Photos: Krystal Williams, James Williamson, Dan Hilferty, James Quinn, Mike Nance, Kathy Leister & Ryan Nix
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – Carl Arrigale has followed a simple philosophy when preparing new players to enter the program. He rarely plays freshmen because they’re inexperienced and need to prove themselves. When taking into account the longtime Neumann-Goretti head coach has won a Philadelphia Catholic League all-time record 12 titles and a Pa. record nine state crowns, it’s safe to say he knows a few things about getting players primed for success and giving them more responsibility in a system that demands it.
The league’s all-time leading scorer, Ja’Quan Newton, who amassed an astounding 1,972 career points alongside with four Philadelphia Catholic League and three state titles, and Tony Chennault, a 1,000-point scorer with two league and a state title to his name, were two of notable exceptions that saw expansive time in their inaugural seasons. Robert Wright III avg. 5.9 points per game playing alongside Hysier Miller (Temple), Blaise Vespe (Florida Gulf Coast) and Zaakir Williamson (Buffalo) as a freshman and appears to be following a similar path as Newton and Chennault.
Arrigale is one of the best talent evaluators and developers Pa. high school has ever seen and he knew immediately that Wright possessed the skillset and mental fortitude to take off running from the start.
“Rob was ready to play when he walked in the door,” Arrigale said. “He could do it and a lot of kids can’t. It has nothing to do with ability and there are freshmen playing all over the place, but that’s not our program. For us to play young players, we have to make sure they’re ready. For him to emerge the way he did, he became our quiet leader.”
Robert Wright III has a 30-point game against Dallas in the PIAA 4A semifinals. - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Wright was named Pa. All-State Class 4A Player of the Year after leading Neumann-Goretti (23-4, 10-3 Philadelphia Catholic League) to its first league title since 2020 and the first state title since 2018. The 6-foot sophomore guard avg. 19.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals while making 57 three-pointers this season but he was one of the best players in the state after the regular season ended. He avg. 21.8 ppg during the postseason, which began in a quarterfinal matchup against La Salle and ended in Hershey with a victory over Quaker Valley. He had 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists in that state final, which was preceded by a 30-point game against Dallas in the semifinals. In addition to hitting seven three-pointers in the semis, he became the first Neumann-Goretti player with a 30-point game in the state playoffs since Zane Martin poured in 33 against Mars in the 2016 PIAA 3A title game.
For Wright, his emergence in big games wasn’t something he foresaw but he sensed this Saints team could be as good as those of the past with his cohesiveness and camaraderie.
“I said at the beginning of the year that we could do what we did this year because we were a tight-knit group and did everything together,” Wright said. “We were like a family and bonded together well. It really helped us a lot.”
Neumann-Goretti head coach Carl Arrigale with sophomore point guard Khaafiq Meyers - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
He had 20 points and eight assists in his first career playoff game against the Explorers then tallied 20 more in his first game at the Palestra, a 62-60 win over top-seeded Roman Catholic. He closed out the Philadelphia Catholic League season by securing a title with a four-point win over Archbishop Ryan and finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. He was named First Team All-Catholic, becoming the first Neumann-Goretti sophomore to be named first team since Quade Green in 2015. He holds offers from Syracuse, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Wichita State, Seton Hall, VCU, Wake Forest, La Salle and Delaware State.
Wright’s stoic demeanor allows him to remain in the moment and Arrigale notes that he never seems phased by what is transpiring on the court, whether good or bad.
“The biggest thing about Rob is he’s just the same every day,” Arrigale said. “He just gets to work and loves to play basketball. You never have to worry about him, and I always know what I’m getting from him. His consistency and attitude are unbelievable, and it really shows in his play.”
Miller was named Class 4A Player of the Year last year and Wright succeeded him as the next Neumann-Goretti player to receive the honor. Wright wasn’t expecting this award, but he was anticipating taking home some hardware this season.
“I was expecting to win all this but to do it really felt good,” Wright said. “I want to do it all again next year.”
Wright was one of six double-figure scorers in that state final along with Holy Family commit Aamir Hurst (22 points), Bruce Smith (14), Khaafiq Myers (12), Masud Stewart (10) and Sultan Adewale (10). Wright’s backcourt mate Myers (9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists & 2.7 steals) was instrumental in the Philadelphia Catholic League title with 15 points, but it was the first time at the Palestra for both young guards while Stewart was making his second trip. The 6-1 senior guard and Binghamton commit avg. 11.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 43 percent from the field and making 45 three-pointers this season. The Second Team All-State selection was a member of the 2020 team led by Jordan Hall (St. Joe’s), Cameron Young (St. Peter’s) and Hakim Byrd that captured a league title before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the state tournament. He had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in the state title and 25 points versus West Philadelphia in the District 12-4A title game.
Arrigale stressed that Stewart’s experience from that 2020 season was indispensable for this year’s corps.
“He was a role guy on that team, but he did play and had a role,” Arrigale said. “He was our seventh man and played in important games. The fact that he was part of that and tasted it is important, especially the Palestra. To have him there to explain to the other guys what that was going to be like and get them ready was really good.”
Adewale may be the most versatile big to come through the Neumann-Goretti program under Arrigale. The 6-8 junior forward and First Team All-State emigrated from London and has become a force in the paint. He avg. 11.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, and shot 58 percent from the field this season. In addition to those 10 points, he had seven rebounds and four blocks against Quaker Valley. He was dominant vs. Dallas with a 13-point, 19-rebound and three-block performance. He shined at the Palestra going against 6-9 Archbishop Ryan big man Thomas Sorber with 15 points, 13 boards and five rejections. He holds offers from Memphis, West Virginia, DePaul, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Rutgers and Washington.
He added a different dimension to this team and Arrigale feels he can still get better heading into his senior season.
“He did give us something that we haven’t had, and if you look back at that 2020 team, we didn’t have a shot blocker that year,” Arrigale said. “We had a bunch of guys with size who could play and Blaise [Vespe] was kind of like our shot blocker. We didn’t have a guy that could straight on defend at the rim for us like Sultan did for us this year. His upside is even greater and he’s going to be terrific next year.”
Archbishop Carroll (15-11, 5-8) was one game away from meeting Neumann-Goretti in the state final. After falling to Devon Prep in the first round of the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs, the Patriots regrouped and put together a terrific run reaching the 4A semifinals. The focal reason for that was 6-4 sophomore guard Moses Hipps, who was named First Team All-State after making second team as a freshman. He avg. 18.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists while making 76 three-pointers this season.
Head coach Francis Bowe laid out the expectations for Hipps from the moment he arrived on campus. While it can be a daunting task in front of Hipps, Bowe emphasized that this sophomore, who holds offers from St. Bonaventure, Fordham, La Salle, VCU and Temple, doesn’t play or act like one.
“A lot of coaches should be careful when saying things to a player because you don’t want to put too much pressure on them but also show them you have that full confidence,” Bowe said. “He’s a guy I knew coming in as a freshman that his work ethic was unmatched, and his skillset was there. He was shooting better than seniors in high school as an eighth grader. I knew there was something special about him.”
Hipps became the first Archbishop Carroll player to make consecutive all-state teams since Josh Sharkey in 2015 and 2016. His eight three-pointers against Neumann-Goretti in the regular season were the second-most by a Philadelphia Catholic League player in a game this season. He really turned things on during the state tournament, avg. 22.6 ppg. He had 31 points in consecutive games against Berks Catholic and Athens Area, becoming the first player in Philadelphia Catholic League history to score 30 points in consecutive state playoff games. The 31 points against Athens are most by an Archbishop Carroll player in a state playoff game since Derrick Jones Jr. had 30 vs. Neumann-Goretti in the 2015 PIAA Class 3A title game
While his shooting ability is his best attribute, he took a major step forward in year two in driving past defenders and finding ways to be effective in the lane, even if he wasn’t scoring, according to Bowe.
“He’s doing a great job of playing off two feet,” Bowe said. “He has the Villanova mentality where he will jump stop and pivot away then finish or kick out. His preparation with knowing he’s going to be guarded out on the perimeter has allowed him to add to his game and he’s done a good job of that.”
Cardinal O’Hara (14-12, 6-7) made its first-ever PIAA Tournament appearance this season and that was thanks in large part to the play of 6-5 junior guard Izaiah Pasha, who was named Second Team All-State. He avg. 17.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 51.6% from the field this season. Despite being ruled ineligible for the state tournament due to PIAA transfer rules upon transferring from Central Dauphin this offseason, Pasha became only the second Cardinal O’Hara player ever named to the all-state team and first since Antwuan Butler (NJIT) in 2018.
His scoring prowess was always on display, but it was effort at the defensive end that had head coach Ryan Nemetz excited for what he could help this group achieve.
“In the offseason, Pearson McGuinn was hurt, and Izaiah was guarding big guys,” Nemetz said. “He did a really nice job guarding around the rim and being a rebound and an inside presence. Once Pearson came back, we were able to put Izaiah as our primary perimeter, but he continued to guard guys like Dan Skillings (Roman Catholic) and the Watson twins (West Catholic). He’s very talented and his versatility on defense is terrific.”
McGuinn took control in the opening round of the state tournament (21 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks) but for much of the season, Pasha, who holds offers from St. Joe’s, Towson, and Siena, was one of the premiere insight-outside players in the area. He had 15 points and five rebounds to lead the Lions over Bonner-Prendergast in the first round of the league playoffs, the first postseason game the program has hosted since 2012. Pasha recorded a triple-double (20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) vs. Archbishop Ryan and poured in 26 points against Neumann-Goretti in the regular season.
The explosive duo of Adou Thiero and Markus Frank were both named First Team All-State while leading Quaker Valley to its first state title game since 1999 and head coach Mike Mastroianni was named Class 4A Coach of the Year. Thiero, the 6-5 senior guard who holds offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Xavier and Pittsburgh, avg. 23.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 3.9 steals and 2.3 blocks. He finishes his career with 1,624 points, third-most in program history. Frank, the 6-5 senior forward, avg. 28.1 points and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 68 percent from the field and finished his career with 1,462 points, fifth-most in program history. Thiero had 18 points, 10 boards and three blocks and Frank posted 29 points and 10 boards in the state final against Neumann-Goretti, and Quaker Valley finished 27-1 on the season.
Deyishon Miller, the 6-5 West Philadelphia guard, was named Second Team All-State after leading the Speedboys to a 21-6 record and the Philadelphia Public League semifinals. Miller, who avg. 21.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.3 steals this season and was named First Team All-Public League, and West Philadelphia hosted the first PIAA state tournament game in program history. Dinero Washington was named Third Team All-State following his tremendous season with Collegium Charter. The 5-10 junior guard avg. 17.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in leading Collegium to the Bicentennial Athletic League title and District 1-4A title, the first in program history. Washington poured in a career-high 42 points vs. Calvary Christian Academy on Feb. 1 and is already the all-time leading scorer (1,212 career points).
Robert Wright III, 6', sophomore, Neumann-Goretti (Player of the Year)
Adou Thiero, 6' 5", senior, Quaker Valley
Markus Frank, 6' 5", senior, Quaker Valley
Moses Hipps, 6' 3", sophomore, Archbishop Carroll
Sultan Adewale, 6' 8", junior, Neumann-Goretti
Trey Martin, 6' 4", senior, Boiling Springs
Brandin Cummings, 6' 2", sophomore, Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter
Izaiah Pasha, 6' 6", junior, Cardinal O'Hara
Deyishon Miller, 6' 5", senior, West Philadelphia
Austin Finarelli, 6', senior, Dallas
Masud Stewart, 6' 1", senior, Neumann-Goretti
Liam Joyce, 6' 6", senior, Allentown Central Catholic
Meleek Thomas, 6' 3", freshman, Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter
Jake Hernandez, 6' 4", senior, Lewisburg Area
Garrett Harrold, 6' 3", junior, Penn Cambria
Tyson Thomas, 6', senior, Allentown Central Catholic
Dinero Washington, 5' 10", junior, Collegium Charter
Edixon Gomez, 6' 1", senior, Bethlehem Catholic
Coach of the Year
Mike Mastroianni, Quaker Valley