Photos: Mike Nance & Kathy Leister
By: Rich Flanagan
WARMINSTER, PA – Jalil Bethea has been the main attraction for many college coaches for the better part of two years and Philly Live accentuated that even further.
Over the course of two weekends, coaches from across the country flocked to see a multitude of players but the majority of them were there to see the Archbishop Wood guard and top-10 prospect in the class of 2024 put on a show. He posted a monster performance with 42 points and 11 rebounds in a game against Camden (N.J.) and also scored 30 points in a victory over Tunstall (Va.).
While Bethea was dominating the competition on the biggest stage of his career to that point and having the attention of all those in attendance, one coach in particular was looking on in amazement. This coach had traveled from Coral Gables to see the heralded recruit put on a show and he badly wanted another southeastern Pa. prospect to join his program. That man was Miami (Fla.) head coach Jim Larrañaga, a man with almost 700 wins to his name and fresh off his second career Final Four appearance.
Larrañaga sat courtside and Bethea immediately noticed his presence.
Jalil Bethea pictured below with his family, friends & coaches announcing his commitment to Miami - PSD Photos by Kathy Leister
It is the lasting moment that resonates with Bethea when thinking back on the long road that was his recruitment, especially considering the long-time head coach wasn’t 100 percent.
“Coach Larrañaga came to a Philly Live game, and he was really sick,” Bethea said during a phone interview on Tuesday. “He had just gotten out of the hospital and decided to come to my game. That same night, he got on a plane and went home. He came to see me and that showed that he really cared.”
Bethea showcased what that trip and this bond with the former Naismith Coach of the Year means to him by officially committing to Larrañaga and the Hurricanes on Wednesday at Archbishop Wood. The 6-foot-5 guard and No. 9 prospect in the nation, according to 247Sports, became the third former Philadelphia Catholic League MVP to commit to Miami since Larrañaga took over joining Ja’Quan Newton (Neumann-Goretti) and Isaiah Wong (Bonner-Prendergast).
Immediately drawn to what Larrañaga professed to him and keen to the program’s success in recruiting the Philadelphia area for well over a decade, Bethea knew after his visit to campus on September 9, where he watched the Hurricanes dismantle No. 23 Texas A&M, that this was the place for him.
“He told me how much he cared about me and how much he wanted me to come to Miami,” Bethea said. “Coach Larrañaga is one of the best coaches in college basketball history. He brought programs that were down, up, and playing for a coach like that is good for me.”
It is not lost on him how both Larrañaga and assistant coach DJ Irving, a former Archbishop Carroll standout with deep ties to the area, understand the landscape of college basketball but also how they have developed lasting relationships in and around Philadelphia.
Irving, who Bethea stated “was one of the main reasons why I picked Miami,” was instrumental in bringing Wong - the 2022-23 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year who scored 1,866 career points and now plays for the Indiana Pacers - to the Hurricanes and Bethea sees himself stepping into an eerily similar situation. “They have recruited a lot of Philly guys and those guys under Coach L did great after college. Some of them went to the NBA and I think Wooga [Poplar] is next in line to go.”
Poplar, who enters his junior season after averaging 9.6 points per game during the NCAA Tournament, played at Math, Civics & Sciences in Philadelphia and catapulted himself into an elite prospect in a short timespan in the same way Bethea did.
Poplar led Math, Civics & Sciences to its first-ever Philadelphia Public League title and scored 1,490 points in three seasons.
The same appeal to how Poplar became a transcendent player after not playing as a freshman during his high school career reverberated with Bethea, who did not play a minute of his freshman season behind one of Archbishop Wood’s most heralded senior classes ever in Rahsool Diggins (UMass), Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle), Jaylen Stinson (Merrimack), Marcus Randolph (Saint Peter’s) and Muneer Newton (Albany). That group won the 2021 Philadelphia Catholic League title and fell just one possession short of the PIAA Class 6A championship in Hershey.
Archbishop Wood senior Jalil Bethea #1 is taking his talents to South Beach - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
Learning from that corps and witnessing the unprecedented success they had laid the groundwork for Bethea’s meteoric rise as a sophomore.
“Seeing them succeed made me want to work even harder,” Bethea said. “It made me want to be better because I wanted to show people how hard of a worker I am. Having them on the team helped me a lot because if I came to Wood and they weren’t there, I don’t know where I would be. They humbled me.”
Archbishop Wood head coach John Mosco, who has coached a plethora of Division I prospects in Diggins, Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Justin Moore (Drexel) and Tommy Funk (Army), emphasizes that in this era of player movement and reluctance to wait for the opportunity at one school, Bethea is an outlier who sat his entire freshman season then came off the bench as the Vikings sixth man as a sophomore.
“In this day and age, a lot of kids leave after freshman year if they’re not getting what they want then you add to it that he didn’t start his sophomore year,” Mosco said. “That will help him at the next level in adjusting to what the team needs him to do.”
Mosco didn’t mince words when describing Bethea as being “in the top-5 in terms of players I have coached at Wood over the last 10 years,” and there are several reasons for that. He earned Third Team All-Catholic and Pa. All-State 6A Second Team honors in his first season playing varsity minutes by avg. 13.7 ppg and making an astounding 90 three-pointers on 46.2% from behind the arc. His most memorable game came against North Hills in the state quarterfinals as he shot 11-for-12 from the three-point line and broke the record for most points (37) by a Philadelphia Catholic League player in a state playoff game that Archbishop Ryan’s Aaron Lemon-Warren (36) had set the season prior.
He was even better as a junior, joining Gillespie and Diggins as Philadelphia Catholic League MVP and leading the Vikings to the league and state semifinals. He avg. avg. 23.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists, and scored 20 or more points 18 times. He continued his torrid pace from the outside, hitting 85 three-pointers, and shooting 53.6% from the floor for the season. His best game of the year saw him score 26 of his 40 points in the second half against St. Joe’s Prep. He became the first Philadelphia Catholic League player to score 40 in a game since Wong in 2019.
Archbishop Wood head coach John Mosco - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
Archbishop Wood senior Jalil Bethea #1 was the 2023 Philadelphia Catholic League MVP - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Many knew about his game but as last season progressed, more people knew his name, and according to Mosco, that boded well for his electric wing.
“To win the MVP without being a well-known name and a team without heralded seniors is an accolade on his part,” Mosco said. “He keeps rising to the occasion and gets to the next plateau or whatever he sets his goals on.”
His commitment to Miami may come as a surprise to some but it was always a possibility. He included the Hurricanes in his top-5 in July. He chose Miami over Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse, a program that heavily recruited him even after Jim Boeheim retired after last season. He canceled visits to both Syracuse and Alabama immediately following his Miami visit, signaling to everyone that his search was over, and his recruitment had ended. So, what exactly did Larrañaga, and his staff share with Bethea during that official visit?
“It was stuff that they showed me and what they’re capable of doing,” Bethea said. “They showed me a lot of analytics and used those to compare my game to a lot of NBA players. It was great because no other coaches had shown me that. They compared me to Devin Booker and Tyler Herro. They compared me to people who can score and have an underrated passing ability.”
Miami already holds him in high regard and wants to help him realize his potential, which he is only beginning to unleash on the Philadelphia Catholic League and beyond with 1,047 points already to his name. He was part of a loaded Team Final 17U team that boasted Robert Wright III (Baylor), Thomas Sorber (Georgetown), and Ahmad Nowell (UConn). He avg. 18.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals during Team Final’s run to the Nike EYBL Peach Jam semifinals in North Augusta, S.C. and helped the team accrue a 25-4 overall record. On a team full of star-studded players who are moving on to play at some of the premier programs in the nation, Bethea not only found a role but excelled at a high level.
It continues an impressive trend and highlights his ascent into elite prospect. He starred at the Nike World Basketball Festival and the SLAM Summer Classic Vol. 5, where he won the dunk contest, playing alongside the best high school recruits in the country and to no surprise held his own. He stayed the course and after Larrañaga made that trip during the summer to watch him play, Bethea is more than prepared to make his trip down to Coral Gables and play for the Hurricanes.
“It has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Bethea said. “I’m glad I made a final decision because I feel I am capable of doing a lot there.”