By: Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Photos: Zamani Feelings (@Zam919)
Videos: Angelise Stuhl (@ngelise_s)
PHILADELPHIA- Roman Catholic had just capped off another dominant season.
They took home back-to-back Philadelphia Catholic League and PIAA Class 4A titles behind a core of seniors in Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick, all of whom committed to Penn State, and center Paul Newman (Bucknell). While this accomplished class was on its way out, its head coach would soon follow as Chris McNesby resigned two months after cutting down the nets following the state title victory.
That was 2016.
It was the end of one, storied chapter in the history of Roman Catholic basketball and the inception of another. Matt Griffin was hired and pegged with the assignment of keeping the Cahillites not only atop the Philadelphia Catholic League but in contention for deep runs in the state tournament.
2019 PCL Championship Photo Gallery by Zamani Feelings for PSD:
He began his tenure with two intriguing prospects in Seth Lundy and Lynn Greer III. Lundy was a freshman on the 2016 PCL title team and Greer, whose father starred at Temple University just down the road from Broad & Vine, came in as a heralded freshman already with an offer from Penn State to his name. The Cahillites advanced to the league semifinals in Griffin’s first season at the helm but fell to Neumann-Goretti.
Lundy, who’s committed to Penn State and surpassed the 1,000-point mark earlier this season, recalled what it was like integrating himself into the Roman Catholic program, one he was not too familiar with prior to arriving on campus.
“Coming into my freshman year, I didn’t even know who Tony, [Lamar] and those guys were coming over from New Jersey,” Lundy said. “I came in and people from around the area told me, ‘You’re going to be playing with the best of them. You’re playing with McDonald’s All-Americans.’ To me, they were just a regular pair. I came in and I competed with them every, single day.”
Lundy scored 18 points and grabbed five rebounds as Roman Catholic jumped on La Salle early and often en route to a 64-50 victory to claim their second straight Philadelphia Catholic League title and fourth in five years. It was the third for Lundy in four seasons, with the first being the one Carr and Co. won in 2016.
What has made the Cahillites run to back-to-back league titles so impressive was the way Griffin’s first season ended. In addition to the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal loss, Roman Catholic bowed out in the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A Tournament to Perkiomen Valley.
Griffin’s biggest goal when he took the Roman Catholic job was continuing the culture of winning while bringing together a new group of skilled players. Monday’s victory exemplified what he has created.
“Ultimately, it’s a group of young men who are selfless and are brothers,” Griffin said. “They care about one another. They all have individual goals but they’re able to come together to win a common goal. That’s what you love to see about basketball.”
Prior to the 2017 season, Roman Catholic (21-4) received a huge boost with the addition of junior combo guard Hakim Hart, who came over from Kingsway (N.J.) after averaging 26.0 points per game as a sophomore. All Hart did was earn Second Team All-Catholic honors and converted the game-winning basket off an assist from Greer to clinch the 2018 Philadelphia Catholic League title. He was also instrumental in winning the PIAA 6A title last season, along with Lundy and Greer.
Hart scored six of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter to give the Cahillites a 14-2 advantage over the Explorers heading into the second. His last bucket came off a steal then finished with a dunk past La Salle 6-9 forward Zach Crisler (Rice). Later, Greer (12 points) found Hart underneath for an easy finish which gave their side a 23-8 lead with 1:26 remaining in the second.
The Saint Joe’s commit described the transition from being the go-to scorer at Kingsway (N.J.) to a more complete one with the Cahillites.
“Coming over, it was a little bit of a hard transition,” Hart said. “Practices were a lot harder than I was used to. We practice like we don’t like each other. It transfers over into games because everyone is ready.”
In the same way Greer found Hart for the game clinching basket a year ago, the duo hooked up time and again in the commanding victory over La Salle (22-3), but having the junior point guard on the court for this season was nearly derailed.
Greer transferred to high school basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Va.) in May. After only a few months and not participating in a single game for Oak Hill, the First Team All-Catholic selection returned to Roman Catholic in November. Inserting Greer back to a starting lineup of Lundy and Hart was crucial to the Cahillites success but they also received another boost, this time in the middle with the addition of 6-9 freshman forward Jalen Duren. Duren had spent time with USA Basketball and flourished on the AAU circuit with Team Final’s 14U team.
Roman Catholic freshman Jalen Duren #23 - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings
While working to find his way and make a name for himself, Duren understood what the veteran upperclassmen were constantly working to teach him in his first season of high school basketball.
“Our attitude is to go hard, look to the next play and keep pushing,” Duren said. “Our seniors like Seth, Hakim, Louie [Wild] and Gabe [Perez,] they all guide us and help us in practice. Even before coming in, we knew it was going to be a hostile environment and it helped us all the way through.”
Duren (five rebounds, two blocks) was trailing behind Greer but the floor general dropped the ball off to his young big man, who slammed the ball with two hands to give the Cahillites a 30-13 lead in the third quarter. Allen Powell netted 10 of his 15 points in third and the Explorers trailed by 12 heading into the final frame.
In his last contest at the Palestra, Lundy put the finishing touches on a complete performance. He scored the first eight points of the quarter for Roman Catholic with a vicious, and-one dunk to push the lead to 48-32 with 5:21 left to play. Hart’s triple from the corner put the lead at 53-36 and ultimately put the game out of reach.
For a team that was influx at various times over the last two seasons, the lasting memory of this group will be winning two league titles in dominating fashion while being able to incorporate new pieces into the fold. The Cahillites became the only team in Philadelphia Catholic League history to have four players selected First Team All-Catholic in Greer, Hart, Lundy and Duren, another accolade for an already accomplished quartet.
As he looked out across the Palestra floor admiring his players celebrating with friends and family, Griffin was able to profess what has been the central theme of his coaching mantra since taking over at the Roman Catholic program and how this group has epitomized that.
“We’re constantly learning and growing together and forming relationships that will last forever,” Griffin said. “The most important thing is that we care about these young men and more importantly care about their future and success. That’s the best thing.”