Photos/Videos: Zack Beavers, Colleen Claggett, Donna Eckert, Kathy Leister, Rachel Macauley, Lennie Malmgren, Patty Morgan, Mike Nance, Ryan Nix, Jeremy Park, Gabe Petrecz, Benji Rawson, Jack Verdeur
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – If the first two weeks of the Philadelphia Catholic League have taught us anything, it’s that two perennial contenders in Neumann-Goretti and Roman Catholic have once again distinguished themselves through the early part of the season while West Catholic, which burst onto the scene a year ago, and St. Joe’s Prep, under third-year head coach Jason Harrigan, have emerged as legitimate threats with a strong mix of upperclassmen and talented youngsters ready to make a name for themselves.
The middle of the pack is where things will be captivating as six programs finish themselves at .500 and all have aspirations of not only making the playoffs but advancing to the Palestra, a place where a few of them have not been for some time or ever. Two other programs who had superb nonleague parts of the season, La Salle and Bonner-Prendergast, have struggled out of the gate in league play but boast talent in hopes of getting into a better position heading down the final month of the season.
With that, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned through the first two weeks:
A season after losing in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals to the Saints then turning that loss into a reclamation project to salvage its season and coming away with the PIAA Class 6A title, Roman Catholic lost league MVP Daniel Skillings Jr. (University of Cincinnati), Khalil Farmer (Hofstra University) and Quadir Brown. Chris McNesby, with two Philadelphia Catholic League and three state titles to his name, was returning 6-foot-7 sophomore big man Shareef Jackson, son of former Cahillites, Temple and Philadelphia 76ers forward Marc Jackson, and St. Joseph’s signee Xzayvier Brown to the starting rotation.
In losing 52% of its scoring output from last season with the departure of Skillings and Farmer, McNesby had one reinforcement already on the roster to help in that department in Anthony Finkley, the 6-foot-7 senior forward and a St. Joe’s signee himself who began his career at West Catholic and transferred back to the area after spending time at Huntington Prep (W. Va.). Finkley is averaging 9.1 points per game and has scored in double figures in seven games, including the first four league games. He had to sit out the latter part of last season after transferring in during the midway point of the year due to PIAA transfer rules, but since returning to the court, he has been an integral part of the Cahillites success so far.
McNesby also received a major boost from a plethora of transfers just as former head coach Matt Griffin did when Skillings and Farmer arrived from other programs two seasons ago. Jermai Stewart-Herring, a transfer from St. Elizabeth’s High School (Del.) where he won Diamond State Conference Player of the Year, has entered the Cahillites lineup and hasn’t missed a beat. The 6-5 senior guard leads the Cahillites (12-1, 4-0 Philadelphia Catholic League) in scoring at 15.0 ppg and scored 20 points in wins over Archbishop Wood and Archbishop Ryan.
Robert Cottrell, a 6-1 junior guard who came over from Simon Gratz, has had his moments such as a 14-point game against West Philadelphia earlier this season but the true surprise has come in the form of 6-4 senior guard Erik Oliver-Bush, who arrived from Trenton Catholic (N.J.) and has been a difference maker. While only avg. 7.8 ppg, he had 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead Roman Catholic past Dorman (S.C.) to the Beach Ball Classic title in Myrtle Beach (S.C.) in December and tallied 10 points, nine boards and two blocks in a win over Cardinal O’Hara. In a year where it seemed like the Cahillites might be in contention but also on the outside looking in, Roman Catholic is exactly where it has been for much of its storied history.
As the Cahillites continue to do what they do, Neumann-Goretti (10-1, 4-0) has picked up right where it left off after securing the 12th league title and ninth state crown of Carl Arrigale’s illustrious career. What made the Saints run to both titles was the fact that its core group consisted of two seniors, two juniors and three sophomores, who all continued a trend that has been consistent under Arrigale with underclassmen evolving into leaders of the team. Robert Wright III, the 6-foot junior guard and Baylor commit, may be playing his way to league MVP in avg. 22.5 ppg. The 2021-22 Pa. All-State Class 4A Player of the Year has scored at least 20 points in every league game thus far, which included 19 of his 25 in the second half of a comeback win over West Catholic on Jan. 6. He has taken the leadership reins from Masud Stewart (Binghamton) and Aamir Hurst (Holy Family), and his epic performance against Mount St. Joseph (Md.) in the Iolani Classic Championship Game in Honolulu was indicative of that: 36 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. He’s the premiere player in a league full of them and has been an indispensable part of the Saints' return to the top of the league.
Few teams boast the prowess of 6-8 senior big man Sultan Adewale, the London native who is avg. 12.9 points and 9.9 rebounds this season. He has three double-doubles including a 11-point, 13-rebound outing against Devon Prep followed by a 10-point, 12-rebound game in a win over Lansdale Catholic on Friday. When Adewale has been doubled inside, he has been able to find 6-6 junior wing Amir Williams (10.5 ppg) and 6-2 senior Bruce Smith (6.0) for open jumpers in the corner. Williams has thrived in his catch-and-shoot role as many former Saints guards have with 13 three-pointers through four league games. He shot 7-for-10 with five shots from deep versus the Crusaders. The Saints have continued to roll despite starting guard Khaafiq Myers missing two straight games and having been in and out of the lineup with a hampered ankle. The path to the league title still runs through South Philadelphia and the Saints are as potent as ever.
The Saints and the Cahillites will meet on Friday, February 3 and with how late it will be in the season, there may be more than just pride on the line.
West Catholic knew after accomplishing one historic achievement after the next last season that expectations would be raised and opponents would be yearning to take it down.
After a brutal nonleague slate that saw the Burrs (7-6, 3-1) fall to Reading, Mount Zion Prep (Md.) and Camden (N.J.) before winning three out of four games in the Arby’s Classic in Tennessee, Coppin State commit Adam “Budd'' Clark, Temple signee Zion Stanford and Co. have started off the league slate winning three out of four with its lone loss being a one-point setback at Neumann-Goretti.
Even after losing Kareem and Kaseem Watson (Cal State Bakersfield) and Nasir Griffin (East Stroudsburg), the Burrs have positioned themselves to compete with the upper echelon of teams for the near future, and Clark and Stanford are essential to that plan.
Clark, who committed to Coppin State on Dec. 24, is avg. 17.5 ppg in league play and posted an impressive stat line in a 76-49 win over Father Judge on Friday: 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting from the field, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. He and Wright are potentially the two best floor generals in the league and the 5-10 senior guard’s line in that loss to the Saints (21 points, four boards, five assists, three steals) proved that. Stanford is avg. 16.6 ppg on the season and had strong performances in wins over quality opponents in La Salle and Father Judge. He posted 21 points, four assists and two blocks against the Explorers then shot 10-for-16 on his way to 27 points to go along with seven boards, three assists and three steals vs. the Crusaders. The 6-5 senior forward has developed a patented fadeaway jumper when posting up smaller defenders and he can easily take big guys to the rim. The dynamic one-two punch has been terrific and if the Burrs can get continued production from viable third option Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui (11.4 ppg), 6-5 senior forward MJ Branker Jr. (8.6), and 6-2 senior guard Amyr Walker, who had 11 points against Father Judge, they should be playing deep into February once again.
St. Joe’s Prep (9-2, 3-1) may be a year ahead of schedule but there’s no denying the talent and depth that the Hawks possess. Jaron McKie leads a strong contingent of sophomores who gained valuable experience last season and have turned that into concrete results in year two.
The 6-2 guard and son of the Temple University head coach has hit 13 three-pointers in the first four league games, which included a 72-48 victory over Conwell-Egan where he knocked down five from the outside. He’s avg. a team-best 16.3 ppg and his backcourt mate and fellow sophomore, 5-11 guard Olin Chamberlain Jr., has been steady running the offense. Jordan Ellerbee, a 6-1 sophomore who avg. 9.0 ppg off the bench, and 6-2 junior Matt Gorman, who had nine points, four assists and five steals in a 59-38 win over Bonner-Prendergast on Friday, have been invaluable to the Hawks success and played their part in helping St. Joe’s Prep start off the league portion of the schedule strong.
Jalen Harper, who recently picked up an offer from the University of Albany, has been a key to the early success with performances like a 56-53 victory over Archbishop Ryan (14 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks) and the triumph against the Eagles (15 points, six boards, three assists). Tristen Guillouette has been stout inside rebounding and protecting the rim, but scoring has begun to showcase itself as of late. The 6-9 junior forward is reminiscent of Provident forward Ed Croswell, who starred for the Hawks from 2017-18, with his ability to affect the game in multiple ways and could be the piece that vaults St. Joe’s Prep to a top four seed. Guillouette began league play with 20 points and 12 rebounds against Archbishop Carroll and most recently had 18 points, 14 boards and six blocks vs. the Friars.
He has matured into a more competent scorer and with an already innate understanding of defensive principles, he has put the Hawks in position to take a major leap forward this season.
The Philadelphia Catholic League has long been known for its parity and last year presented it once again as three programs took home state titles in Hershey. The current crop of teams within the middle will be no slouch when the state tournament rolls around. For now, Archbishop Carroll, Archbishop Ryan, Archbishop Wood, Cardinal O’Hara, Father Judge and Devon Prep – which took home the PIAA Class 3A title last season – all sit at 2-2 to begin league play and hope they will be part of the 10-team postseason bracket when the regular season ends on Feb. 12.
Francis Bowe and the Archbishop Carroll Patriots are coming off a berth in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals, but lost Moses Hipps, the team’s leading scorer who transferred to McEachern High School (Ga.) in the offseason. They have been led by 6-4 senior guard Dean Coleman-Newsome (15.4 ppg), who converted the game-winning, reverse layup at the buzzer to beat St. Joe’s Prep on Jan. 3. The very next game he had 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists in a win over the Vikings. Jake West, the 6-2 sophomore guard who holds an offer from Mississippi State, has played well in his first season of extended time. He is avg. 13.6 ppg and he had 20 points on 7-for-15 from the floor with five assists and three steals in a loss to Cardinal O’Hara on Friday. Ian Williams, the 5-9 freshman point guard, has been a bright spot for the Patriots overseeing an offense with shooters like West, Blake Deegan, and Susquehanna University commit Seamus Rogers.
Archbishop Wood started the league season with two consecutive losses to Roman Catholic and Archbishop Carroll but has turned things around with back-to-back wins over Cardinal O’Hara and Devon Prep.
Jalil Bethea has been the catalyst behind the improved play and the 6-5 junior guard, with offers from Syracuse, UCLA, Miami (Fla.) and Rutgers, leads the Vikings in scoring at 21.2 ppg. His stat lines over the last two contests show how much he has been doing to keep Archbishop Wood in contention early on. He had 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the win over the Lions then hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 44 seconds remaining to beat the Tide and finished with 19 points, 11 boards and seven assists.
He is one of the best individual players the Philadelphia Catholic League has to offer, and he is certainly playing like it. Carson Howard, the 6-8 East Stroudsburg commit, posted 15 points and nine rebounds against Cardinal O’Hara and 6-2 sophomore guard Deuce Maxey poured in 14 points vs. Devon Prep. Josh Reed has done a little bit of everything for the Vikings and his stat line of six points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and four blocks against the Tide has been customary this season.
Archbishop Ryan lost Jalen Snead (Gwynedd Mercy), Luke Boyd (West Chester University) and David Wise (Rosemont College) from a team that advanced to its first league title game appearance since 2008. The Raiders did, however, return arguably the best big man in the Philadelphia Catholic League and perhaps all of Pa. in 6-9 junior Thomas Sorber, who hit the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to down The Patrick School (N.J.) in the season opener. He is avg. 18.9 ppg and had 11 points, six rebounds and six rejections in an overtime loss to the Cahillites on Friday night. Darren Williams (15.3 ppg), the 6-4 junior lefty and the Raiders best perimeter scorer, hit the game-tying trey to force an extra period with Roman Catholic but the Raiders were outscored 9-0 in overtime. Senior Michael Paris had 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals and 5-11 sophomore guard Mark Gallagher showed his shooting ability with three makes from deep in the loss.
Devon Prep suffered a major blow when Jacen Holloway went down with a severe ankle injury against Lansdale Catholic on Jan. 6 and he is expected to miss extended time. The 6-5 senior lefty and Army West Point commit is avg. 15.9 ppg and was a focal point to the Tide’s offense during the state title run last season. With Holloway out of the lineup, 6-4 senior forward Lucas Orchard and 5-8 junior guard Ty Mishock, both returning starters, have had to lead the way. Orchard had 15 points, four rebounds and two steals while Mishock sank four three-pointers and finished with 13 points in a 61-47 loss to Neumann-Goretti. Mishock (17 points) and Orchard (10) were the only players in double figures in Thursday’s loss to Archbishop Wood. If the Tide ultimately want to turn the tide with Holloway out for the near future, they will need production from the likes of 6-5 junior wing Ben Costello, 6-4 sophomore forward Zane Conlon and 6-7 sophomore forward Reece Craft.
Izaiah Pasha is headed to Iona College to play for Rick Pitino, and he has been everything and more for Cardinal O’Hara this season. The 6-5 senior guard leads the team at 16.5 ppg and tallied 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals in that loss to the Vikings. He’s the key to the Lions’ success and has continued to display why he is one of the most versatile players this league has to offer. Aasim Burton (13.2 ppg), the 6-3 junior guard and Math, Civics & Sciences transfer, has been a welcomed addition and he was sensational in a 68-61 win over the Patriots on Friday with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Pearson McGuinn is avg. 12.1 ppg but the 6-8 junior forward’s biggest contribution has been as a rim protector, as evidenced by his four blocks against Archbishop Wood. Josh Coulanges (11.2) has been consistently efficient and 6-3 junior guard Miles Johnson, who moved into the starting role after Christian Cervellero went down with a fractured wrist against Roman Catholic, had a career-best night with 21 points on 9-for-11 from the floor and eight boards in the win over the Patriots.
Chris Roantree has Father Judge playing with confidence and the Crusaders’ flurry of guards will cause plenty of matchup problems for league opponents throughout the season. It all starts with 6-4 senior Kyle Jones Jr., who is avg. 12.6 ppg. He opened Philadelphia Catholic League play with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists against Archbishop Ryan. Playing alongside him are 6-3 junior Laquan Byrd (15.2 ppg) and 6-1 sophomore point guard Kevair Kennedy. Byrd, who transferred in from Constitution last year, hit two of the Crusaders’ 12 three-pointers in a 78-45 victory over Conwell-Egan. Kennedy scored 10 points against the Eagles then had two points, six rebounds and seven assists in an 88-32 win over Lansdale Catholic. Derrick Morton-Rivera has been an impact freshman as he is avg. 9.5 ppg and has drained eight three-pointers in four league games. Ernest Shelton, the 6-5 rangy senior who avg. 10.9 ppg, hit five shots from behind the arc and finished with 17 points vs. Lansdale Catholic.
Add in La Salle, which sits 2-3 in the league, and the middle of the standings are as muddled as they can be. The Explorers are led by 6-7 senior forward and Drexel signee Horace Simmons, who is avg. 16.6 ppg. After teammates Chris Williams (Arcadia University), Nix Varano (Rider) and Sam Brown (football at Rutgers) moved on, the Explorers were going to look to Simmons for production across the board and he has not disappointed. He had 14 points and eight rebounds against Cardinal O’Hara followed by 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks against West Catholic, and finally 19 points, 11 boards and five assists in a win over Conwell-Egan. The Explorers have also received production from 6-1 senior guard James Bartchak, 6-5 sophomore forward Ryan Warren and 6-3 senior guard Ryan Sorge, who sank three treys and scored 12 points against the Eagles.
Roman Catholic (4-0)
St. Joe’s Prep (3-1)
West Catholic (3-1)
Archbishop Ryan (2-2)
Archbishop Carroll (2-2)
Archbishop Wood (2-2)
Cardinal O’Hara (2-2)
Devon Prep (2-2)
Father Judge (2-2)
La Salle (2-3)
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