Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
While the focus of the raucous crowd inside the Bill Fox Gymnasium was on another chapter in the Father Judge-Archbishop Ryan basketball rivalry, Marc Rodriguez and Izaiah Brockington had their focus on each other.
The two seniors, one the first Father Judge player to surpass the 1,000-point mark and the latter bound for NJIT while also well on his way to 1,000, are the leaders of their respective Philadelphia Catholic League teams but their road to being among the top players in the league began before they chose to attend rival schools.
Brockington and Rodriguez began playing together with the Northeast Sting on the AAU circuit when they were in fifth grade. Eventually, they also began playing CYO basketball together at Resurrection of Our Lord in Rhawnhurt, where their games really took off as they led the team to a Region 1 championship.
From there, Brockington chose to attend Ryan while learning under Bernie Rogers and now Joe Zeglinski, and Rodriguez chose to play for Sean Tait and Father Judge. Brockington also switched AAU teams in high school, moving over to Team Philly.
They had played against each other twice before Friday’s matchup and, in their final regular-season matchup, Brockington got the better of his former teammate and now friendly rival.
Behind 13 points and four steals from Brockington, the Raiders stifled Rodriguez and the Crusaders in the second half on their way to a 48-32 victory.
After a sluggish first 16 minutes, Archbishop Ryan took a 20-14 advantage into the locker room. Rodriguez had eight points at the break to pace the Crusaders while Brockington had six. The 6-foot-4, 170-pound Brockington relishes the opportunity to play against his good friend and push each other till the buzzer.
"I have a lot of respect for Marc. He’s a great player. We grew up competing against each other,” Brockington said. “We’re always going one-on-one with each other and always trying to get that edge on each other. It was no different tonight. I know as he knows there are no friends on the court. We have to go out there and be who we have to be to get a win for our team.”
Rodriguez, a 6-2, 180-pound combo guard, concurred with his former teammate and current rival.
“I see him as the total competition. [Even though we’re close,] he chose to stay at Ryan and I chose to stay at Judge,” Rodriguez said “We keep each other going.”
To begin the second half, Father Judge (10-5, 3-3 PCL) switched to a matchup zone to force the Raiders into contested jump-shots but it was to no avail. Archbishop Ryan (13-2, 4-2) did most of their damage in transition beginning with Brockington recording a steal then finding Chris Palantino on the fast break to push the lead to 25-18 after a minute and 29 seconds into the third quarter.
Later in the quarter, the Raiders executed an inbound play to perfection as forward Matiss Kulackovskis (10 points, five rebounds) found Brockington slipping to the basket to increase the Raiders lead to 29-21 with 2:48 to play. Rodriguez, who shot 4-13 for the game, scored his only basket of the second half on a left-handed layup early the third but shot 0-4 the rest of the way. Most of Rodriguez’s struggles were attributed to Brockington’s stout defense, which was heralded by his head coach.
“Marc is a great player and I challenged [Izaiah] before the game saying, ‘This is the game right here. The game is in your hands,’” Zeglinski said. “He knew where Marc was the whole game and made it really tough of him. He’s playing at the top of his game right now.”
With 4:44 left in the fourth quarter, Brockington started to put the pressure on recording a steal then turning it into a thunderous slam at the other end to push the Raiders lead to 39-25. Two possessions later, he got the ball at the elblow and found forward Fred Taylor on a no-look pass for a two-handed dunk. Brockington made a statement with 2:21 left rejecting Rodriguez, who fouled out immediately following the play, and put the finishing touch on a strong victory.
Tait has coached Rodriguez for four seasons and sensed there was an added dimension to this particular matchup, being both player’s final season.
“I’m sure before the game, they did a little trash talk but in a good way. They’re both great players and will both be good at the next level. I think it’s been a nice, little side story that they played together in CYO and now they’re doing great things at their high schools.”
While it may have been the final regular-season matchup for the two former teammates, their respective teams still remain in good position in the PCL playoff picture heading to the final month of games. Brockington would love another opportunity to play against Rodriguez but knows they’ll both continue to drive each other regardless of how the final stretch of the season goes.
“We’re always working out together and pushing each other. We check in after we have big games. It’s always been a brotherhood,” Brockington said.
Tag(s): Home High School Recruiting Staff Catholic League 2016 Profiles Marc Rodriguez Izaiah Brockington Rich Flanagan Matiss Kulackovskis Schedule/Standings Catholic League Archbishop Ryan Father Judge