Photos: Zack Beavers, Geanine Jamison & Mike Nance
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – There is an optimistic outlook surrounding the Archbishop Ryan basketball program heading into the offseason, similar to the one felt seven years ago.
Look back to the 2016-17 season and it’s easy to see how the pieces were in place and a big year was within reach. That year, the Raiders returned Izaiah Brockington – the program’s all-time leading scorer at 1,292 career points – and Matiss Kulackovskis after a season where they advanced to the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals for the first time since 2008. They made a second consecutive trip to the Palestra then turned in the deepest state playoff run in history to that point by advancing to the semifinals where they lost to Lonnie Walker IV and Reading.
Under the leadership of Joe Zeglinski, Archbishop Ryan has surpassed those accomplishments several times over when taking into account a trip to the 2021 PIAA Class 5A title game in Hershey as well as three more berths in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals, including a spot in the 2022 title game against Neumann-Goretti. Zeglinski was one of the program’s premier players during his time on Academy Road under Bernie Rogers, now at The Haverford School, and he is looking at next season as the one that has the potential to be the best of his tenure thanks in part to the return of Thomas Sorber and Darren Williams.
“They’ve been instrumental to our success starting with a PCL championship game appearance last year then a state final four run this year,” Zeglinski said.
PA All-State 5A First-Team selection Thomas Sorber #35 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers
Sorber – a Pa. All-State Class 5A First Team selection for the second straight year - is the highest rated recruit to ever come out of Archbishop Ryan and joins a list that includes Brockington (most recently Iowa State), Zeglinski (Hartford), and former Northern Division MVP Andrew Rogers (Maine) as players to play at the Division I level. The 6-foot-9 forward is headed to play for new head coach Ed Cooley at Georgetown following his senior season and he has evolved into the best big man in Pa.
He averaged 17.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 blocks this season while shooting an astounding 61.3 percent from the field. His plethora of post moves combined with his touch around the rim and tenacity on the boards has taken him from a player who sparingly played at Trenton Catholic (N.J.) as a freshman to one who has the real potential to be the best player to come out of Archbishop Ryan (18-10, 10-3 Philadelphia Catholic League) ever.
He led the Philadelphia Catholic League in rebounds (291), blocked shots (119) and double-doubles (17). Over the last two seasons, he has recorded 28 double-doubles and has even gone for triple-doubles, just as he did with a 14-point, 11-rebound and 10-block performance against previously unbeaten Radnor in the state quarterfinals. He began the season by hitting the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to down The Patrick School (N.J.) then closed out the year with 18 points, six rebounds and two blocks against eventual state champion Imhotep Charter in the semifinals.
As the first Archbishop Ryan player to ever be named all-state first team twice and in consecutive seasons, it reaffirms Sorber’s claim as one of the top prospects in Pa. and further demonstrates how his stock should only continue to rise.
“From the start, you could see how special he was going to be with his mind for the game and his IQ,” Zeglinski said. “He has really worked on his body and even last year he was a force inside. He has always had that great touch and IQ for the game, and defensively he has always had that timing as a rim protector for us. He’s growing into his body and getting leaner to play more minutes at a high level for us.”
While Sorber controlled things inside, Williams, also an All-State 5A First Team pick, facilitated on the perimeter but more importantly became one of the best shooters in the area. The 6-4 junior and Florida Gulf Coast commit avg. 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.1 steals this season. He finished second in the Philadelphia Catholic League with 81 three-pointers and had 20 games where he made multiple treys. He could certainly light it up as he did against Devon Prep with 27 points, going 11-for-18 from the floor with four three-pointers. He sank five more shots from behind the arc and led the Raiders with 28 points versus Radnor in the state playoffs.
Williams is dynamic with the ball in his hands as he can finish at the rim (and above it) but can also get hot from the outside in a hurry. Zeglinski emphasized the team has steadily improved as his shooting has improved and his confidence has skyrocketed.
“His shot looked better this year and more consistent compared to last year,” Zeglinski said. “He simplified it and that’s a credit to his work ethic. You can really see his development with his shooting form and playing big minutes his sophomore year. He’ll continue to refine his jump shot and he has big things ahead.”
The Raiders ran into a vaunted Imhotep Charter team, highlighted by Kentucky signee and two-time Philadelphia Public League Player of the Year Justin Edwards, in the semifinals but Zeglinski feels his two stars learned from that loss and believes it will give them the hunger and drive to do what has been part of his blueprint for a few seasons now.
“They’ve taken on a leadership role this season and heading into their senior season, they’re going to take more ownership of the team,” Zeglinski said. “We know what their goals are, but we need to continue to get better and have those guys lead a senior-heavy team with a lot of talent.”
Billy Cassidy had Bonner-Prendergast rolling to begin his first season. The Friars put together seven straight wins to start the year and just missed the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs. It was a promising season for Cassidy in year one with so many new faces, particularly Kevin Rucker Jr. The 6-3 junior guard transferred over from Chester, where he helped the Clippers reach the PIAA 5A semifinals as a sophomore, and became the Friars’ go-to scorer, even as he was getting adjusted to the speed and physicality of the league.
It was a welcome site for Cassidy, who knew he had something special in Rucker.
“He got off to a great start at the beginning of the year,” Cassidy said. “He was able to get acclimated to a new school, environment, and team, and once Catholic League play started, the biggest battle was mentality.”
The All-State Third Team selection led the Friars with 14.5 ppg but also accrued 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals on the year. He shot 41.6 percent from the floor and made 25 three-pointers. He had 19 points in his first game in a Bonner-Prendergast uniform against Bartram then added 20 points vs. Neumann-Goretti in his first Philadelphia Catholic League contest. Performances like his 23-point game against Archbishop Wood and 22-point outing vs. Devon Prep should come with more regularity as he moves into his final high school season.
With the likes of Reggie Selden Jr., Touri "Deuce" Ketner and Nelson Lamizana returning, the Friars hope to not only make the league postseason but win a few games along the way, and Rucker will be essential to that plan.
“[We want him to be] committed every day to wanting to get better,” Cassidy said. “He wanted to get in the gym and get stronger in the weight room. He realized he could be a two-way player. Everybody knew he could score the ball and do things with the ball, but being committed to the defensive end was big, especially when things aren’t going well at the other end. Over time he has gotten better at showing those things.”
Edwards culminated one of the very best high school careers in recent memory by winning his second consecutive PIAA Class 5A championship and subsequently his second straight All-State 5A Player of the Year. The 6-7 forward heads to play for John Calipari at Kentucky as one of the most heralded recruits in the 2023 class after avg. 17.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He shot 56.9 percent from the field on the year and his smooth jumper accounted for 77 three-pointers in the last two years (34 this season). He won three Public League titles in his time at Imhotep Charter under head coach Andre Noble, who has an all-time record 11 to his name and tied Neumann-Goretti’s Carl Arrigale for the most PIAA state titles all-time at nine after defeating Exeter, 78-40. Edwards finished second all-time in scoring at Imhotep with 1,515 career points, behind only former Maryland standout Fatts Russell.
He was joined on the first team by teammates Ahmad Nowell and Florida Gulf Coast signee Rahmir Barno. Nowell, who boasts offers from Kentucky, Kansas, St. John’s and Auburn, among others, avg. 13.7 ppg and made a team-high 59 three-pointers. He has scored 1,125 career points to date. Barno, the 5-11 point guard, avg. 12.3 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 51 percent this season. He was named MVP of the City of Palms Classic after recording 21 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals against elite prospects Cameron and Cayden Boozer – sons of the former Duke standout – and Columbus (Fla.) in the title game.
Royce Parham has been one of the most electric scorers at his size and will take that raw ability to Marquette to play for Shaka Smart. The 6-9 forward avg. 28.3 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals per game this season. He scored a school-record 47 points against Pine Richland and enters his senior season with 1,527 career points.
Jackson Hicke was the focal point behind Radnor’s historic 2022-23 season as he avg. 19.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals on his way to Central League MVP. The 6-5 guard and Princeton signee scored 582 points this season and drilled 32 three-pointers in leading Radnor to a 29-1 record. He also led the Raptors in rebounds (248) and assists (91). He rose to the occasion in the biggest games with 19 points against Lower Merion in the Central League final then 18 points, eight boards and six assists in the District 1-5A title vs. Unionville.
PA All-State 5A Second-Team selection, Jackson Hicke #33 - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
He capped off his career with 1,154 points, good for 5th on the Radnor all-time scoring list.
Justin Edwards 6’7” senior Imhotep Charter
Thomas Sorber 6’9” junior Archbishop Ryan
Ahmad Nowell 6’1” junior Imhotep Charter
Royce Parham 6’9” junior North Hills
Rahmir Barno 5’11” senior Imhotep Charter
Darren Williams 6’4” junior Archbishop Ryan
Jackson Hicke 6’5” senior Radnor
Anthony Caccese 6’7” senior Exeter Township
Trey Grube 5’11” senior Manheim Central
Kareem Diaz 6’4” senior Murrell Dobbins
Daemar Kelly 6’5” senior Penn Hills
Tasso Sfanos 6’2” senior Mars Area
Julian Pagan 6’ 3” senior Pocono Mountain West
Hayden Pardoe 6’ 5” senior Central Mountain
Zyion Paschall 5’ 10” senior Exeter Township
Jake Sambuchino 5’ 11” senior Cathedral Prep
Malachi Thomas 6’ 4” senior Milton Hershey
Kevin Rucker, Jr. 6’ 5” junior Bonner-Prendergast
Player of the Year: Justin Edwards, Imhotep Charter
Coach of the Year: Matt Ashcroft, Exeter Township