By Amauro Austin Sr
Another year and the Philadelphia Catholic League continues to plead its case as the best Scholastic Boys Basketball League in the country.. And in this writer’s honest opinion, ONLY the WCAC (Washington Catholic Athletic Conference aka The Washington DC Catholic League) is better. Over the years, our own Philadelphia Public League and the Chicago Public League and the NYC Catholic & Public Leagues have also held this title.. It’s surely a badge of honor and a great sense of pride.
Our 14-Team Catholic League touches all 5 counties in the Southeastern PA Region this year is home to 12 quality teams. Only 10 will sniff postseason action making this the Big 10 Conference of high school hoops.. Night in and out, underdogs can clip favorites. And a favorite can go to the wire with a team you think they should beat making predictability a mere myth.
12 of the 14 have at least one projected D1 prospect on the roster. Below is the list of PCL players already pledged to a D1 University:
Rob Wright III 6-0 Jr G Neumann-Goretti (Baylor)
Xzayvier Brown 6-3 Sr G Roman Catholic (St Joseph’s)
Anthony Finkley 6-7 Sr F Roman Catholic (St Joseph’s)
Zion Stanford 6-5 Sr F West Catholic (Temple)
Budd Clark 5-10 Sr G West Catholic (Coppin State)
Horace Simmons 6-6 Sr F La Salle College (Drexel)
Izaiah Pasha 6-5 Sr G Cardinal O’Hara (Iona)
Jacen Holloway 6-4 G/F Devon Prep (Army West Point)
Now let’s cut to the chase. Who’s who and what’s what in this years race to the Palestra.
1 Neumann-Goretti – The Saints are the defending League Champs. They have Elite guard play in the aforementioned Wright & his Junior classmate Khaafiq Myers.. Both are point guards that offer different skill sets that mesh well with one another like yin and Yang. Wright is an offensive juggernaut while Myers is a defensive stalwart. Myers is the latest member of South Philly’s royal Basketball family. NG Also returns a Condor-like 6-8 Post player in the middle in London-native Sultan Adewale, who this publication recently rated as the top unsigned senior in the region.. Saints recently won a respected National Tournament in Hawaii..
1A Roman Catholic – The Cahillites were last year’s favorites but suffered an upset loss at the Palestra in the Semis to the eventual Champs NG. They’re back though with a strong core. The duo of dynamic Point Guard Xzayvier Brown & 6-7 Point Forward Anthony Finkley are both signed with St Joseph’s. Both are Top 200 National recruits who had higher level recruiting interest but decided to stay home and play on Hawk Hill. The third core member is 6-8 soph Post player Shareef Jackson. The big man plays a very efficient game that’s well beyond his years. He excels at defense and rebounding. Three transfers have bolstered the Cahillite lineup in bookend 6-4 Sr wing players Jermai Stewart–Herring (St Elizabeth’s DE) & Erik Oliver–Bush (Trenton Catholic NJ). Both are rugged, athletic vets who are reliable catch and shoot three-point shooters.. also in from closer quarters is Jr floor spacing guard Bobby Cottrell (Gratz). Roman, like Neumann is coming off a big win at a National Tourney over the holidays after claiming the title at the fabled Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina..
TOP CONTENDERS (No Specific Order)
This is where things get a bit interesting cause on a given night everybody can beat everybody. Let’s sort this clustered situation out as best we can…
Devon Prep – Coach Jason Fisher’s crew broke through last season as a new player in the Catholic League universe. The Small, all boys Private Catholic school in Chester county has been built from scratch by Coach Fisher and plays with his coaching identity for 32 minutes every game. Devon is the reigning 3A State Champs taking out the favorites West Catholic in the State Quarters after dropping 2 earlier games to West earlier in the season. 3 Starters return from last year’s title team in bookend versatile 6-4 Sr wings Jacen Holloway (Army – West Point) & Lucas Orchard. These guys do whatever it takes to impact winning basketball games. Jr point guard Ty Mishock is now in his 3rd year as a starter. He has a penchant for making the right plays and never turns the ball over. 6-4 Soph F Zane Conlan is expected to make a big jump this year after seeing Varsity action as a Freshman. The Tide already boasts wins over the likes of Rutgers Prep, First Love Christian & Parkland all teams amongst the best in their respective areas.
St Joseph’s Prep – The thinking about 6 weeks ago was that this would be a build up year for the young Hawks and next year they’d become a major player to strike gold. But no one seemed to relay that message to Coach Jason Harrigan’s boys as they’ve been very impressive in December. Underclassmen rule the day for SJP. Sophomore wing Guard Jaron McKie has put up impressive performances one after the other. He plays super Efficient offense too. No flash or flair.. Just buckets in multiple ways, with both hands. Very impressive!!! For me, he’s the best 10th grader in the area and no lower than 3rd (Phelps & Westtown have 2 out of town sophomore imports that are big time in their own right). 6-10 Jr Center Tristen Guillouette looks a little slimmer and a little more spry. He gets plenty done around the rim and protects the lane on defense better than anyone in the league. Jr G Jalen Harper is the do-it-all guy on both ends of the floor. Sophomore PG Olin Chamberlain plays like a senior. He’s improved greatly shooting the ball which makes him a really tough cover. His Soph Classmate G Jordan Ellerbee is a “High Upside” guy who’ll show flashes of breaking out every other game or so. By February, he could even be close to the top of scouting reports.
Archbishop Wood – Coach John Mosco’s Vikings have been slow out of the gate but I’m still confident that they can be a factor Come February.. 3 key rotation members return from the 6A state runner up team in Junior Guards Jahlil Bethea and Josh Reed. Reed is powerfully built, explosive combo guard. While Bethea has built quite the reputation over the last year. He went from 6th man on his high school team to one of the top 75 players in the country in his class. The middle is still anchored by 6-8 Sr C Carson Howard who signed to play for D2 powerhouse East Stroudsburg. The Vikings took a big hit when it’s top returning player from last year 6-6 wing Basil Laster decided to transfer to Academy or the New Church to repeat his junior year.
West Catholic – Last season was the big year for the Burrs. They were right there with Roman as preseason favorites to win the league. And they doubled as favorites to win states at the 3A level. After an upset loss to Ryan (a team they’d beat on the road earlier) in the Catholic League semis, I’d have to say moral was down and it hurt them going forward before eventually being upset again in the state Semis against a Devon team, they’d already beat twice. However, it’s a new year and Coach Miguel Bocachica isn’t deterred as he’s arguably scheduled the toughest Non-League slate in the league. The thinking is that they’ll take their lumps but come into January as battle tested as anyone. The Burrs are led by Srs: 6-5 wing Zion Stanford (Temple) & dynamic PG “Budd” Clark (Coppin State). Clark is one of the finest leaders in the city with the heart of a giant. While Stanford is a powerful wing player who lives to play going downhill. Two other Srs also play big leadership roles in G “Whop” Wilbanks–Acqui a crafty lefty & F M.J. Branker a tough forward who lives to do his damage on the baseline/dunker spot area. Both are scholarship basketball prospects in their own right.
Archbishop Ryan – Coach Joe Zegkinski’s Raiders have set a high standard over the last 7 years or so that you always expect them to be there in the end when it counts no matter what happens along the way. And 2023 is hardly different. Zeglinski’s teams epitomize the way he played sports (Joe was a 2-sport division 1 level recruit during his playing days at Ryan, Football & Basketball). This year it starts in the middle with arguably the top prospect in the entire league, 6-10 260-lb Jr Center Thomas Sorber. The Big fella is a Blue Chip prospect who can validly stake claim to being the top post prospect in the middle Atlantic Region. Sorber can actually score from all three levels, rebounds outside his area and protects the goal at a high level. He doesn’t have many weaknesses if any. He’s flanked by the backcourt of griseled Sr PG Michael-Zaire Paris a fierce competitor & Jr 2G Darren Williams an athletic scorer with deep range. Williams is all over the Mid Major D1 radar..
Father Judge – Now that Coach Chris Roantree is settled in at his Alma mater things look a little different as he has his kinda team in place, intense.. explosive:. fast.. athletic.. I was really impressed when I had a chance to lay eyes on the Crusaders.. I’m sure the late, great Bill Fox would be proud of his pupil. Judge starts a team with lethal shooting all around the perimeter so they can be in any game if the shots are falling, a very fun style to watch. Sr G Kyle Jones returns as one of the finest scorers in the league. He has a candy-sweet three point stroke while being a crafty finisher at the rim. Jr wing Laquan Byrd is developing into quite the two-way player. Byrd, whose built like an outside linebacker has always been known as a relentless driver but now has improved greatly himself as a three-point shooter.. 6-4 Sr wing Ernest Shelton is the best shooter of the trio. He’s one of those guys that whenever he has sliver of room, he has the green light to let it fly.. And finally, Soph PG Kevar Kennedy looks to be ready to run the show. He has that “IT” factor and is normally called on the take the big shots.
Archbishop Carroll – The Patriots have a very good club and really tested themselves this December in the Non-League portion of the schedule, capped by a very good showing at the always respectable Jr Orange Bowl Classic in Miami, FL. This team goes 8 or 9 deep with 3 freshman playing prominent roles. The main core is a veteran group led by 6-3 Sr utility man Dean Coleman-Newsome. Coleman-Newsome is as valuable to his team as anyone in the area. The kind of player that can play & guard all 5 positions at the high school level because of his unique blend of size, skill and strength. His main running mate is Soph PG Jake West, a charismatic fan favorite who plays with plenty of juice. Then there are bookend small forwards both around 6-5 give or take in Jr Su’meer Allenye & Sr Blake Deegan. Both are slinky & athletic. And both battle on the boards.
Cardinal O’Hara – The Lions could easily make a claim to be a top contender but I want to kinda see things play out. They’ve had some ups and downs against a tough December schedule but finished strong by the end. It all starts with 6-5 Sr G Izaiah Pasha, an Iona signee. Pasha is a dynamic Combo guard with great size and an elite skill set. Coach Rick Pitino found a gem. His main running mate is tough veteran Sr G Josh Coulanges who helps with ball handling and scoring. He’s capable of scoring 20 himself on a given night. 6-7 Jr Stretch big Pearce McGuinn is one of the most improved players in the league and looks to be having a breakout season. The Big addition for the Lions is 6-2 Jr G “Flash” Burton via transfer from Math, Civics & Science Charter. The South Philly native has added that dose of attitude that O’Hara has been missing. He’s owns one of this scribe’s favorites weapons in his arsenal, the dribble pull-up mid range jumper. He also lives in the lane and his paint touches normally pay positive dividends for himself and others.
Bonner-Prendie – A new era has begun in Drexel Hill, as the Friars welcome a familiar face in Coach Billy Cassidy to lead the way. Cassidy, a Delco lifer, has deep Bonner roots and will bring a fresh dose of energy to the program. His club left December 7-0 so he’s obviously off to an excellent start. The transfer winds have been very generous to the Friars. Three starters, all Juniors are now in the mix in 6-5 wing Kevin Rucker Jr (Chester), PG Reggie Selden (Bishop Eustace NJ) & 6-8 Stretch-4 Nelson Lamizana (West Chester Henderson). They are joined by key holdover in 6-6 Jr F Duece Ketner. Rucker is flat out killa and in my opinion just a consistent jump shot away from being on National rankings lists. He’s got ALL the tools and plays the game with serious “Sauce.” The other 3 juniors are all in their third year of starting varsity basketball so they’ve been there, done that..
La Salle College – the Explorers are in rebuild mode around 6-6 Sr SF Horace Simmons, a Drexel signee. A nice class of Sophomores will gain valuable experience this season with the hopes a navigating their way to a playoff spot come February..
Conwell-Egan – The Eagles look to be headed in the right direction under new Coach Tyrone Lewis, an All Timer in Bucks County Basketball lure and also all timer at Niagara University scoring 1839 points in his acclaimed 4-year run.
Lansdale Catholic – LC has had a tough time gaining traction since leaving District 1 and joining the Catholic League. One silver lining lies in the fact that it’s Girls Hoops Program is said to be the favorite to win the Catholic League so there’s hope.
You can check for all things Philadelphia Catholic League on its website: aopathletics.org or always checking with my West Catholic Burr alumni brother, the official stat man of the league, Mr Huck Palmer on Twitter @huckpalmer. I hope you enjoy my work..