Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert, Lou Rabito, Krystal Williams & Jeremy Park
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – When Miguel Bocachica was hired at West Catholic in June 2018, he was a few months removed from winning a state championship with Imhotep Charter.
It was the second consecutive title he won while an assistant with the Panthers under Andre Noble, who is tied for the PIAA all-time record with nine state titles to his name. When he arrived at the intersection of 45th & Chestnut, the Burrs had not had a winning record in the Philadelphia Catholic League since 2009 and he wanted to find a consistent way to motivate his players as he built the program in the mold of one he both played and coached for.
“I personally would always talk about my experience when it came to winning championships,” Bocachica said. “I would always say to them, ‘I’m the only champion in the room’ and now that’s a statement that I can’t say in my own gym. Anyone that is returning is a champion and anyone returning has a banner up in the gym.”
West Catholic transformed from a school on the brink of closing down in 2012 (before an anonymous $1M donation and name change altered that) to one that became revitalized thanks in part to the unprecedented success of both the boys and girls basketball teams. The girls program - behind all-time leading scorer Destiney McPhaul – won the 2021 PIAA Class 3A title and the boys would begin their ascent to the top of the sport shortly afterward. The Burrs have a proud history that dates back to 1959 Second Team All-Catholic Herb Magee, the legendary coach who owns the second-most wins (1,144) in NCAA men’s basketball history.
West Catholic head coach Miguel Bocachica, PA Class 3A Coach of the Year - PSD Photo by Krystal Williams
Magee and former St. Joe’s head coach and Philadelphia 76ers assistant Jim Lynam led the Burrs to the Philadelphia Catholic League title in 1959, the last time the program captured the league crown.
Last year put West Catholic into the spotlight and it ran with that to new heights as Bocachica – the Pa. All-State Class 3A Coach of the Year – catapulted the Burrs to a historical season as they captured the PIAA 3A title at the GIANT Center in Hershey, a first in program history. Magee was one of the notable alumni who reached out after the 83-55 victory over Deer Lakes, and it added to what has been a unique aftermath following what was arguably the greatest victory in program history.
“I’ve had different experiences walking around wearing West Catholic gear,” Bocachica said. “Just a random day on an elevator in West Chester and I have something West Catholic on, someone says, ‘‘Oh congrats on the ‘chip.’ I’m not even in Philly. It’s a surreal feeling.”
The two catalysts behind West Catholic’s rise and subsequent state championship were All-State 3A First Team selections Adam “Budd” Clark and Zion Stanford. Clark led the way in the state final with 32 points on 16-for-20 from the field to go along with eight rebounds, six assists and four steals while Stanford poured in 30 points of his own going 11-for-16 from the floor.
West Catholic won the 2023 PIAA 3A state title in a 83-55 victory over Deer Lakes - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert
The dynamic tandem became the first pair of Philadelphia Catholic League teammates to score 30 points each in a PIAA state title game.
Clark joined Bocachica’s program following the 2019-20 season after averaging 11.7 points per game as a freshman at Boys’ Latin and, as the Burrs point guard for three seasons, he was at the controls of one of the best turnarounds in recent memory.
“It was a great feeling to accomplish history and be the first team in West Catholic boys basketball history to win a state championship,” Clark said. “It was a great place to do it at and there were so many people there supporting us.”
The 5-foot-10 senior guard avg. 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.8 steals per game. He shot 53 percent from the field and made 38 three-pointers on the year.
He scored 20 or more points in 13 games with five of those coming in the postseason, including a 27-point performance against Math, Civics & Sciences in the District 12 title game, a 77-60 win to secure West Catholic’s first city title since 1953. That year the Burrs beat Overbrook and its star center, Wilt Chamberlain. Clark finished his career with 1,253 points.
Bocachica was eagerly awaiting Clark’s arrival during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic and the floor general exceeded expectations to the point that he will leave the program as one of the best to ever don the blue and gold.
“What Adam has done here as far as getting back-to-back First Team All-Catholic, back-to-back all-state selections and the level of competition that we’ve been able to play, he’s a legend,” Bocachica said. “What he has done here hasn’t been done in 70 years. I don’t know what the school is doing but I know as long as I’m here, no one will wear No. 0.”
Clark made all-state third team last season and Stanford made second team, and this season they became the first West Catholic tandem to make first team in the same season. Stanford has a program-changing player from the moment he arrived as a raw but athletic forward who was already 6-4 as a freshman and scored 15 points in his second career game versus Sankofa Freedom on a team that featured Anthony Finkley (St. Joe’s), Eric Chamberlain (Albright College), Nasir Griffin (East Stroudsburg), and Kareem and Kaseem Watson, both of whom are playing at Cal State Bakersfield.
The 6-5 senior forward headed to play for new head coach Adam Fisher at Temple struggled mightily with his shooting stroke early on but ended up shooting 53.8 percent from the floor with 20 three-pointers in his final high school season.
Stanford avg. 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He posted a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds in the overtime loss to Neumann-Goretti at the Palestra in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals. Furthermore, he finished his sensational career with 1,174 career points, 5th-most all-time in West Catholic history.
Clark has certainly meant a lot to the program but what Stanford has done by being part of the team for all four seasons while developing into one of the elite wings in the state has been nothing short of miraculous for Bocachica, who noted that “the same goes for Zion. No one is going to wear No. 2.”
“He’s everything that our program has been about,” Bocachica, “He came in as an eighth grader and got his feet wet as a ninth grader. We used to talk to him about being a kid who would get you six to eight points off offensive rebounds and things like that. That went to a kid who could hit pull-ups and threes, and score over both shoulders. When Zion came here, he wanted to develop, grow, and mature, and he did those things and that came with back-to-back PCL final fours, and a city and state ‘chip.”
Stanford, Clark, Griffin, and the Watson twins ushered in a new age of West Catholic basketball. In 2021-22, the Burrs finished as the No. 2 seed in the Philadelphia Catholic League with 12 wins, the most by the program since 1976. They advanced to the league semifinals at the Palestra for the first time since 1999 then made their first state quarterfinal appearance in program history. This season, they defeated Archbishop Ryan on the road in the league quarterfinals as Clark (23 points), East Stroudsburg commit Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui (21) and Stanford (16) secured the win to give West Catholic its first back-to-back Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal appearances in program history. From there, the rest is truly history as the Burrs reached heights it never has.
The silhouette of the Center City skyline that graces the court inside West Catholic’s gym has greater significance now as the Burrs performed on the biggest stage and created an everlasting memory. The program is now known outside of Philadelphia but seeing that banner that now hangs in the gymnasium along with the skyline represents something bigger than basketball. The team didn’t simply play for each other, but more importantly, they played for their community.
Bocachica is looking forward to beginning next season as the championship coach with a team of championship players.
“I’m glad that we did it and we have a really good amount of kids coming back, so now we can speak on our own experiences, how we did it and what it took for us to get there.”
West Catholic (20-10, 9-4 Philadelphia Catholic League) wasn’t the only Philadelphia Catholic League team that made history over the last two seasons. Devon Prep (13-13, 3-10) catapulted to the top of the Pa. basketball landscape by winning the 2022 PIAA Class 3A title, the first in program history, and beating the Burrs in the state quarterfinals in the process. Last year, the starting five of IV Pettit, Allen Cieslak, Ty Mishock, Lucas Orchard, and Jacen Holloway accomplished something that the program had never imagined, and their names will be immortalized forever.
Head coach Jason Fisher continually points to how the transition to the Philadelphia Catholic League was about testing his players and seeing how they would respond with each passing season. His players have not only responded, but his program is now considered one of the best in the league and throughout the state.
“Joining the Catholic League opened people’s eyes at Devon as to what basketball is really like and what you need to do to compete at that level,” Fisher said. “It’s still surreal everything that has happened. When we were in the Bicentennial League, I never would have thought that we would have two players graduating that have Division I scholarship offers and are back-to-back all-state players. They’re the first players to make all-state and now they’ve done it back-to-back years.”
Pettit did a prep year at The Phelps School and is headed to play basketball at Chestnut Hill College while Cieslak played his freshman season at Susquehanna University, but the two players Fisher was referring to were Orchard and Holloway, who led the Tide to consecutive state quarterfinal berths.
Devon Prep head coach Jason Fisher - PSD photo by Lou Rabito
IV Pettit #2 during his time on Devon Prep - PSD Photo by Lou Rabito
Holloway, the 6-5 senior guard and All-State 3A Second Team pick who will play at Army West Point, avg. 17.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The smooth lefty and 2021-22 all-state third team pick sank 71 treys over the last two seasons with 29 of those coming as a senior. He scored 29 points in a District 12-3A seeding game against SLA Beeber then finished in double figures in every state tournament game. He shot 49.4 percent from the field as he was tasked with facilitating the offense more with the departures of Pettit and Cieslak and found more opportunities to attack the rim.
Holloway has been a physically mature player for a few seasons, but he expanded his shooting ability out well beyond the three-point line and improved in handling the ball, particularly through defensive presses. Fisher was continually impressed with Holloway’s all-around development.
“He always got by on his physical abilities and he has always been stronger than other players his age,” Fisher said. “He really focused on his skillset from sophomore to junior year to become an elite jump shooter. Once he started seeing those jump shots go in, it changed his whole approach to the game and changed everybody around him.”
“Once players realized they had to go out on him, he would drive and use that natural strength to his advantage to get to the rim. He started to put all the pieces together.”
Orchard will do a prep year at the Perkiomen School – fresh off a 2023 Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) title – next season then join the Monmouth University men’s basketball team the following season. The plan is for him to maintain his upward trajectory that began when he became a member of the rotation as a freshman then avg. 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals this season. He scored 23 points to spur an 82-52 victory over Mid Valley in the second round of the PIAA 3A Tournament. After making all-state second team as a junior, he made 30 shots from behind the arc and shot 44.9 percent from the floor on his way to All-State 3A Third Team this year.
The first thing Fisher noted was Orchard’s contagious work ethic and how his drive turned him into an effective player who will find success at the next level.
“He’s in the gym every morning constantly getting up shots and working on his game,” Orchard said. “He’s either in the gym or weight room. He doesn’t pass the eye test, but he always gets results. He’s a winning basketball player and I don’t know how many college coaches I’ve told that to. He’s going to prove everyone wrong because he has the work ethic and intangibles that you can’t measure. I hope he leaves that mentality behind.”
Makhai Valentine was named Class 3A Player of the Year after avg. an astounding 36.2 ppg, which included a 63-point outburst in a 100-79 win over Brentwood in January. It was the 3rd-highest total in Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) history, and he also drilled 12 three-pointers in the game. He finished with a school-record 1,780 career points.
Makhai Valentine 6’3” senior Steel Valley
Adam “Budd” Clark 5’10” senior West Catholic
Zion Stanford 6’5” senior West Catholic
Patrick Haigh 6’4” senior Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic
Blake Morningstar 6’5” senior Wyalusing Valley
Garrett Harrold 6’4” senior Penn Cambria
Connor Spratt 6’2” senior Seton LaSalle Catholic
Owen Schlager 6’2” sophomore Trinity
Bryce Robson 6’ senior Deer Lakes
Joseph Roth 6’5” junior Ellwood City
Damon Curry 6’5” junior Franklin
Jacen Holloway 6’5” senior Devon Prep
Karson Dominick 6’1” junior North Penn-Mansfield
Danny Nemitz 5’10” senior Mid Valley Secondary Center
Lucas Orchard 6’4” senior Devon Prep
Terek Crosby 6’2” junior Yough
Naseem Wright 6’6” junior Math Civics and Sciences Charter
Jude Haigh 6’4” sophomore Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic
Player of the Year
Makhai Valentine, Steel Valley
Coach of the Year
Miguel Bocachica, West Catholic