Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert, Krystal Williams, Jeremy Park & Mike Nance
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – Few players will be remembered in the way Xzayvier Brown will. The Philadelphia Catholic League has produced a multitude of players who starred at the historic Palestra in the semifinals and championship game and inscribed their names in history with epic performances, but what Brown did in his last opportunity for a coveted league title will be talked about for decades.
Every spectator in the arena knew he was going to have the ball in his hands but how he was going to find a way to get a shot off with only a few seconds left is the difference between a player allowing an opportunity to pass them by or seizing their moment. Brown rose, fired, and banked in a three-pointer from the left side of the key to force overtime in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game against Neumann-Goretti then helped Roman Catholic cap off its all-time record 33rd league championship. He finished the contest with 20 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter and overtime, and etched his name in Philadelphia basketball lore.
Chris McNesby has had his fair share of appearances at the Palestra both as a player and head coach and a few months after being on the sideline as Brown hit that historic shot, he was able to put it all into perspective.
“There have been so many great Philadelphia Catholic League championship games and I believe Xzayvier cemented himself in Catholic League history,” McNesby said. “People will know Roman won, but everybody will remember the shot. For him to have that moment forever, it puts him in conversations for a long time.”
The 6-1 guard is bound for St. Joe’s and closed out his career by being named Pa. All-State Class 6A First Team for the second straight season. Few players can boast that they are four-year starters, but Brown began his career in lineup with Detroit Pistons forward and 2022-23 NBA All-Rookie Second Team choice Jalen Duren, Justice Williams (Robert Morris) and future St. Joe’s teammate Lynn Greer III then later played with Khalil Farmer (Hofstra) and Daniel Skillings Jr. (Cincinnati). He was the unquestioned star of the Cahilites this season as he averaged 17 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals.
Xzayvier Brown pictured holding the coveted 2023 PCL plaque - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
The nifty and acrobatic finishes in transition to the poised handle to the smooth jumper from the outside showcased Brown’s extensive skillset. He’s the first Roman Catholic player to be named first team all-state in back-to-back seasons since Tony Carr in 2014-15 & 2015-16.
After focusing his offensive game on getting to the rim or hitting the occasional mid-range jumper early in his career, Brown showed tremendous confidence in his perimeter jumper by hitting 41 three-pointers and shooting 49.9 percent from the field overall. The Philadelphia Catholic League championship game was his “One Shining Moment”, but he scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to down Archbishop Wood in the semifinals. He scored 23 points against Reading in the PIAA Class 6A title game, his final high school game. He played in three Philadelphia Catholic League finals, two PIAA 6A titles and won one of each.
He finished with 1,225 career points, putting him 16th on the Roman Catholic all-time list and ahead of the late Rasual Butler, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Marvin Harrison, Camden (N.J.) head coach Maalik Wayns and Carr.
The Palestra and Philadelphia, for that matter, hasn’t seen the last of Brown as he heads to Hawk Hill and in this day and age with the current climate of college basketball, McNesby feels this is truly significant.
“The city is going to have a homegrown point guard still playing for one of the Big 5 teams,” Brown said. “He grew up in it and he’s always been around it. He’ll love playing in the Big 5 and fans will continue to enjoy following him.”
Brown was joined on the all-state team by teammate Jermai Stewart-Herring, who was selected All-State Third Team. The 6-5 guard transferred in from St. Elizabeth’s High School (Del.), where he was the Diamond State Conference Player of the Year as a junior and became a welcome addition to the Cahillites lineup. He avg. 13.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals while hitting 18 three-pointers. While he was ruled ineligible for the state playoffs due to PIAA transfer rules, he scored 13 points against Neumann-Goretti at the Palestra in the league title. He had 22 points versus Archbishop Wood in the regular season then added a 20-point game against the Saints in another regular-season matchup.
Stewart-Herring had such an impact on Roman Catholic’s run this season that McNesby feels his contributions shouldn’t be downplayed.
“He came in with an unselfish mindset and wanted to be a star in his role as a good defender who guarded the ball,” McNesby said. “He wants to help out on the glass and, as much as Xzayvier is highlighted, guys like Jermai did a lot of the dirty work. He could score and has that natural ability and athleticism to do that.”
Brown, Stewart-Herring, fellow St. Joe’s signee Anthony Finkley and Shareef Jackson were the core group that captured McNesby’s third league title and it solidified much of what they had endured during a chaotic high school career.
“It was vindication coming off the COVID-19 season and feeling like they had a year of their high school careers taken away,” McNesby said. “Anthony didn’t play last year after being ruled ineligible, but then to come back, play and win was special. Last year, Xzayvier lost in the semis and he had that circled on his calendar to get us back to the final. It was a year of vindication, not only for a few players but also for the program.”
Jalil Bethea made his case as the most skilled player in the Philadelphia Catholic League and his first appearance on the All-State 6A First Team confirmed that. Head coach John Mosco has coached several talented players both as an assistant at Neumann-Goretti and now at the helm of the Vikings, but Bethea has a legitimate argument to be the very best of the bunch. The 6-5 junior guard was named 2023 Philadelphia Catholic League MVP after avg. 23.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He scored 20 or more points 18 times this season on his way to being the first Archbishop Wood player to win PCL MVP since Rahsool Diggins (UMass) in 2021.
PA All-State Class 6A First-Team Selection, Jalil Bethea #1 - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
He led the league with 85 three-pointers, giving him 175 over the last two seasons which is far and away the best in the PCL in that span. Even more astonishing is the fact that he shot 53.6 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from behind the arc, depicting his sensational efficiency and leading to offers from UConn, LSU, Syracuse, Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall and Rutgers, to name a few. Bethea was a freshman on a roster that featured five starters currently playing college basketball in Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle), Jaylen Stinson (Merrimack), Marcus Randolph (Saint Peter’s) and Muneer Newton (Albany).
He learned a great deal from such an accomplished corps and Mosco feels sitting on the sideline while that team went on to win a league title and play in the state championship helped Bethea immensely.
“He has always had a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t start as a freshman then came off the bench as a sophomore,” Mosco said. “He always wanted to prove everybody wrong, but I truly didn’t know he would put up the numbers he would put up and get his 1,000th point. He won the Catholic League MVP and led us back to the Palestra. I saw it coming just seeing how hard he works.”
Bethea had 22 points and eight rebounds against Roman Catholic (27-4, 11-2 Philadelphia Catholic League) in the league semifinals at the Palestra then posted 23 points and 14 boards in the state semis vs. the Cahillites at Bensalem High School. His best game of the season was a 40-point barrage against St. Joe’s Prep where he shot 14-for-20 from the floor with six treys and 26 of his points coming after halftime. He became the first Philadelphia Catholic League player to score 40 in a game since former Bonner-Prendergast guard Isaiah Wong, who recently led Miami (Fla.) to the 2023 Final Four, had a program-record 44 against Neumann-Goretti on Jan. 11, 2019.
He has tallied 1,047 points in two seasons at Archbishop Wood (19-9, 9-4) and has a real shot at catching Diggins’ all-time scoring record (1,513) next season.
Despite all the points and individual accolades, Mosco emphasizes that Bethea will only be mentioned in the same breadth as Denver Nuggets guard Collin Gillespie and Pickron is if he wins that desired title.
“Even though he may leave as the all-time leading scorer, Collin and Tyree won a Catholic League championship,” Mosco said. “That’s what he wants, so he may have to give up some points for more wins, and that’s what he’s focused on this summer by getting everybody better.”
Jaron McKie comes from a basketball background that has served him well through two seasons at St. Joe’s Prep (16-7, 9-4) and much of what his father – the former Simon Gratz standout, NBA Sixth Man of the Year and Temple University head coach – harped on was consistency. Head coach Jason Harrigan can see it emit with each game played and it became apparent as the wins started racking up this season. His shooting form is a central facet of his rise as evidenced by his 68 three-pointers and 43.3 percent shooting from the outside this season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s his mechanics, but the ball comes off his hands really well and he has put a lot of work in to make sure he shoots a good ball,” Harrigan said. “As a freshman, he was over 50 percent off the three-point line and this year we increased his volume. He’s gifted with touch where he can hit deep threes, mid-range shots and floaters. He started as primarily a three-point shooter but now he’s expanding his game.”
He scored in double figures in 21 games, including a season-high 34 points against Malvern Prep in the Peter & Jameer Nelson Classic at Widener University.
The 6-2 sophomore guard is the first Hawks player to be named to the all-state team since Chris Clover (St. Joe’s) in 2015.
St. Joe’s Prep returns its entire rotation with 6-9 big man Tristen Guillouette, Olin Chamberlain Jr., Jalen Harper, Matt Gorman and Jordan Ellerbee to a team coming off a Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinal appearance, where it fell to Bethea and Archbishop Wood. Having the team intact bodes well for Harrigan, who has continually increased expectations with each passing season and feels he has his best team to this point.
“Coming in, the expectation was to establish ourselves with a young team and everybody was new,” Harrigan said. “We were young in a competitive league, and we didn’t make the playoffs their first year. As soon as that season ended, they were really excited for the next year.”
Ruben Rodriguez was named Pa. All-State 6A Player of the Year after avg. 22.2 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks in leading Reading to a 32-1 record and its third state title since 2017. The 6-2 guard finished with 2,008 career points and will play at Rider next season. Nick Coval put together another terrific season for Parkland winning Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Player of the Year after avg. 22.6 points and 5.2 assists while knocking down 78 three-pointers and shooting 92 percent from the free-throw line. He has scored 1,441 career points to date and holds several Division I offers such as the University of Pennsylvania, St. Joe’s, Drexel, Columbia and Bucknell.
Ruben Rodriguez #2 from Reading High was named Pa. All-State 6A Player of the Year - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert
Braeden Shrewsberry will follow his father, Micah to Notre Dame following a senior season at State College High that saw him avg. 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The 6-2 guard drilled 80 treys and made 2.9 three-pointers per game. He shot 40.8 percent from behind the arc and went 51-for-57 at the foul line. The Mid-Penn Championship Tournament MVP scored 1,530 career points. Dylan Blair leaves Downingtown West as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,563 points and heads to Army West Point next season. The 5-11 guard avg. 19 points and 7 rebounds, and was named First Team All Ches-Mont League all four years.
Ruben Rodriguez 6’2” senior Reading
Xzayvier Brown 6’1” senior Roman Catholic
Jalil Bethea 6’4” junior Archbishop Wood
Nick Coval 6’2” junior Parkland
Braeden Shrewsberry 6’3” senior State College
Dylan Blair 5’11” senior Downingtown West
Jacob Nguyen 6’4” sophomore Spring-Ford Area
Sam Brown 6’2” senior Lower Merion
Quidire Bennett 6’3” senior Plymouth-Whitemarsh
Greg Guidinger 6’7” junior Central York
Jaron McKie 6’2” sophomore St. Joseph’s Prep
Nadir Myers 6’2” senior Upper Darby
Aris Rodriguez 6’5” senior Reading
Nasir Washington 6’ 3” senior Penn Wood
Myles Grey 5’ 10” senior Reading
Jonathan Anderson 5’ 9” senior New Castle
Donovan Fromhartz 6’ 4” sophomore Downingtown West
Miguel Pena 6’ 3” senior Hempfield (tie)
Jermai Stewart-Herring 6’ 3” senior Roman Catholic (tie)
Player of the Year: Ruben Rodriguez, Reading
Coach of the Year: Rick Perez, Reading