Quade Green (above) is now at Kentucky after leading N-G to its fourth straight PIAA Class 3A title. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Even as his Neumann-Goretti basketball squad huddled between games or grabbed chow at one of the snack bars tucked amid Spooky Nook Sports’ expansive layout, Carl Arrigale brought perspective as to why his Saints trucked to suburban Lancaster for an early October showcase.
Apparently, one does not rest after becoming just the third Pennsylvania school to mine state championship gold for the fourth straight March — Billy Owens-led Carlisle (1985-88) and Kennedy Catholic (1998-2001) are the others — and for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Just the second coach in Keystone State history to win seven state titles, Arrigale could justify spending a fall Saturday at his Philadelphia home parked in a recliner with a sandwich and an adult beverage nearby, but he chose instead to bring his Saints several hours west.
“We have a chance to be pretty good and that’s our goal all the time,” Arrigale admitted. “Only six teams can win their last game. Whenever you can put yourself in that position and end the season with a win, that’s fun. It makes the summer a lot easier. You can walk around with your head held high.
“We’d love to have another opportunity to get the Philadelphia Catholic League championship game, but both of those things are so far away. We’re just trying to go day by day and get these guys to understand what it takes and not to be giddy because we won a couple games today.
“We’re always striving for the next thing.”
Yet while a return trip to Philly’s famed Palestra for yet another PCL final sits at or near the top of Neumann-Goretti’s lengthy to-do list — Arrigale has collared 10 titles, but was denied a record 11th last season for the third straight year — so is claiming one of those giant chocolate bars that are awarded those squads that just happen to enjoy state championship success at Hershey’s Giant Center.
Although Neumann-Goretti will have a number of starters and several key reserves returning from a squad that last season went 24-7, some people might figure the Saints won’t be quite the hammer they were a year ago when the likes of Quade Green (Kentucky), Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Vlilanova) and Mike Millsip (East Stroudsburg) sported black-and-gold for the final time.
Green, the Class 3A player of the year, and Cosby-Roundtree were first-team all-state selections in the 3A classification. Arrigale, meanwhile, was the Class 3A coach of the year.
“One of the big things coming into this year, because everybody was ready to throw us under the rug and get rid of us was Quade left,” Arrigale said. “I’m pretty sure, and I love him and Dhamir dearly, but I’m pretty sure we had a team before them and we’re gonna have a team after they’re gone and we’re gonna have a team after I’m gone. So, we’re big on tradition never graduating.
“We just want to try to keep the tradition alive and keep representing our program.”
With 6-9 George Washington commit Marcus Littles and 6-0 senior Noah Warren still around, Neumann-Goretti does return 40 percent of the starting lineup that closed out the 2016-17 season by completing its nifty four-peat with an 89-58 win over Lincoln Park Charter.
Springy 6-1 junior guard Christian Ings also logged plenty of minutes a season ago alongside Green or in place of the 6-0 lead guard when he was out. The Saints’ top returning scorer at 9.1 ppg, Ings netted 13 points in the state final, one of four Neumann-Goretti players to reach double figures.
Dymir Montague, a 6-3 senior, also was part of Neumann-Goretti’s eight-man rotation.
“They were starters, but they were the supporting cast of The Quade Green Show,” Arrigale cracked. “They played like it at times. They were looking around and waiting for him to kind of bail them out. I should have probably done a better job of making sure they played instead of watching him.
Christian Ings (above) looks primed to become a major factor in the Catholic League in his upperclassman years. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Chris actually did a nice job over a while, where he played with Quade instead of watching Quade.”
Since Littles, Montague, Ings and Warren would appear to have the lead on landing starting jobs when preseason practice begins next month — the season begins on Dec. 9 — Warren already is plugged in and ready to assume a needed leadership role for Arrigale’s athletic Saints.
Especially since Neumann-Goretti will get everyone’s best effort.
“Teaching the young guys and everything, people that haven’t been there yet,” said Warren, who scored nine points in the state final and averaged 7.7 ppg in 31 outings. “That’s where the leadership comes in, telling them to be ready. Every time they’re gonna come for us.
“They see Neumann and they’re gonna come for us.”
Littles, who arrived at Neumann-Goretti after spending his first two seasons at Academy of the New Church, should be much more comfortable in Year 2 than he was in Year 1.
“Definitely gonna give him the ball more,” Warren said of a player who last season averaged nearly 6 points per game. “There’s nobody out there that can really guard him.”
“He’s more comfortable now. He is the centerpiece. He is gonna be our center and we’re gonna throw him the ball more than we did last year,” Arrigale confirmed. “He’s just got to work harder and get himself in better condition. He was in really good shape early in the summer, but he kind of fell out of shape later and he’s working hard to get back to that point. If we can get him back to that point, I think we have a really great chance at being good.
“I need him to play heavy minutes,” Arrigale added. “I can’t afford to have him sitting on the bench a lot like he did last year. I need to have him out there being aggressive, drawing double teams, allowing other guys to get open shots. Inside-out looks where we can get downhill again, maybe make the next pass and get some drop-offs. He needs to be effective.”
While 6-2 junior Ja’Cor Smith, 5-8 sophomore Hakim Byrd and 5-11 sophomore Ahmad Fair also logged minutes in the state championship game and should be part of Neumann-Goretti’s rotation, 6-7 junior transfer Noah Syer (Sterling, N.J.) and 6-6 freshman TaQuan Woodley will vie for time.
Although Arrigale is demanding better defensive play from his reconstructed club, he’s also hoping his Saints flash some of the vintage play they’ve displayed in years past.
If that happens, look out for the Saints.
“We were a lot bigger and slower when we had Mike, Marcus and Dhamir out there [together],” Arrigale admitted. “We’re used to being small and fast and picking the ball up and being disruptive. We weren’t that last year. We want to get back to who we are and what we do best.”
Just how quickly the Saints get back to doing what they do best will be thoroughly tested against a December schedule highlighted by matchups against Shipley School, Cheltenham, Abington, John Carroll of the highly regarded Baltimore Catholic League and Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
The Saints also will spend three days playing in a holiday event in Charlotte, N.C.
And every one of those December dates should help the Saints prepare for a daunting Catholic League slate flush with matchups against hammers such as Archbishop Wood, Roman Catholic, Bonner-Prendergast, St. Joseph’s Prep, La Salle College and Archbishop Ryan.
“We won’t play a game that counts until Dec. 9. These games don’t count, but they’re all teaching tools if the kids and their families take it the right way,” Arrigale said of Neumann-Goretti’s one-day stop in suburban Lancaster. “We’ve got time. Everybody’s got time for that.
“We’re trying to continue a tradition we’ve built over the years since we took over the program,” Arrigale continued. “And it’s next man up, it’s the next group of kids’ turn.”