Photos/Videos: Rich Flanagan, Mike Nance & John Knebels
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – It is the shot that will define his Roman Catholic career.
So much had to go right for Xzayvier Brown to be given the chance to attempt a shot of this magnitude. Neumann-Goretti had led by six with 19.5 seconds remaining and everyone inside the Palestra knew the ball would be in the four-year starter’s hands, whether he was facilitating the offense and creating it on his own.
He came down the middle of the floor and instead of dribbling right as he crossed halfcourt, he went to his left hand to collect the ball and with 2.2 seconds on the clock, he rose with that smooth arching jumper from the top of the key. As the sold-out crowd held its collective breath, Brown’s three-pointer went off the glass and in, and the frenzy that ensued shook the Cathedral of College Basketball to its core.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard cannot and will not put into perspective what that shot represents within the history of Roman Catholic basketball, but he did profess the ecstasy that was being emitted as he jogged down the court to take in the allure of that hallowed arena and being at the center of it all.
XZAYVIER BROWN FOE THE TIE TO FORCE OT THE PCL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME! pic.twitter.com/CXZYuc2l9e— Philadelphia Sports Digest (@PhSportsDigest) February 28, 2023
“That isn’t really my job to say legacy, but I just put the work in and trust in my teammates and coaches,” Brown said. “If they want to say it’s a legacy, I just think I left as a champ.”
Brown sank the game-tying three-pointer to force overtime and finished with a game-high 20 points to propel Roman Catholic to a 57-52 win over Neumann-Goretti to claim the Philadelphia Catholic League championship on Monday night. He becomes the first Cahillites player to have 20 points in a league title game victory since Hakim Hart poured in 21 in the 2019 final against La Salle. Brown hoisted the jumper from almost the same spot where Lynn Greer III started his drive before finding Hart for the game-winning basket in the 2018 title game.
He had done everything a player could possibly do at the program that holds the most Philadelphia Catholic League championships all-time, but he wasn’t responsible or part of bringing a coveted plaque back to the intersection of Broad & Vine. He had surpassed 1,000 career points, becoming the 22nd player in program history to accomplish that feat. He had won a state championship in Hershey with University of Cincinnati freshman Daniel Skillings Jr. and Hofstra freshman Khalil Farmer a season ago. He was a two-time First Team All-Catholic and recognized as one of the elite guards in Philadelphia, a city that has produced the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Tom Gola. Even with all that, he wanted to close things out and culminate a career at a school that is synonymous with Philadelphia Catholic League championships and his past failures there were weighing on him.
As a freshman, he played on a team with players such as Detroit Pistons forward Jalen Duren, LSU sophomore Justice Williams and Greer – who will be his teammate at St. Joe’s next season – that had won a Philadelphia Catholic League title that year before he arrived on campus. During the COVID-19 shortened season as a sophomore, he lost to Archbishop Wood at Cardinal O’Hara alongside Skillings and Farmer.
His junior year saw him fall to the Saints in the league semifinals, so there was a pinch of revenge sprinkled into the significance of the championship victory.
Chris McNesby now has three Philadelphia Catholic League championships to his name as a head coach along with three as a player. He has seen teammates like Donnie Carr, the late Lari Ketner, and Marc Jackson – who was in the building to watch his son Shareef and his alma mater play in a place he has known success – make memorable performances on that stage and he felt Brown was due to have that opportunity as well.
“For him, it’s deserving,” McNesby said. “There’s not another deserving player more than him. He deserves to be in that spot to hit that shot. He’s a four-year guy at Roman and has been through it all. He embodies what a Roman Catholic basketball player should be and to have him make that shot is deserving. That moment was his.”
Before hitting what will now be known as one of the most incredible shots in Roman Catholic and Philadelphia Catholic League history, for that matter, Brown nearly let his final opportunity to win a title of this importance slip through his fingers in the waning minutes of regulation. After being fouled behind the arc, Brown stepped to the line and calmly sank three free throws to cut the Roman Catholic deficit to 48-45 with 14.8 seconds left. Freshman Stephon Ashley-Wright missed the front end of a one-and-one and Brown came down with a chance to tie with 9.6 seconds remaining, but missed on a trey from the wing and Baylor commit Robert Wright III corralled the rebound.
Wright – who was sensational in that situation a season ago in leading the Saints to the title – finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, but struggled at the line late. Shockingly, he also missed the front end of a one-and-one and Brown was suddenly given another chance to deliver in the biggest moment of his illustrious Cahillites career. He delivered in incredible fashion.
Even after the game, he was still fixated on that missed opportunity more than his historic jumper.
“I missed the first one, but I wasn’t panicking because I believe in my work and my teammates,” Brown said. “They believe in me, even though I missed that one.”
Brown dished out one of his seven assists to Jermai Stewart-Herring, a transfer from St. Elizabeth’s (Del.), for a corner trey to give Roman Catholic (22-3) an early one-point lead in overtime. Sultan Adewale, the 6-8 senior big man, scored all four points for Neumann-Goretti (21-3) in the extra period and his putback with 40.2 seconds left cut the lead to 53-52. Brown got called for a backcourt violation on Roman Catholic’s next possession, giving the Saints an opportunity to win it. Wright fired an alley-oop pass to Amir Williams, but he lost it and basket interference was called as he pulled the rim downward. Fellow St. Joe’s signee Anthony Finkley hit two free throws at the other end to give Roman Catholic a three-point lead. Wright uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws and Brown, in front of his future head coach, Billy Lange, went to the foul line and knocked two more down to put the finishing touches on his first Philadelphia Catholic League championship.
Players of Brown’s caliber live to be in those types of moments, especially with the game on the line and McNesby, who has had those moments as a player and coach, wanted this group to have this one.
“You want them to have that feeling and when they put that work in like the offseason sprinting and leadership then to have the reward, which doesn’t happen for everyone, is special for them,” McNesby said. “These guys had that moment and they’re brothers forever. They will always have this moment and that’s what it’s all about.”
Roman Catholic jumped on the Saints early pushing its lead to 22-11 during a 6-0 run to begin the second quarter. Finkley had a big night with 13 points, including three three-pointers, with Lange looking on just behind press row. Former Roman Catholic and Villanova guard Maalik Wayns – now the head coach at Camden (N.J.) – was also on hand to watch his alma mater along with many other notable figures in Philadelphia basketball including St. Joe's Prep head coach Jason Harrigan and Imhotep Charter head man Andre Noble fresh off his 11th Public League title. Finkley found Brown for a layup then converted an offensive rebound inside as part of that second-quarter run.
Finkley is known more for his superb passing ability at 6-7 but alongside his current and future teammate, he was never needed more than he was during Monday’s title game.
“People get on me about shooting the ball more,” Finkley joked. “I’ve been putting the work in, and it showed.”
After Finkley sank a trey to give the Cahillites a five-point advantage, the Saints put their best run of the night together as Wright hit his first three-pointer at the 2:42 mark of the third quarter then Williams and Bruce Smith (12 points) drilled back-to-back threes to push Neumann-Goretti in front, 35-31. A finish by Adewale gave the Saints a five-point cushion but Brown canned a mid-range jumper from the right elbow then, as he would do later in a much more pressure-packed situation, tied the game at 39-39 with a three-pointer. The Saints went on a 7-0 run before Finkley answered with his last trey of the night. Wright hit his final free throws of the evening to put the lead back at five before Brown hit those three foul shots in succession and penned his name in Philadelphia Catholic League history.
Congratulations to the Cahillites of Roman Catholic - Your 2023 Philadelphia Catholic League Champions - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Monday solidified that Brown’s name will be mentioned with McNesby, Carr, Ketner, Lonnie McFarlan, Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, La Salle College High School head coach Mike McKee, Jackson, and John Griffin, who coached at St. Joe’s where Brown will be playing and learning from his son, John Griffin III. John Griffin’s other son, Matt led the Cahillites to two Philadelphia Catholic League titles and is now an assistant at Florida Gulf Coast. Brown was here when McNesby made history by winning one of his first two championships and now he has written his own memoir with a passage no one in that fabled arena will ever forget.
“X was here when Tony Carr was playing,” McNesby said. “He came, watched, and wanted to be a part of that. Hopefully there’s the next young guy out there who wants to come to Roman.”