skip navigation

BOYS BASKETBALL: Historic Class Led by Sorber & Williams Closes Out Archbishop Ryan Career

By Rich Flanagan. Photos: Mike Nance & Zack Beavers, 03/19/24, 1:00PM EDT


Photos/Videos: Zack Beavers, Rich Flanagan & Mike Nance

By: Rich Flanagan

BENSALEM, PA – Recency bias figures into how to view what had just transpired but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Putting into perspective what has been achieved on Academy Road over the last four seasons cannot be understated when looking back on the history of Archbishop Ryan basketball. The anguish overwhelmed the entire roster as players came to the realization that an incredible run had finally come to an end. The agony that this loss, along with the improbable one that had occurred just three weeks earlier, halted any possibility of a championship for the most successful senior class in program history superseded the acceptance that this stretch does not define this group. It never will, as the underlying fact is the 2024 class put Archbishop Ryan into an echelon it has yearned for since the days head coach Joe Zeglinski donned the black and red uniform.

Archbishop Ryan head coach Joe Zeglinski - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Zeglinski had a stoic demeanor while taking a few minutes to reflect on Archbishop Ryan’s 52-48 loss to Imhotep Charter in the PIAA Class 5A Tournament semifinals at Bensalem High School, a 10-minute ride from the school.

He looked out across the gymnasium just outside the locker room taking in every last second of the final meeting with this corps, most notably his linchpins in Darren Williams and Thomas Sorber

He was a star at Archbishop Ryan, scoring 1,152 career points and taking the Raiders to the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals as a senior, but much of the success he has had as head coach has been on the backs of his two Division I seniors who cemented themselves in history in ways no Raiders players ever has.

“In my eyes, they’re the best team that’s been here with all the things they’ve accomplished,” Zeglinski said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. Thomas is the best player of all-time here and Darren is one of the best players.”

High and well-deserved praise for Williams, who was a freshman on the 2021 team that advanced to the PIAA Class 5A Championship Game in Hershey, and Sorber, the 6-foot-9 forward who joined the Raiders program prior to his sophomore season in search of a new opportunity and one that would benefit him and the team. Being a towering figure on a basketball court is one thing but turning that into a Division I scholarship to Georgetown in the Big East is something he nor the school ever envisioned when he came over from Trenton Catholic (N.J.).

Sorber was the most dominant big man in the premier league in the state and he just got better as he career progressed. As he significantly dropped his weight, polished his footwork and post moves, developed a perimeter shot and regularly beat double teams, Archbishop Ryan improved with him vaulting to the Philadelphia Catholic League title during his sophomore season. He was the centerpiece, literally and figuratively, and he leaves the Raiders program with the school record for points (41 vs. Rutgers Prep (N.J.)) in a single game and the all-time scoring record (1,484). Statistically, he is the best player to ever wear “Ryan” across his chest and while the loss brings a solemn end to a historic career, Sorber shakes off the tears and bitterness to celebrate what this program did for him.

“The guys always brought a smile to my face,” Sorber said. “It felt like a second family. This whole organization of Archbishop Ryan basketball is just like a family to me. That’s been the best part for me.”

Sorber went for 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while Williams scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter including his only three-pointer of the night that gave Archbishop Ryan (20-10) a 43-40 lead then the 6-4 senior bound for Florida Gulf Coast found his big man inside for a tough finish to keep the advantage at three points with 2:46 left to play. Williams was on the bench in Hershey for the 2021 state title loss, but was a starter on both teams that fell at the Palestra in the Philadelphia Catholic League title game, including this year’s final that saw Ryan Everett’s go-ahead three-pointer get hurdled by Kabe Goss’s buzzer-beater to give Roman Catholic the title.

Archbishop Ryan senior Thomas Sorber #35 - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

Williams engineered the comeback in February’s title game, first hitting a go-ahead three-pointer of his own with 30.8 seconds left in regulation, then delivering one crucial player after the next including the pass to Sorber, who in turn found Everett in the corner for what should’ve been the biggest shot in Archbishop Ryan history. While he missed the state opener with an illness, Williams returned to score 36 points over the next two victories and nearly willed the Raiders to victory, a trait that has defined his career. While Sorber draws so much attention (and deservedly so), Williams is the one with the ball in his hands when precious seconds count even more. He has delivered in those moments the way few have in Archbishop Ryan and Philadelphia Catholic League history, for that matter.

Williams, who finished third all-time in scoring at Archbishop Ryan with 1,286 career points - six behind former standout Izaiah Brockington - wanted to be the one exalting his teammates and spurring the program to heights it had not seen prior to his arrival.

“The second half but more importantly the fourth quarter is when my team expects me to get going,” Williams said. “We need buckets and stops, and they expect me to get right into it and get the momentum back up. That’s exactly what we’ve needed to close out good teams like that. We fell a little short but I’m sure at any given moment, they’ll still believe in me to make those shots and trust in me to make the right decision.”

Zeglinski noted that “they’re winners” and “they took it to another level.” Sorber and Williams raised the level of those around them. Jaden Murray, the 6-6 senior forward, was simply a rebounder and defender two seasons ago and evolved into a versatile wing who can hit from the mid-range and facilitate the offense. Rocco Morabito, the senior guard headed to play at Gannon University, played two seasons at Archbishop Ryan and developed into a college prospect who wasn’t on any program’s radar beforehand. Finally, Everett hit three three-pointers in the first half against Imhotep Charter (28-3) and finished with 10 points in his final game. 

Archbishop Ryan senior Darren Williams #2 - PSD Photo by Mike Nance

His shot at the Palestra may be overshadowed by the one Goss hit seconds later but the confidence he exuded to hit the iconic jumper was a result of what Sorber and Williams brought to the program during their tenure.

According to Zeglinski, the way others gravitate toward those two stalwarts became a hallmark of the Archbishop Ryan program.

“I don’t think there will be anyone like those two again,” Zeglinski said. “They’re so competitive and their ability to lift their teammates up is something I haven’t seen in high school kids before. We’ll miss them but they certainly have big things ahead.”

Andre Noble secured his 500th career win with this result and has nine state titles to his name, with the possibility of breaking the PIAA record by a head coach on Friday night. His team has had to go through the Raiders twice in the last two years to get to Hershey, and furthermore, the two teams have played each other three times in the District 12 title game. Noble watched as his latest high-level prospect in UConn commit Ahmad Nowell scored the final seven points for the Panthers, including a layup with 9.7 seconds left to put his side up 50-47, and finished with 20 points, six rebounds and eight assists. Just as he has seen his own team grow and develop, he has seen firsthand how the Raiders have steadily improved in this recent stretch of matchups between two of Pa.’s most talented teams.

PIAA 5A Semifinal Highlights - Archbishop Ryan vs. Imhotep Charter - PSD Video by Rich Flanagan

“I think they’re sick of us, and we’re sick of them,” Noble joked. “They’re a great team and Joe does a great job with his guys. You never know what adjustment he’s going to have, and we have to figure it out as we go. How about that three by Darren to put them up three. That was a huge shot. It’s been like that through our whole rivalry.”

Over the last three seasons, the Raiders went 56-29 with 28 of those wins coming in the Philadelphia Catholic League.

They have advanced to the league title game twice and made the playoffs in all three years. Archbishop Ryan also made the state tournament all three seasons, advancing to the state semifinals the last two against Imhotep Charter, last year with Nowell, Rahmir Barno (Florida Gulf Coast) and Justin Edwards (Kentucky) and this time with Nowell and a new host of standout players. Success like that is not easy to duplicate and the road there is never a straight path. Take it from Williams, who has already experienced a lifetime of elation and anguish in that span.

“We’ll always remember the things that it took to get us here and the things it’s going to take for the next group of guys coming up,” Williams said. “They see what it takes to get to this level and continue to win.”

There’s no timetable on when Archbishop Ryan will have a vaunted class like this again, or when the next Williams or Sorber will join the roster. They could be here now, or it could take years before a future star or stars grace the floor in the gymnasium Zeglinski starred on for years himself. He has been at the center of this success and so indispensably influential to Wiliams and Sorber’s rise to stardom. Neither arrived on Academy Road as a finished product and incredibly, they left as two of the all-time greats.

Whomever steps in for them will remember what they accomplished, and the lasting impression will be how the two of them established a culture that will endure long after they’ve left the school.

“No matter how great of players they were, they always bought in and were coachable,” Zeglinski said. “I was able to get on them the hardest and everyone followed their lead. Their personalities made every day around them a good day. The young guys learned a lot about staying positive and overcoming really tough moments, especially a few weeks ago, and they’re going to be better for it.”