Dean Coleman-Newsome (above) will get his first taste of state tournament play when Carrol opens play Friday night. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
For each of the three years of the new PIAA Class 4A –– the old AAAA classification was the largest in the state’s prior breakdown –– it’s been Philadelphia Public League powerhouse Imhotep Charter that’s stood alone at the end of the season, going 15-0 in the state tournament to puts its name on three straight banners.
And once again, Andre Noble has a squad capable of winning it all, but his Panthers graduated a lot of high-level talent from last year, and there are several other contenders that finally see an opening for their chance to take down the three-time defending champions.
The PIAA 4A tournament tips off Friday night at gyms around the state. Here’s a look at several favorites for the 4A tournament, as well as a few other quality squads that could find themselves hoisting a trophy if everything clicks at the right time. (Thanks to John Walk of LNP and Brad Everett of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for their help with this preview):
Allentown Central Catholic (11-1; 23-4)
Even as a 4A school playing in an Eastern Pennsylvania Conference (EPC) filled with 5A and 6A programs, Central Catholic more than held its own, beating 6A teams like Parkland, Pocono Mt. West, Freedom, East Stroudsburg South and more, losing in the EPC semifinals to Liberty and then capturing the District 11 championship, 52-48 over Bethlehem Catholic. The Vikings are led by 6-6 senior wing Nick Filchner, the MVP of the EPC and a strong outside shooter with size who averaged north of 18 points per game. Another double-figure threat is sophomore point guard Tyson Thomas, a steady playmaker who can really manage game tempo and get Central Catholic into its offensive sets. In the state’s largest three brackets, ACCHS might just be the Lehigh Valley’s best chance to make a deep run towards Hershey, and they avoid playing any Philadelphia Catholic League schools until at least the semifinals.
Archbishop Carroll (12-3; 16-9)
The Patriots haven’t been to the state championship since winning it all in 2009, then in the AAA classification, but second-year head coach Francis Bowe has some talent to work with from a team that made it to the state quarterfinals a year ago, playing out of the same 12-3 slot that they’re in this time around. Carroll, which finished in 8th place in the ultra-competitive Catholic League, has several Division I prospects in the starting lineup, including a pair of forwards in 6-8 junior Anquan Hill and 6-6 senior Tairi Ketner (Bryant); Hill is a rim protector who can stretch the floor with his shooting, while Ketner is a thick-bodied post presence with soft hands and great footwork. The leading scorer is 6-7 junior wing John Camden, an excellent shooter with his feet set, and 6-1 freshman point guard Dean Coleman-Newsome has a bright future ahead of him. Carroll’s been playing good ball lately, taking Archbishop Wood to the brink in a four-point loss in the PCL quarterfinals; a couple wins in the opening rounds of the bracket could have them plenty confident and three wins from a championship.
Bonner-Prendergast (12-1; 18-5)
Last season, Bonner beat Imhotep in the District 12 4A championship game behind the star play of current Division I freshmen Isaiah Wong (University of Miami) and Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forest), but couldn’t make it happen a second time in the state championship matchup, falling 67-56. Even though Wong and Ingraham are playing high-major ball, and two other starters are gone, Bonner is plenty dangerous this year, a feat for which head coach Kevin Funston won Catholic League Coach of the Year honors. The starting lineup is five guards who are 6-3 at tallest: seniors Tyreese Watson, Donovan Rodriguez, Oscar Uduma and Conner Eagan, and junior Malik Edwards. Watson, Rodriguez and Edwards, all terrific passers and shooters, tend to handle the scoring load, but Uduma and Eagan will hit shots when open. It takes a tremendous defensive effort to slow them down, and not many teams are capable of shutting them all out for 32 minutes or more.
Hickory (10-1; 21-4)
Last year, Hickory won its first District 10 championship in exactly a quarter-century –– then, a year later, repeated the feat, topping Grove City by 28 in the district championship game after doing so by only five a year before. And a Hornets program that made it to the state semifinals before losing to eventual champ Imhotep by 19 is planning on another deep run, with its core intact from a year ago. Senior point guard Donald Whitehead really makes them go, and the talented scorer had 23 in their district championship game; Peyton Mele, the son of head coach Chris Mele, and Jaylen Jarvie also had double figures in that win. They also have a D-II wing/forward in Isaiah Jarzab, who’s signed to Mercyhurst. They scored a nice win earlier this season against Constitution, and also beat 6A contender McDowell in January.
Notre Dame-bound big man Elijah Taylor (above) is the only starter back from Imhotep's 2019 state-title winners. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Imhotep Charter (12-2; 19-8)
The three-time defending champions graduated four starters from last year: point guard Fatayn Wesley, and wings Chereef Knox (St. Joe’s), Dahmir Bishop (Xavier) and Donta Scott (Maryland), plus Jamil Riggins, who’s at Quinnipiac. All that’s left is big man Elijah Taylor, a 6-8 forward (as well as the school’s student-body president) bound for Notre Dame, but Taylor alone is enough to cause problems for most of the teams in the bracket. Taylor and 6-6 senior forward Kam Roundtree form an imposing interior duo that make it tough to score around the rim. Around him are a group of guards that includes sometimes-starter Sami Wylie as its seniors but otherwise is made up of underclassmen, including promising freshman point guard Rahmir Barno and 6-6 freshman wing Justin Edwards, who has a high-ceiling frame but right now serves as mostly a 3-point specialist for the Panthers. Imhotep lost to Math, Civics & Sciences in the Pub semifinals and then to Bonner in the District 12 4A championship, 64-58.
Bishop McDevitt (3-2; 22-5)
There are two Bishop McDevitt’s in Pennsylvania, and thankfully they play in different brackets; this is the Harrisburg McDevitt, which plays in the Mid-Penn Conference’s Keystone Division, where this year it went 13-1 and then lost to Central Dauphin in the MPC’s overall championships. In district play, the Crusaders took out Berks Catholic and ELCO to advance to the championship, where they lost to Lancaster Catholic 61-59 on a last-second shot. They’re not a huge team but have some size in 6-3 senior Jake Kelly, their leading scorer, as well as 6-3 senior Kris Kolk and 6-3 junior Kenyon Elliott. The backcourt consists of 6-1 senior Ben Marsico, the team’s top 3-point option, and 5-10 senior Antuwan Byrd. McDevitt is coached by Mike Gaffey, who picked up his 300th career win (compiled between several different spots) back in December.
Huntingdon (6-1; 22-2)
Talk about a program that knows how to win: Huntingdon has dropped just seven games in the last three seasons, winning the district each time under head coach Nick Doyle, and the senior class hasn’t lost a home game in three years, going 31-0 during that span. Last year they went an unbeaten 24-0 in the regular season and through the District 6 Class 4A tournament, then lost to Hickory in the second round; those programs seem on a collision course to meet in that same spot yet again. The Bearcats have an additional weapon on the roster this year in senior Rece Ritchey, cousin of 1000-point scorer and senior Jackson Ritchey; a left-handed pitcher bound for Virginia, Rece Ritchey joined the team this year and led the team in scoring in their district championship game. Like his cousin, Jackson Ritchey is a D-I pitcher, going to Virginia Tech, but the 6-5 forward is one of the team’s most valuable players, along with 6-3 guard Nick Gearhart. Another high-level athlete is 6-4 wing Andrew Miller, the team’s sixth man last year and a starter this year; he’ll be playing wide receiver at Slippery Rock next year.
Highlands (7-1; 22-3)
It’s been a steady climb for the Golden Rams — two years ago, they finished fourth as a Class 5A team in the WPIAL and last year, after moving down to 4A, they wound up third. Now, Highlands is a WPIAL champ and has just one loss since Jan. 7. The path for a deep run is favorable to the Golden Rams and they’ll look to a pair of seniors to help make that happen. 6-foot-6 Johnny Crise was a potential Division I basketball player, but the big man will instead head to Penn State as a preferred walk-on tight end for James Franklin. Before he does that, though, he’ll get to play at least one more game with best friend Luke Cochran, a 6-foot-2 point guard who is also Highlands’ leading scorer. And classmate Korry Myers gives the Golden Rams another option on the perimeter — he combined with Crise for 41 points in Highlands’ 72-54 rout of Belle Vernon in the WPIAL title game.
Lancaster Catholic (3-1; 23-3)
This is the 20th state tournament appearance for Lancaster Catholic and the 10th under head coach Joe Klazas, who went over 300 wins this season. And this year’s Crusaders, who took down Octorara, Susquehanna Township and then Bishop McDevitt to win the district title, have some serious athletes on the squad who will be playing a variety of sports at the next level. Their leading scorer is senior guard Devin Atkinson, a thick-bodied 5-11 guard who plays defensive end for Lancaster Catholic’s football team but moves deceptively well, averaging in double figures. The best hoops prospect is 6-6 senior wing forward David Kamwanga, who along with his cousin Denzel Kabasele –– a 6-1 senior guard –– both picked up hoops for the first time in their home in Congo four years ago. Trey Wells, a 6-5 senior forward who’s going to play offensive line at West Chester next year, gives them additional size, while Calan Titus (6-0 senior) and Ross Conway (6-1 junior) give them some additional 3-point shooting. They get District 7’s fifth seed, Ringold (14-10), in the opening round. Win two, and they likely get Imhotep in the quarterfinals.
Scranton Prep (2-1; 19-6)
It’s been quite the successful run at Scranton Prep for head coach Andrew Kettel, who didn’t win the district title in his first year with the Cavaliers but has in the six seasons since, taking down Valley View 58-52 in the District 2 Class 4A championship this year. Last season, led by current Lafayette freshman Leo O’Boyle and his class of four senior starters, Scranton Prep made it to the state quarterfinals before losing to District 1 champion Lower Moreland, 65-58. This year’s group relies on another versatile big man, 6-7 senior Rhys Merritt, as its go-to scorer; an athletic face-up ‘4’ man, Merritt can take his man off the dribble or knock down shots over smaller opponents, forming a solid inside-out forward duo with 6-4 sophomore forward Robert Rossi, who gets most of his production around the rim. Also in the starting lineup are three guards: 5-9 junior Gavin Bednarz, 6-2 junior Michael Skoff and 6-0 sophomore Andrew Ferguson. Bednarz, Skoff and Rossi have all gone for as many as 18-20 points in a game this season, providing solid secondary and tertiary scoring for the Cavaliers.
First Round: Friday, March 6
Second Round: Tues., March 10
Quarterfinals: Friday, March 13
Semifinals: Monday, March 16
Championship: Thursday, March 19