled the Raiders to four league semifinal appearances in the last six seasons and his group looks primed to make another deep run in the postseason yet again. With fellow returning starter Jalen Snead and 6-6 sophomore Jaden Murray, Archbishop Ryan are off to an impressive start.
The Tide has turned in the Tide’s favor and that is putting it lightly. A season after making its first Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal appearance in program history, Devon Prep is not a one season wonder for a variety of reasons.
The Tide ran out to a 6-1 record in nonleague play which included a colossal win over defending PIAA Class 6A champion, Reading. Lucas Orchard was filling up the stat sheet as well as anyone last season and he has taken that a step further as a junior. The 6-4 forward had 19 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the Tide’s 94-65 victory over Conwell-Egan. Susquehanna University commit Allen Cieslak poured in a career-high 29 points, including five three-pointers, to go along with four boards and five assists. Junior Jacen Holloway and sophomore Ty Mishock added 16 points apiece for Devon Prep.
The Tide received a strong test from Lansdale Catholic but prevailed, 60-54 behind Orchard’s 15 points, three rebounds and two assists. Cieslak had 14 points, Mishock chipped in 11 and Holloway nearly had a double-double with 12 points, nine boards, two assists and three steals. The scoring balance was even more impressive when factoring in senior guard IV Pettit (12.7 ppg) missed both of the first two league games.
Jason Fisher’s team is taking what it learned from a season that almost never happened and it is learning what it takes to win. They will face a major test on Friday night against defending league champion, Archbishop Wood.
When Chris Roantree took over, the Crusaders faithful were anxiously waiting for the talent to develop and the wins to start piling up but they could not have predicted it would have happened so soon. With quality wins over Bensalem and Abington in non-league play, Father Judge is looking for a return to the postseason.
Taking what he has learned as coach with Archbishop Wood under John Mosco as well as his tenure with Team Final on the Nike EYBL circuit, Roantree has instilled confidence in this young but talented group of Crusaders. Junior guard Kyle Jones Jr., cousin of former Archbishop Wood standout Rahsool Diggins, has been an impact transfer. Despite the loss to the Raiders, Jones hit four three-pointers on his way to a team-high 19 points and added six rebounds. Then, he had 13 points in a 64-33 win over Lansdale Catholic.
Another nice addition has been 6-3 junior guard Ernest Shelton, who came over from Bishop McDevitt. He scored 10 points against Archbishop Ryan then followed that up with 21 points versus Lansdale Catholic, where he sank five three-pointers. After not seeing much time during his time with the Royal Lancers, Shelton is thriving under Roantree.
The Crusaders had plenty of help returning from Sean Tait’s final season in Jalen Flowers, Jordan Rhinehart and Anthony Lilley. Flowers, the 6-2 senior guard, and Rhinehart, the 5-11 senior guard, have been phenomenal leaders in showing the newer players how to compete and buy into Roantree’s system. Lilley, the 6-7 sophomore big man, went toe to toe with Sorber tallying 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks then had a fantastic 16-point, eight-rebound outing against Lansdale.
Roantree’s philosophy is paying dividends immediately at Father Judge and that could mean big things ahead.
The anticipation of what the Burrs could be has been building for four seasons and it may officially be materializing. West Catholic finished its early non-league slate unscathed then turned in a dominant 80-34 win over Lansdale Catholic.
Cal State Bakersfield commit Kareem Watson led the way with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and five steals while Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui, a Sankofa Freedom transfer, added 12 points and seven assists. Adam “Budd” Clark and Zion Stanford had 11 points apiece for the Burrs.
They continued their dominance in a 75-55 triumph over La Salle as six players scored in double figures in Wilbanks-Acqui (17), Clark (14 points), Kaseem Watson (11), Stanford (11), Marcus Branker Jr. (10) and East Stroudsburg commit Nasir Griffin (10).
The corps of the Watson twins and Griffin have been integral parts of the rotation since their freshman year and the development of Stanford and Branker has been systemic to the growth of the West Catholic program.
Clark, an electric floor general who can score and distribute as well as point guard in the Philadelphia Catholic League, transferred in last season from Boys’ Latin and has helped take the offense to the next level. Wilbanks-Acqui may be the missing piece to bring everything together. The Burrs have been waiting for this moment and they appear ready to seize it.
- Sultan Adewale has been a great addition to the Neumann-Goretti roster. The 6-8 junior forward was a perfect 8-for-8 from the floor on his way to 17 points. He continues a long line of versatile forwards with size and athleticism such as Cameron Young (Bowling Green) and Jordan Hall (St. Joe’s) to name a few.
- St. Joe’s Prep has found its next premiere big man in 6-9 sophomore Tristen Guillouette. The Life Center Academy (N.J.) transfer has had opposing forwards keying on him but that has stopped him from excelling at both ends. The Hawks center had nine points, eight rebounds and a block in a loss to Archbishop Carroll then came back with a 16-point, six-rebound, four-block performance in a 66-48 win over Conwell-Egan.
- Lansdale Catholic has struggled to begin the season but one player who has been a consistent bright spot is senior guard Jake Coonahan. He poured in 10 points in the loss to the Burrs then avg. 7.5 ppg over two games against Devon Prep and Father Judge.
- Another Boys’ Latin transfer is making a name for himself at Conwell-Egan. Niame Scott has been a breakout scorer for the Eagles, scoring 20 or more points in four non-league games. The 6-1 junior combo guard had 13 points, six rebounds and seven assists in a loss to the Tide, then hit three three-pointers and finished with 21 points as Conwell-Egan fell to the Hawks.
- Sam Brown may be committed to play football at Rutgers, but he is making every minute of his final season of high school basketball count at La Salle College HS. The 6-2 senior guard and two-year starter had a game-high 20 points and five boards against the Burrs. He has scored in double figures in every game through Jan. 9 with three 20-point outings.
- Bonner-Prendergast has seen some changes on its roster over the last two seasons, but a welcoming presence has been 6-4 senior guard Shakur Smith, who came over from Imhotep Charter where he was a member of the 2021 Philadelphia Public League champion. He had 12 points, six rebounds and two steals against the Saints followed by a double-double with 18 points and 11 boards against Roman Catholic.
Devon Prep (2-0)
Roman Catholic (2-0)
West Catholic (2-0)
Archbishop Carroll (1-0)
Archbishop Ryan (1-0)
Archbishop Wood (1-0)
Father Judge (1-1)
St. Joe’s Prep (1-1)
La Salle (0-1)
Cardinal O’Hara (0-2)
Lansdale Catholic (0-3)
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