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BOYS BASKETBALL: Kabe Goss Nails Buzzer-Beater to Secure Another PCL Title for Roman Catholic

By Rich Flanagan Photos: Mike Nance, 02/27/24, 12:15PM EST


Photos: Mike Nance

Videos: Rich Flanagan & John Knebels

By: Rich Flanagan

PHILADELPHIA - Simply put, “it’s a Roman thing.”

That is what legendary head coach Dennis Seddon, the winner of 10 Philadelphia Catholic League championships, professed on Monday night, and it encapsulates the tradition of excellence that Roman Catholic has exemplified as the marquee program in the league and Philadelphia high school basketball. Touted players have developed and prospered with an irregular regularity but more than that, those who have donned the purple and gold consistently win titles at a pace and rate that no other team in league history can match.

Yet, somehow, some way, the Cahillites program was able to one-up itself once again on the biggest stage in the sport in a city synonymous with basketball and add another storied chapter to an unprecedented history that has transcended into an encyclopedia of all-time greats.

Kabrien Goss provided the latest example of Roman Catholic greatness by hitting the game-winning buzzer-beater to give the Cahillites a 46-45 overtime victory over Archbishop Ryan in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game at the Palestra. The win secured Roman Catholic’s 34th league championship all-time, 12 more than the next program, Neumann-Goretti.

Goss, the 5-foot-4 senior guard who missed the first 12 games of the season as he rehabbed from two knee injuries, was fully aware of the waning seconds ticking away as he caught the inbound pass and his only inclination was to get the ball up the floor in a position to hit one, final shot to decide the championship.

“Coming across the court, I realized there wasn’t enough time to get into anything,” Goss said. “I had to trust myself and I had confidence in myself.”

Roman Catholic senior Kabe Goss explains his heroic moment in the PCL championship - PSD Video by John Knebels

It was the latest moment for the Cahillites, who won their second consecutive title after Xzayvier Brown banked in the memorable game-tying three-pointer to force overtime before Roman Catholic finished things off in the extra period a season ago. Thinking back even a few years ago, Hakim Hart caught a pinpoint pass from Lynn Greer III in the closing seconds as Roman Catholic defeated Bonner-Prendergast in 2018.

Brad Wanamker, who was on hand for this win, recalled winning his lone title in that famous arena under Seddon 17 years ago, and even now, as he runs his AAU program, BW Elite, he still feels that chip on his shoulder where Roman Catholic has established an expectation that even in what some would categorize as down years, it will always have a say.

“We’re built different,” Wanamaker said. “Even when we’re the top dog, people still doubt us, so it’s that underdog mentality of going into every game and thinking people are betting against us.”

Goss’s shot was nearly upstaged just seconds before at Georgetown commit Thomas Sorber, who went for 16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks with his future head coach in Ed Cooley behind the Archbishop Ryan bench, drove baseline and found fellow senior Ryan Everett for the go-ahead three-pointer from the corner to put the Raiders up 45-44 with 8.5 seconds left. 

Roman Catholic vs. Archbishop Ryan - 2024 PCL Championship Highlights by Rich Flanagan for PSD:

In the same way, he returned from those knee injuries, Goss and the Cahillites came back from a potential back-breaking three and didn’t lose their composure during that final possession. He dribbled down the right side, took a left-handed dribble from just outside the three-point line and pulled up from just above the foul line for a jumper that will reside in Roman Catholic lore for generations.

“Everything comes full circle,” Goss said. “This is just a testament to let everyone know to keep working and not ever stop because of injury or hard times. Just keep working.”

This very scenario has played out time and again at the Palestra, but continually, it’s Roman Catholic players taking and making the big plays to cement their legacy amongst the great Cahillites teams of the past. Marc Jackson, who won a pair of Philadelphia Catholic League titles under Seddon, sat courtside and watched as his sons, Shareef and Sammy Jackson won their second league title.

After posting a double-double in the semifinals against Father Judge, Shareef was terrific yet again with 16 points and seven rebounds and displayed another facet to his game by sinking a pair of three-pointers. His moment was not as monumental as Goss’s, but the 6-7 junior forward came up big as Goss drove baseline and found his big man dropping down the lane. Shareef caught it and finished with his left hand to force overtime and inadvertently give Goss the opportunity to make history.

This came after Florida Gulf Coast commit Darren Williams (12 points) hit a huge three-pointer out of a set the Raiders ran during their run to the 2022 title game, and Archbishop Ryan (17-8) led 40-38 with 30.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Shareef is a legacy at Roman Catholic and, after missing the regular season matchup with Sorber and the Raiders due to an ankle injury, he felt added pressure to make his presence known early, as he scored 12 of his points in the opening half.

“Coming into the season, a lot of teams have even lineups and don’t have a lot of big guys,” Shareef said. “Eventually over the course of games, you know you’re going to be playing [Sorber] who’s Co-MVP and a great player. Coming out in this game, I did what I had to do to get this win.”

Chris McNesby was a winner with Seddon as his head coach and his mentor instilled all of the same traits he in turn instills in his players. 

Roman Catholic's man among men, junior Shareef Jackson, summarizes dramatic PCL title victory - PSD Video by John Knebels

This gives McNesby his fourth Philadelphia Catholic League title, joining greats like his mentor in Seddon, William “Speedy” Morris and Billy Markward, all of whom won at least four titles while manning the Cahillites sideline.

It has been a continuation of success that each generation understands and vows to emulate, and when former players return and speak to the current group, McNesby wants his corps to be aware of and embrace the expectations of wearing Roman across their chests.

“They know when Xzayvier Brown, Anthony Finkley, Brad Wanamaker, Tony Carr, or Lamar Stevens come into practice, and they talk about their championship and how they won, the guys think, ‘There’s some pressure there,’” McNesby said. “It’s a little gut-wrenching.”

As gut-wrenching as it may be, Roman Catholic is consistently holding the Philadelphia Catholic League plaque and more plaques reside at the intersection of Broad & Vine than anywhere else. Maalik Wayns is a connection between Seddon and McNesby, having won his lone league crown with Wanamaker under Seddon then finishing his career with McNesby at the helm. Even more so, Wayns is a household name on a list of household names that have called Roman Catholic home and as the decades have gone on, the program remains at the top of the league with no signs of slowing down.

“If you look around, some schools have come and gone, but Roman has been a staple,” Wayns said. “Neumann has obviously also been a staple but the tradition at Roman and the way it’s operated, there’s really nothing like it.”

The way this edition of Roman Catholic (23-2) was constructed differed greatly from others and perhaps provided a glimpse of how McNesby will manage his roster as the years go on in an ever-changing landscape. Goss arrived by way of Trenton High School (N.J.) while Travis Reed Jr. transferred in from Frankford and Hunter Johnson, who began his career at Cardinal O’Hara and played last season at Orlando Christian Prep (Fla.) found his way back into a league he played in for two seasons prior. 

Johnson, the 6-foot senior, closed out his high school career with a coveted title while adding to the rich history that is Roman Catholic basketball. He wanted to be part of that before enrolling and he will now be mentioned in the same breath as Wanamaker, Wayns and Brown.

“When you play in the PCL, your goal is to always get to the Palestra, and the fact that I was able to make it and be valuable to my team is really important to me,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy to be in this moment with my guys.”

Johnson converted a tough layup to give the Cahillites a 23-12 lead in the second quarter for his only field goal of the night. Scoring was not his forte or role on this team but rebounding and face-guarding players were elements he knew he could flourish in, and he took that to heart. Reed, the 6-2 senior, led the team with 39 made three-pointers this season and played his role to perfection as both a marksman and multi-dimensional defender who could guard several positions.

Having the combination of Goss, Johnson and Reed and intermingling them with Robert Cottrell, who has two Philadelphia Catholic League titles now after transferring in from Simon Gratz as a junior, and the homegrown talent in Shareef and Sammy was not going to be an easy task, but as Reed notes, they were up to the task. Furthermore, playing for something bigger than themselves and buying into what McNesby was preaching allowed them to win something none of the new players had won before while providing the next title to an already dominant program.

Roman Catholic head coach Chris McNesby almost at a loss for words after his team won the PCL championship off on OT buzzer beater - PSD Video by John Knebels

“Even when it was the first day coming in, we had to make sure we were a team because you can bring in a whole bunch of great guys and they may not mesh together,” Reed said. “We all came together and got it done.”

Transfers are nothing new at Roman Catholic as Finkley, Carr, Stevens, Hart, and Allen Betrand, among others, did not begin their careers with the Cahillites but left as champions and their names will go down in history. Winning a title is one thing but winning a Philadelphia Catholic League title at Roman Catholic is everything. The way this group gelled together may have been McNesby’s best work as a head coach as a team with Brown, Shareef, Daniel Skillings Jr and Khalil Farmer did not win a title two seasons ago then Brown and Finkley graduated following last year’s title. Shareef is the star of this team but he needs players like Goss, Cottrell and Johnson to feed him the ball, allowing others to create on their own when teams key on the big man.

There were no isolations run as McNesby did for Skillings or Brown, but rather an offense that gave his players the freedom to make decisions and reap the rewards of their understanding and advancement in execution. Wanamaker said, “Chris is a players’ coach, and he knows what it takes to get here.” Goss felt the confidence to hit the biggest shot of his basketball career solely based upon the trust McNesby has instilled in him and the entire roster.

“It could have been anybody but tonight it was my night,” Goss said. “I’m glad my guys trusted me with the ball in the last couple seconds. I’m just happy it was me today.”

Prior to the season, McNesby emphasized that “everyone needs to buy into a role” and from the length and versatility of Shareef and Sammy to the superb and, in some cases, timely guard play from Goss, Johnson and Cottrell, there may not have been a go-to scorer but sometimes there were many depending on the situation. Seddon, who has been part of the program since handing it over to McNesby, expressed the same mantra he did when he was tutoring the likes of Marc Jackson, Marvin Harrison, Donnie Carr, Rasual Butler, and Eddie Griffin that “it doesn’t matter who it is. This year it was Kabe and last year it was X. It’s a different player every time.”

Roman Catholic is back in a place it always seems to be. Rather, it should be and expects to be. It never gets old for the fabled program that has produced recognized players and accomplished teams. 

Roman Catholic's Travis Reed, Shareef Jackson, Hunter Johnson & Kabrien Goss talk about Ryan being a tough opponent - PSD video by John Knebels

Travis Reed addresses what it means to play basketball for Roman Catholic - PSD Video by John KNebels

Your 2024 PCL Champs - Roman Catholic High School - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

There are programs who have had stars and made their runs but came up short. None can measure up to the track record of winning Roman Catholic has put together for over a century. The standard is Roman Catholic and even as the game has changed, it has remained the standard. Until another program knocks it off its pedestal, it will stay there and it’s difficult seeing it leave anytime soon.

It has withstood the passage of time, and the best players want to wear that famed jersey worn by McDonald’s All-Americans and NBA Draft choices. Moreover, they want to play for the winningest program in Philadelphia Catholic League history and etch their names next to those who helped build Roman Catholic into the standard of Philadelphia high school basketball.

As Seddon confesses, holding that plaque in that hallowed arena is the expectation for Roman Catholic basketball every, single season. It always will be.

“It’s a tremendous tradition and as members of the Catholic League, we live for this,” Seddon said. “Even though we joined the PIAA, that’s totally secondary. If you asked any team or coach in the Catholic League if they had to choose between the two, it’s not even a contest. It’s playing in front of 10,000 of your closest friends and enemies, and something you will never forget. Every kid that has ever played here talks about it. It never gets old.”