Photos: Lou Rabito, Dan Hilferty, Kathy Leister, Krystal Williams
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – It was more befuddlement than shock as almost 9,000 mesmerized eyes looked on inside the Palestra.
Roman Catholic, which finished the regular season as the top seed in the Philadelphia Catholic League and suffered only one loss in league play, was sent home by Neumann-Goretti, 62-60 in what may have been the most devastating one in the career of this particular group of Cahillites. The trio of Daniel Skillings Jr., Xzayvier Brown and Khalil Farmer had taken Roman Catholic to the league title game just a year prior and fell to Archbishop Wood. This year, there would be no opportunity for a return trip and no league title for a group that appeared primed to claim one.
Head coach Chris McNesby, who returned to the sideline this season after Matt Griffin’s departure to the University of Albany, knew the season wasn’t over and he was proud of how this corps banded together in their quest to secure a coveted title.
“Once teams lose out on a championship like that, it’s really telling on what they are and what they mean to each other,” McNesby said. “These guys really came together and wanted to win their last game. They talked about winning those state games and winning that last game, which they did.”
The Cahillites won their five PIAA Class 6A Tournament games by an average of 16 points, which culminated with a 77-65 victory over Archbishop Wood at the GIANT Center in Hershey giving McNesby his third career state title and the program’s fourth all-time. Skillings, who was named Pa. All-State 6A Player of the Year, poured in 31 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the title game, becoming the first Cahillites player to score 30 points in a state championship. The 6-foot-6 senior forward and University of Cincinnati commit averaged 19.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 55 percent from the field and making 36 three-pointers. Skillings, who became the first Roman Catholic player to win all-state player of the year since Tony Carr in 2016, recorded 10 double-doubles this year and had scored 20 or more points in 22 games over the last two seasons.
For McNesby - who was the Class 6A Co-coach of the Year along with Cheltenham’s Patrick Fleury - to come back when he did in the middle of a major transition from one winning coach to another, having Skillings helped immensely in easing that move. McNesby noted that “with a guy like Dan, when he gets going there might be four or five minutes where he throws 10-12 points in a quick stretch, and you have a little bit of a lead because he played Dan Skillings basketball.” More conceptually, the Philadelphia Catholic League MVP has something few Roman Catholic players have had when it comes to being the best player out on the floor in the biggest moments.
“I think some of that, especially with Dan, Lamar [Stevens], Tony and Shep [Garner], they just love to play and compete, particularly in stretches where games are going to be won or lost,” McNesby said. “They don’t really feel the pressure; they’re just playing at a high level. Not a lot of people really have that ability, but Dan and those guys do, and they make it happen.”
Skillings posted 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Saints in the league semifinals and scored 539 points this season, becoming the first Roman Catholic player to reach 500 points in a single season since Justice Williams (LSU) had 529 in 2019-20. Prior to his two seasons at the corner of Broad & Vine, he played his freshman year at Highland (N.J.) then his sophomore season at St. Joseph’s (Hammonton, N.J.). He finished his career with 1,557 career points.
Brown was named Pa. All-State First Team following a season where he avg. 13.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.9 steals, and shot 54.2 percent from the field. The 6-1 junior guard led the Philadelphia Catholic League assists and poured in 16 points and 10 rebounds in the state final. A three-year starter with offers from USC, Marquette, Drexel, St. Joe’s, Fordham, Cleveland State and VCU, he nearly had a triple-double versus Archbishop Ryan in the regular season with 23 points, 10 boards and nine steals. Brown and Skillings became the first Roman Catholic players named first team all-state in the same season since Lynn Greer III (St. Joe’s) and Seth Lundy (Penn State) in 2018.
According to McNesby, “I thought he realized that if he could contribute with rebounding and deflections, he could create offense for us because it becomes a natural break when he does those things. When he’s in transition, he’s tremendous because he glides up the court and has great court vision.”
Farmer, who began his career at Shipley School, had 12 points and five boards in the state championship and was named All-State Second Team. The 6-4 senior guard and Hofstra commit avg. 15.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists & 1.1 steals while shooting 42.7 percent from the floor. He was the Cahillites best shooter and made 50 three-pointers at a 43.1 percent clip. He hit five treys on his way to 23 points to help fend off a ferocious comeback from Cheltenham in the state quarterfinals. He closed out his career with 1,531 career points.
“He always had the toughest matchup of everybody we played, and we really valued his ability and competitiveness to guard, which will make him a really good college player right away. He cannot only shoot it, but he really bought in defensively while realizing the importance of that,” as McNesby stated.
All three players made the all-state team for the second consecutive season as Farmer was second team while Skillings and Brown were third team a year ago. Roman Catholic (24-4, 12-1 Philadelphia Catholic League) was at its best when those three were at their best and it showed as the Cahillites were 16-2 when all scored in double figures in the same game this season.
Head coach John Mosco and Archbishop Wood (22-7, 11-2) may have lost in the state final, but the program has become one of the most consistent in Pa. ever since Collin Gillespie, Tyree Pickron (Long Island University), Andrew Funk (Penn State) and Matt Cerruti (Albany) won the program’s first state championship in 2017. Since then, Mosco has led the Vikings to three more state title appearances and this year’s team was led by All-State First Team selection and Drexel commit Justin Moore.
Moore is the latest in a string of talented point guards such as Tommy Funk, Gillespie and Rahsool Diggins, 2020-21 Class 6A Player of the Year now at UMass. The 6-2 senior guard came over to Archbishop Wood following a season at Bishop McDevitt, which closed at the end of the academic year. He had 21 points and eight assists against Roman Catholic in the title game and avg. 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists this season. Moore shot 42 percent from the field and made 30 three-pointers on the year. He poured in 26 points against Archbishop Ryan in the Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinals then led the way with 18 points vs. Reading, including nine in the fourth quarter, in the second round of the state playoffs in a rematch of the 2021 6A final. He finished his career with 1,130 points.
Mosco wants his floor generals to focus on getting others involved to set the tone. “We talk all the time about not worrying about getting yours but get everybody involved and take yours throughout the game as it comes,” he stressed. Furthermore, having a point guard who can control the game in a variety of ways helps him and everyone else out on the floor.
“It makes my job a lot easier where we don’t have to always call a play and make sure they execute everything right,” Mosco said. “You could have a broken play but they’re just talented enough to get where he has to get or find somebody for an open shot. I’ve been lucky with Tommy, Collin, Rahsool and now Justin, and it has made my job easy.”
Jalil Bethea truly emerged alongside Moore, and he did it as the Vikings sixth man. The 6-4 rangy sophomore avg. 13.7 points and 3.6 rebounds and was the top perimeter shooter in the Philadelphia Catholic League with 90 three-pointers while shooting 46.2 percent from deep. The All-State Second Team pick had the best game of his career came against North Hills in the state quarterfinals as he shot 11-for-12 from behind the arc on his way to 37 points, breaking the record for most points by a Philadelphia Catholic League player in a state playoff game that Archbishop Ryan’s Aaron Lemon-Warren (36) had set last season. He led the team with 23 points against Plymouth Whitemarsh in the state opener then had 15 points and six rebounds vs. the Cahillites in Hershey.
For Mosco, Bethea - who holds offers from Temple, Jacksonville, Albany, Mount St. Mary’s, Radford and Robert Morris - will move into the starting lineup next season with Moore, Mike Knouse (Lock Haven University) and Tyson Allen (Montclair State University) all moving on, but where he will play has yet to be determined.
“As crazy as it may be, he’s one of the guys that could step in to be that next point guard because he can get guys shots and he’s a tremendous passer,” Mosco said. “He wanted to do everything fast and perfect, and that’s why we wanted him off the bench to provide energy and scoring. When so many kids want to start or play right away, here’s a kid that came off the bench and was all-state. He may have started one game all year and that speaks volumes to his personality and him as a person."
After an incredible season on the gridiron where he rushed for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns on his way to All-State Class 6A, La Salle’s Sam Brown became the first Explorers played to be named to the all-state basketball team since Konrad Kiszka (Princeton) and Allen Powell (Rider) in 2019. The 6-2 senior guard and Rutgers football commit was named All-State Third Team on the hardwood after avg. 15.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He shot 47.1 percent from the field in leading La Salle (15-8, 8-5) to the Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinals. He had 13 points and seven boards as the Explorers nearly pulled off an upset on the road of eventual champion Neumann-Goretti.
Head coach Mike McKee was impressed with how Brown’s football pedigree merged with his basketball acumen to give La Salle a different dimension this season. He noted that Brown, who had an offer from Princeton to play both football and basketball while Penn showed interest, changed the dynamic of the team.
“His versatility was a strength,” McKee said. “If he dedicated himself just to basketball, he could have been a Division I player. His versatility allowed him to play different positions. He was able to handle the ball when we needed it and could also be the center of our offense at times where we would put him into isolations. His ability to score in different ways and create mismatches for us because of his strength and skill is what made him a good player.”
The first team was loaded with Skillings, Brown, Moore, Pocono Mountain West’s Christian Fermin, Lower Merion’s Demetrius Lilley, Reading’s Ruben Rodriguez and Butler’s Devin Carney.
Fermin, the 6-10 forward bound for VCU, avg. 21.7 points, 14.5 rebounds and 4.8 blocks while shooting 60 percent from the field and making 23 three-pointers. The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference MVP scored 1,021 career points, despite not playing his freshman year, while setting the program record in career rebounds (753), blocks (283) and double-doubles (40).
Lilley avg. 19.1 points and 11.8 rebounds this season. The 6-10 Penn State commit became the first Lower Merion player to be named Central League MVP since Jack Forrest in 2019 and the only player in program history to average a double-double in three consecutive seasons. He led the Aces to the 2022 Central League title, back-to-back District 1-6A titles and the state semifinals and finished his career with the seventh-most points in Lower Merion history (1,301).
Rodriguez, who led Reading to the 6A title last year, was named Berks Conference Player of the Year after avg. 19.8 points and making 35 three-pointers this season. The 6-2 junior guard with offers from Jacksonville and St. Peter’s scored a school-record 50 points in a win over Daniel Boone, breaking the modern-day mark of 43 set by Donyell Marshall against Williamsport on Jan. 4, 1991. He has scored 1,291 career points to date.
Carney is headed to Duquesne after being one of the most prolific scorers in Pa. with 2,082 career points over the last four seasons. The 6-1 Butler guard and four-year starter avg. 25 ppg on 55 percent shooting this season. Dylan Blair, the 5-10 Downingtown West point guard, avg. 19 points, five assists and three rebounds in being named All-State Third Team. He scored 20 or more points in 14 games, including 27 against Archbishop Wood in the state opener. He led Whippets to the Ches-Mont League title game then the PIAA state tournament for the first time since 2017, and has scored 1,023 career points to date.
Daniel Skillings, 6' 6", senior, Roman Catholic (Player of the Year)
Christian Fermin, 6' 10", senior, Pocono Mountain West
Demetrius Lilley, 6' 9", senior, Lower Merion
Ruben Rodriguez, 6' 1", junior, Reading
Devin Carney, 6' 1", senior, Butler
Xzayvier Brown, 6' 1", junior, Roman Catholic
Justin Moore, 6' 2", senior, Archbishop Wood
Khalil Farmer, 6' 3", senior, Roman Catholic
Royce Parham, 6' 7", sophomore, North Hills
Jalil Bethea, 6' 2", sophomore, Archbishop Wood
Jason Shields, 6' 5", senior, Scranton
Eli Yofan, 6' 2", senior, Fox Chapel Area
Cameron Wallace, 6' 4", freshman, Great Valley
Dylan Blair, 5' 10", junior, Downingtown West
Isaac Harris, 6' 3", senior, Northampton Area
Tyler Houser, 6' 9", senior, Cedar Cliff
Sam Brown, 6' 2", senior, La Salle College
Donovan Hill, 6' 8", senior, Central Dauphin
Rasheem Dearry, 6' 3", senior, Cheltenham
Coach of the Year (tie)
Patrick Fleury, Cheltenham
Chris McNesby, Roman Catholic