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BOYS BASKETBALL: Roman Catholic & Archbishop Ryan Clash With History and a Catholic League Title on the Line

By Rich Flanagan, 02/25/24, 10:00PM EST


By: Rich Flanagan

PHILADELPHIA – When turning onto Broad Street off the Vine Street Expressway, a majestic building appears that has stood for over 130 years.

Roman Catholic High School was the first diocesan high school for boys in the nation and has been a marvel in an ever-changing city like Philadelphia through the decades. Its architecture symbolizes a time forgotten for those simply passing through, but when talking to those who attended the school or have been part of its storied history, what unfolded inside that school, particularly on its third-floor basketball gym, will not only live on but be discussed for and with future generations.

No one better exemplifies the tradition of Roman Catholic basketball than Dennis Seddon. Seddon jokes that “I walked in here in September 1981 and I can’t find my way out.” He succeeded Barry Brodzinski as head basketball coach and Brodzinski succeeded William “Speedy” Morris.

All three men came after the late Billy Markward, Roman Catholic’s first head coach who won 20 league championships in 41 years and led the first integrated high school basketball team in the country in 1902-03.

The Markward Memorial Basketball Club is named in his honor and recognizes the best boys and girls high school basketball players from the Philadelphia Catholic League, Public League, Inter-Ac League, and the suburban leagues.

Morris and Brodzinski won a combined eight Philadelphia Catholic League titles during their time and continued the exemplary tradition that has been in place since the school’s inception. They also passed it down to Seddon, who took the program to new heights with 10 league crowns and a program record 516 victories.

The majestic Roman Catholic High School - Photo Courtesy of Roman Catholic

Billy Markward and 1902–03 Roman Catholic Basketball Team - Photo Courtesy of Roman Catholic High School

1969 PCL Championship Team with Coach Speedy Morris (far right) - Photo Courtesy of Roman Catholic High School

Seddon is an “unofficial” assistant for the current Cahillites team and still shares the memories of so many historically great seasons. Basketball is ingrained in Roman Catholic’s DNA and many like Seddon feel it was always destined for greatness on the hardwood.

Dennis Seddon - Photo Courtesy of Roman Catholic High School

“It’s special and unique, and it’s the reason I can’t find my way out the front door,” Seddon said. “I like to tell people Roman was founded in 1890 and we had a gym, but we were waiting around for Dr. James Naismith to invent basketball a year later.”

Seddon notes that while that legendary gym has a lifetime’s worth of memorable basketball moments, “it has outgrown itself with the change in the game and that’s why we play many of our games off campus.” Roman Catholic has had to accommodate larger crowds at bigger venues as it has grown in notoriety and prestige, and many of the local colleges in and around the city have been more than willing to host their games. Even outside the hallowed court, the Cahillites have won consistently and one place they have won more than any other high school program is the fabled Palestra, where Roman Catholic hopes to make history once again on Monday night.

Roman Catholic will play Archbishop Ryan in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship game at the Cathedral of College Basketball and look to add to its all-time record of 33 league titles.

Roman Catholic head coach Chris McNesby - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

Shareef (#44) & Sammy Jackson (#30) - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

Last season, the Cahillites secured the title behind Xzayvier Brown, Anthony Finkley, Erik Oliver-Bush, Jermai Stewart-Herring, and Shareef Jackson, and head coach Chris McNesby, a former player and longtime assistant under Seddon, won his third league crown.

Over the course of his first two seasons, Jackson evolved into the next Roman Catholic star playing with and learning from Khalil Farmer (Hofstra), Daniel Skillings Jr. (Cincinnati), and St. Joe’s freshmen Brown and Finkley, and he turned that into a First Team All-Catholic selection this season. The 6-7 junior forward and son of two-time Philadelphia Catholic League champion Marc Jackson, who played for Seddon, posted 20 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in Roman Catholic’s win over Father Judge in the semifinals. He was joined by his younger brother, 6-5 sophomore forward Sammy Jackson, who added nine points, five rebounds and five assists in his first game at the Palestra.

McNesby was a key part of the rotation on three Philadelphia Catholic League title teams and now as head coach, Seddon described that he's the latest link to a coaching fraternity that has set the standard for how to win in this league and city.

“Chris is a perfect example as he grew up in this environment, and he saw what went into it and what it could mean,” Seddon said. “He adapted some things and added some, and it has continued in the tradition. Tradition builds tradition and winning builds winning.”

Seddon has truly seen it all when reflecting on his time at Roman Catholic from a potential school closure in 1986, where the Archdiocese of Philadelphia “told the school it had to enroll 250 freshmen” and “the entire community got together, in the spirit of Roman, with 274 freshmen,” to unrivaled success with the likes of McNesby, Marc Jackson, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Marvin Harrison, Bernard Jones, Kyle Locke, Donnie Carr, R.C. Kehoe, and Lari Ketner, Rasual Butler and Eddie Griffin, all three of whom tragically passed away before the age of 40.

Maalik Wayns was a starter on Seddon’s final championship team in 2007 alongside Brian and Brad Wanamaker, the latter of which starred at Pittsburgh and spent time with the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, and Washington Wizards. Wayns was considering a few schools prior to his arrival at Broad & Vine, first looking at “West Catholic because I played football early on in my life. Albie Crosby was an assistant there, and I had a relationship with him,” and also “Imhotep Charter as I grew up across the street and Andre Noble was the coach there.” He and his mom agreed Roman Catholic was the best place for him, and furthermore, he wanted to continue the tradition of excellence that had been established long before he was born, much like the 2023-24 iteration.

“We’re a program that prides ourselves on championships, not just making it to the Palestra,” Wayns said. “We want to win the big game and to add another one to the collection with another team adds to the storied history.”

Wayns scored 13 points in that league final win as a sophomore then won two league MVPs and finished his career with 1,151 points. His career-high in the purple and gold uniform was 34 against Archbishop Wood as a junior, and even though he missed the latter portion of his senior season with an injury, he was selected as a McDonald’s All-American. Wayns played three seasons at Villanova for Jay Wright, making two NCAA Tournament appearances, and scoring 1,191 points. He went undrafted but spent time with the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers.

He is currently the head coach at Camden (N.J.), leading one of the most accomplished and renowned programs in the Garden State, and last year’s Panthers team included two current Kentucky freshmen in D.J. Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw as well as a Wildcats commit in Billy Richmond.

Wayns played for both Seddon and McNesby, and what he learned from his second high school head coach has benefitted him in his current role.

“Now that I’m coaching, I use a lot of the qualities that he instilled in me from day one,” Wayns said. “The biggest thing is accountability, and he could have cared less that I was a five-star prospect headed to Villanova. He always held me accountable and made sure I was a team guy while making sure my character was high. His basketball credentials and accolades speak for themselves, and the way he makes us strive for greatness is a testament to his greatness.”

Roman Catholic vs. Father Judge - PCL Semifinal Highlights by Rich Flanagan

Roman Catholic has dominated the Philadelphia high school scene for decades and clashed with Carl Arrigale and Neumann-Goretti on a regular basis since the turn of the century, but its reach goes far beyond the city limits. Shep Garner is a Chester native but there was an allure in playing for the Cahillites. The Chester Clippers had won six PIAA state titles prior to Garner’s high school career with Jameer Nelson and others paving the way, but that didn’t deter his decision to attend Roman Catholic. It turned out to be a worthwhile decision.

“Growing up in Chester, everybody wants to go to Chester High and put that orange and black jersey on,” Garner said. “I’m really a Chester guy and I knew a few people who went there. Maalik Wayns was a guy I looked up to and looking back on the history of great players they had, they were in need of a new spark and new generation. They needed something fresh, and I felt like I could be that guy, much like I was at Penn State.”

Garner started from day one and played in the league semifinals all four seasons, which included a trip to the 2014 title game where he and the Cahillites fell to Philadelphia Catholic League all-time leading scorer Ja'Quan Newton and Neumann-Goretti. The three-time First Team All-Catholic selection had his best game at the Palestra in a 20-point performance in a loss to the Saints in the 2012 semifinals and scored 1,437 career points, seventh on the all-time list. After playing for McNesby, Garner played four seasons at Penn State where he scored 1,629 points and made 336 three-pointers while helping the Nittany Lions win the 2018 NIT championship.

He played professionally with the Grand Rapid Drive (now Gold) in the NBA G-League then also played in Mexico and Argentina before returning to Pa. to be an assistant at Chester High, where he helped the Clippers win the Del Val League and District 1-5A title. Last season, he received his first collegiate coaching job as he was hired as the Director of Player Development at Florida Gulf Coast under head coach Pat Chambers. His role includes “making sure these guys are ready to play and working them out. I’m getting them ready mentally and physically, and I’m basically a trainer, mentor, and that big brother role that most coaches don’t have.”

Garner has always wanted to be a college coach and it was McNesby who first told him he would go in this direction. “When I was in high school, he used to tell me, ‘You’re going to be a coach because you’re smart and you know the game,’” Garner said. The current group is very much constructed like the team Garner was part of in 2010-11 with multiple scoring options and defensive versatility. While Shareef (17.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg) is the face of the 2023-24 team, Sammy, Travis Reed Jr. (10.2 ppg), Sebastian Edwards (8.8), Hunter Johnson (8.5), Robert Cottrell (8.2) and Kabrien Goss (6.0), who missed the first 12 games of the year returning from two knee injuries, have all had their moments.

Goss, like Reed and Johnson and previously Cottrell, is a transfer and the appeal of the Philadelphia Catholic League drew him to Roman Catholic, where he helped the Cahillites finish with an 11-2 record and securing the top seed in the playoffs.

“The Catholic League is one of the best leagues in the tri-state area,” Goss said after the semifinal win. “You read up on guys coming out of the Catholic League. If you know about basketball, you know about the Catholic League before you come here.”

McNesby earned his first two Philadelphia Catholic League titles in 2015 and 2016 behind Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick, all of whom would go on to play with Garner in Happy Valley. He stepped away after 2016 then returned in 2022 when Matt Griffin was hired as an assistant at Albany.

Roman Catholic senior Travis Reed Jr. #0 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

Roman Catholic senior Hunter Johnson #5 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

When McNesby was leading the Cahillites to the 2016 title, Joe Zeglinski was leading Archbishop Ryan to its first semifinal appearance since 2008, when Northern Division MVP Andrew Rogers scored all 12 of his team’s points in that fourth quarter and converted two free throws with only milliseconds on the clock to beat Bonner-Prendergast. The Raiders would lose in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game to North Catholic, but it was the latest accomplishment for a resurgent program under the leadership of head coach Bernie Rogers, Andrew’s older brother.

Archbishop Ryan head coach Joe Zeglinski - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

Haverford School head coach Bernie Rogers - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Bernie, currently the head coach at the Haverford School, is the all-time winningest coach in Archbishop Ryan history with 212 victories. He took the Raiders to two league title games, the first being in 2002 when the program fell to Neumann-Goretti. Bernie starred at Archbishop Ryan in the early 1990s, twice being named All-Catholic including first team as a senior and finishing his career as the program’s all-time assists leader (record was later broken by Jalen Snead). He went on to have a successful career at Ursinus where he tallied 1,185 points and 429 assists.

Bernie recalls what it was like when he first took over at his alma mater, which had only one league title game appearance (1979) prior to his arrival, and how he wanted to usher in a change in culture and player development.

“Back then, it was North and South divisions, and they took the top four teams from each division,” Bernie said. “Early on, we were trying to build consistency and made it eight or nine straight years. We wanted to build consistency for the playoffs then once we got there, we wanted to do everything we could to be the last team.”

Chris Mooney was a senior at Archbishop Ryan when Bernie was a sophomore and that was his most successful high school season as he was named 1990 Northern Division MVP. The current University of Richmond head coach avg. 16.3 ppg that season then went to play four seasons at Princeton, where he scored 1,071 points and knocked down 142 three-pointers, and helped the Tigers win two Ivy League championships on their way to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. After his playing career ended, he dove right into coaching, first taking over at Lansdale Catholic then heading to Arcadia University where he and Bernie coached together. “We’ve always been longtime friends and still stay in touch.

Mooney has known Zeglinski for quite some time as well as his father, John who played in Archbishop Ryan in the 1970s then was a two-sport athlete at Wake Forest starring both on the gridiron and diamond, and he knows what it was like for John, Bernie and himself playing in the Philadelphia Catholic League during those early decades when the program was attempting to find where it stood with the better teams.

“We didn’t have as deep of a tradition, certainly not one like Roman Catholic or some other teams in the league,” Mooney said. The landscape was much different in that we were all from feeder parishes that go to Archbishop Ryan, and my senior year we had seven seniors on the team who had all grown up playing together. Ryan went to the championship game in 1979 and while we had tradition, it wasn’t as strong of a tradition as some of the Catholic League powerhouses.”

Archbishop Ryan vs. Neumann-Goretti - 2024 PCL Semifinal Highlights by Lennie Malmgren for PSD:

Mooney credits Bernie and subsequently Joe for not only making Archbishop Ryan a respectable program but one that was in contention almost every season. Bernie had the Raiders in the playoffs for a large portion of his career and Joe has taken Archbishop Ryan to the league semifinals six times, including two title game appearances with the first one coming in 2022.  

“That’s been the key to success as they’ve had tremendous coaches who have been able to play great basketball,” Mooney said. “I’ve been there many times over the years watching practices while recruiting, and while I love the place, they have some of the best workouts and coaching that I’ve seen in my recruiting career.”

Joe Zeglinski only made the semifinals once as a player, 2006 when the Raiders lost to Roman Catholic. Mooney was in attendance for that game as Joe scored 16 points and culminated his Archbishop Ryan career with 1,152. In recent history, the first instance at Archbishop Ryan of two Division I recruits playing together was Andrew Rogers and Joe Zeglinski then a decade later Joe was at the helm as Izaiah Brockington, now with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Matiss Kulackovskis took the Raiders to consecutive league semifinal appearance, losing to Quade Green and Neumann-Goretti then Collin Gillespie and Archbishop Wood.

Bernie witnessed firsthand what kind of athlete Joe Zeglinski was and now he sees how that has translated to success as a head coach.

“He was a winner on the court and made various plays, both scoring, rebounding and defensively, to help our team win,” Bernie said. “He had a level of consistency, whether we were playing a top team in the area or a team we should beat. His level of play was consistent no matter who he was playing against, and that’s what really stood out to me. He would keep us in the game no matter who he was playing.”

The next and perhaps most accomplished Division I tandem resides on the current roster in Georgetown commit Thomas Sorber (18.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.9 bpg) and Florida Gulf Coast commit Darren Williams, who were starters on the team that advanced to the league final two seasons ago. Sorber, the 6-foot-9 big man, was named Philadelphia Catholic League Co-MVP – the first Archbishop Ryan to win that award since Andrew Rogers – and he played like it in the semifinals going for 11 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks while Williams, the 6-4 marksman avg. 17.5 ppg with 80 three-pointers made, scored 10 of his 13 points in the third quarter to beat Neumann-Goretti. They have won a lot of games together, but none will be bigger than Monday as the Raiders are on the precipice of the first league title in program history.

As both an alum and former head coach, Bernie understands the magnitude of what a victory in this title game would mean for the school and community.

“Four different teams have gotten down there and whoever can capture that first one will be pretty historic,” Bernie said. “It’s exciting and they’ll get to say they got the first one.”

The league hasn’t seen a big man like Sorber for quite a while, and when thinking back to some of notable forwards, names such as Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Rick Jackson, Jalen Duren, Mark Zoller, and even Adonal Foyle and Rakeem Christmas stir in the memory banks of former players and coaches like Mooney who have recruited within the league for decades.

“They have a great team and while they have multiple great players, they have a standout player in Sorber,” Mooney said. “It would mean a tremendous amount because there’s been so much hard work and I know so many people who have played there and will be supporting the team. It means a great deal to the students and facility, and it would also mean a great deal to the alumni and guys who played there.”

2024 PCL Co-MVP Thomas Sorber #35 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

Archbishop Ryan senior Darren Williams #2 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

Joe Zeglinski stated after the semifinal “we want to get it for everyone. I’ve been looking for this chip since I was in high school. It means a lot to me, but it means even more to our school and alumni. This group is so special, and I want to do it with these great guys beside me.” As a former standout, Joe always felt he was playing for those who previously worn the black and red jersey, and now Williams wants to win it for his head coach “for all the dedication, hours, and hard work. All those early mornings and late nights. It’s definitely important as it would be the first one in school history, so it would mean a lot.”

The Raiders lost to the Cahillites in that title game 45 years ago and haven’t met in a game with this much on the line since Zeglinski’s final high school game.

Archbishop Ryan won the regular season matchup, 64-57 as Sorber posted 23 points and 12 boards and Williams hit four three-pointers on his way to 14 points. Ryan Everett hit three shots from behind the arc in that game against Roman Catholic, which was without Shareef, and came up big in the semifinals with three more makes from deep. Jaden Murray (7.9 ppg) is in the midst of his best high school season and the 6-6 senior forward scored 11 points at the Palestra on Wednesday.

It’s the biggest game in the history of Archbishop Ryan basketball and Bernie, who will be on-hand Monday night, is hoping everything this team has done to this point leads to a long-awaited title.

“When you’re a head coach, the average person doesn’t know how much Joey and his staff, like all high school staffs, are doing all year round to prepare for this moment,” Bernie said. “It’s an ongoing grind and you work at it to get your team and program better. I think anytime you have this type of moment, it makes all that hard work come to fruition.”

Archbishop Ryan senior Ryan Everett #5 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

Seddon will also be there as McNesby and the Cahillites look for the 34th title in program history and add to an already unmatched record that showcases the longevity of Roman Catholic basketball.

“We have a saying, ‘At Roman Catholic, the best players play,’” Seddon said. “You may be a freshman or might be a senior, but the best players play. How well you develop and how hard you work determines if you’re playing. Real basketball players want to win and if they see winning, it begets winning.”

Garner is a connection between the two programs, as a Roman Catholic alum and a soon-to-be coach of Williams. He has been keeping tabs on both throughout the season, and while he’s looking forward to working with Williams next season, his allegiance lies with his alma mater.

“No one saw this before the season started,” Garner said. “Coach Chris has these guys playing at an unbelievable level and I know they’re going to win it. I believe in Coach Chris, his staff, and these players. I’ve been watching closely. Florida Gulf Coast has a commit in Darren, but I got to go with Roman Catholic on this one.”