Chris Roantree (above) was named Father Judge's newest boys basketball coach Thursday morning. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Chris Roantree first heard from John Mosco about joining the Archbishop Wood coaching staff, he didn’t think he was good enough.
“I was like ‘I’m not going’ at that point, I didn’t have enough experience,” Roantree said. “I was just a low-level AAU guy.”
Eight years down the road, he’s more than proved his worth. Mosco’s right-hand man for their entire run together with the Vikings, Roantree doesn’t feel like he’s undeserving anymore as he takes over the boys basketball program at his alma mater, Father Judge.
The school officially announced Roantree, a ‘99 grad of the Northeast Philly institution, as its newest boys basketball head coach Thursday morning.
“It feels good, it feels weird, spending the last eight years with John and now going off on my own,” Roantree said Wednesday by phone after finding out the job was officially his. “As much as (Mosco) always said it’s our program, I’m just excited to have something of my own, see how we can build and hopefully have the same success that we’ve had at Wood over the last eight years.”
By this point in Roantree’s career, he’s an obvious choice for the head coaching spot. In addition to his significant role in helping Wood win two Philadelphia Catholic League championships and developing players like Villanova’s Collin Gillespie (a 2017 Wood grad), Rahsool Diggins (2021/UConn), Daeshon Shepherd (2021/La Salle) and others, he’s also been a coach with Nike-backed Team Final for several summers, helping out this summer as an assistant coach on a 17U squad that currently features the top two prospects in the 2022 class in Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, among quite a few other high-major prospects.
As an assistant with Team Final (above), Roantree has helped coach some of the nation's top prospects. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
If Judge wants to change the foundation of its hoops program in a significant way, Roantree is the type of coach the school’s leadership needed to bring in.
But it wasn’t always that way.
After graduating Judge, Roantree went to Lycoming to play football — “not too many 6-2 power forwards playing in college,” he said with a laugh — and compiled 14 sacks in his last three seasons as a defensive lineman for the Warriors. But basketball was always his first love, and within a few years after graduating college he was coaching some rec league hoops in Rhawnhurst. By 2010 he was coaching with the Northeast Sting AAU program, where before long he had a team that featured Gillespie, then a 6th grader, as well as a few other future Wood hoopers.
Three years later he met Mosco, who convinced him to join the Wood staff. Four years after that, in 2017, Mosco and Roantree were lifting the program’s first-ever PCL championship trophy on the court of the Palestra. It wasn’t much longer until it became obvious that Roantree was going to be a head coach of his own at some point.
“He proved himself and everybody else wrong,” Mosco said. “He’s thorough, he’s patient, he knows what to do with the kids and he takes care of business.”
Roantree’s departure somewhat mirrors that of Mosco’s, who had been Carl Arrigale’s top assistant at Neumann-Goretti for 16 years before taking the Wood gig in the summer of 2013. Like Roantree, Mosco was taking his first head coaching job after playing a key role for a powerhouse program, and if history is any sign, Mosco like Arrigale might have to contend with his former pupil presenting a real challenge in the Philly Catholic League before long.
After all, it only took four seasons for Mosco to win Wood’s first PCL title, and another four to win his second.
“I think John learned a lot from Carl on how to build a successful program and sustain a successful program, and I’ve gotten to learn that from John,” Roantree said, adding that it takes “relationships, bringing in the right guys, the right coaches, the right players, building relationships in the school, in the basketball community.
“I think John has passed a lot of knowledge that he’s learned from Carl and then hopefully I can do the same with some of my assistants that come on board with me,” he added.
Mosco (standing) and Roantree coached together at Archbishop Wood for eight seasons. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Now I know what Carl went through when I left,” Mosco said, “and I know what Chris is going through [from] when I left, and when we play [Judge] I’ll have those same feelings that when I played Carl.”
Roantree was a reserve junior forward on the Judge roster when the Crusaders last won the Catholic League, in 1998. The 24 seasons since have been dominated by St. John Neumann/Neumann-Goretti (11 titles) and Roman Catholic (seven), though St. Joe’s Prep (2003-04), Wood (2017 + 2021) and now-closed North Catholic (‘08) have also won it all within the last quarter-century.
Judge has found it largely tough goings in the PCL since the retirement of Bill Fox, who went 545-269 (.670) during a career at Judge that spanned several stints from 1975-86, 1987-99 and 2001-05, according to local hoops historian Ted Silary. Frank Cahill went 52-48 (.520) in four seasons, and then Sean Tait went 132-133 (.498) in a 12-year run that ended this spring.
But that was no fault of the coaches; Judge’s issues were instead due to a focus on staying a local Northeast Philly school in a league that was increasingly seeing its top programs draw from across the region to stay competitive. With Roantree’s hiring, it would seem as if that direction might be changing.
“They’ve made some changes over the last couple years, the football coach is getting players in there now...they have a new baseball coach so I think the school’s invested, the school’s willing to do what it takes to win, obviously within the rules and within the confines of what they can do, but I think they’re invested or else I wouldn’t have left,” Roantree said. “If I didn’t think they were wanting or willing to win, I wouldn’t have even put my name in for the job.”
Unlike at Wood, where Roantree and Mosco inherited a program that had gone 14-10 (7-6) the year before their arrival and already had future Army standout Tommy Funk and DeSales standout Luke Connaghan on the roster, Roantree’s going to have a slightly longer rebuilding road ahead of him. This past year, the Crusaders went 4-12 (2-10 PCL) and graduated their two leading scorers, Nahseer Johnson (18.7 ppg) and Justin Blythe (13.2 ppg), both of whom will play D-III ball next year.
With so much work to do, Roantree knows exactly what his first priority will be.
“Get the guys in the gym,” he said. “When you look at the scouting report, they have a lot of young guys that maybe were freshman/JV players that need to be developed and develop a culture, learn how to win consistently and be challenged.
“[We’ll] start the rebuilding process, build a culture, what it takes to win and things like that, and hopefully a lot of that translates.”