CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
The Philly HS Live event that took place this past weekend at St. Joe’s Prep brought together teams not just from the Philly area but as far away as Florida and Colorado, with coaches flocking to see the visitors as well as the local talent. But while it was a chance for in-person recruiting for the first time in two years, it was also a great opportunity for teams to continue to work on their chemistry and develop their understanding of the game against quality competition, no matter who was watching.
Here’s a notebook from Saturday and Sunday’s action on how some of the top local programs are preparing for their 2021-22 seasons:
Miguel Bocachica (above) has his best group yet at West Catholic, with six players on the roster with Division I offers. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
West Catholic’s push back towards their glory days
This year's stacked West Catholic team is aiming to do something that no WC team has done since 1959: win the Catholic League Championship. Head coach Miguel Bocachica is entering his fourth year as the head coach of the Burrs, and has had an improved winning percentage every season at the helm.
Bocachica’s squad has plenty of size, with only two players under 6-foot-3 and four standing 6-5 and over. West’s sporting that type of size has been beneficial to them on the defensive side of the basketball and they have shown it this weekend.
“I think we’re starting to really impose our will and just kind of wear teams out,” Bocachica said. “(Bergen Catholic) scored 75, 80 points last game, and they only scored 50 something against us. No different from the game yesterday. We guard, that’s what we want to hang our hat on.”
Last year's team finished the season with a 6-4 record in the Catholic League play, good enough for the seven seed in the PCL playoffs in a normal year, though the PCL only had semifinals this past season. In the District 12 3A championship game Bocachia’s team lost to Math, Civics, & Sci., ending their season because only the District 12 champions advanced to the state playoffs due to COVID. That squad had just one senior, West’s leading scorer (11.2 ppg) and PCL third-team member Eric Chamberlin who is now playing college ball at Albright College.
Chamberlain played a leadership role for the Burrs last season but with him out, rising junior Adam ‘Budd’ Clark, who transferred from Boys Latin after his freshman year, has taken over that role.
“Now you see him and he’s like ‘Yo, come here.’ You see him commanding,” Bocachica said on the 5-9 point guard. “And he looks over, ‘Yo what are we in?’ Adam Clark leadership-wise has definitely taken strides forward.”
WC has four rising seniors who all will play big roles next season: 6-7 Nasir Griffin who averaged 9.2 points per game last season, 6-7 identical twins Kaseem and Kareem Watson who averaged 10.5 points and 5.1 points, respectively, and McDevitt transfer Sherrod “Deuce” Kennedy. Griffin and the Watson twins have numerous D-I offers, and the Watson twins received offers from New Mexico State and Cleveland State following their game on Saturday.
Rising juniors Zion Stanford and Anthony Finkley both started this weekend and will be main pieces for Bocachica’s team. Stanford, who is 6-5, has an offer from Bryant; Finkley, 6-7, is currently on the radar of some power six schools with offers from DePaul and St. Joe’s. Also a member of the class of 2023, Marcus Branker Jr., who just picked up his first offer from Bryant, will play a role for the Burrs next season.
Last season the Burrs only had two players average double figure points which shows the unselfishness of that team, something that has poured over into a nearly identical team this season which Bocachica called a ‘equal opportunity team.’
“They share the ball like no other,” he said. “I haven’t seen another high school team in this gym really pepper the ball and move the ball around how we do sometimes.”
Over the offseason Bocachica has seen a lot from Finkley who he called ‘a special player.’ Finkley came out of quarantine a bit out of shape, but has since shown his commitment to his body. The big man is a great passer and has shown his ability to step behind the arc to knock down shots.
With the season inching closer, the goal for an extremely talented West Cathloic team is very clear: make it to the Palestra and take home the PCL title.
“The goal is to win the championship,” Clark said.
“I feel like if we get in the Palestra we’ll absolutely have a chance to do something special,” Bocachica said. “Something that hasn’t been done here in a very, very, very long time.” — Matthew Ryan
Naji Reid (above) and Imhotep have big plans ahead after returning their entire squad from last season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Imhotep Charter’s experienced group thinking big
Imhotep basketball is a program that is used to winning and is no stranger to success. Each time the team walks into the gym, they are reminded of the legacy and accomplishments of the program, with the banners hanging from the ceiling commemorating the achievements over the years.
But, there’s also another memento that made this year’s Public League championship sweeter.
“[When] we watch film together, my screensaver has little clips of all the teams that won a championship, and during the season they were like ‘where’s our pic,?’” Panthers coach Andre Noble said. “I was like, you don’t have a pic yet, you haven’t done anything; so as soon as we won, they were like ‘change the screensaver, we’re in here.’
Along with the team’s Public League championship, the Panthers finished the 2021 abbreviated schedule with an undefeated 14-0 record (4-0 Public League) and did not get to compete in states due to a positive COVID case. Despite an abrupt end to their season, Noble is enthusiastic about his team and next year.
The returning group starts with two juniors in 6-7 small forward Justin Edwards and 6-0 point guard Rahmir Barno, both of whom have multiple Division I offers; Edwards is ranked in the top 30 in the country by several recruiting services. Then there’s a core of steady seniors around them: 6-0 guard Naji Reid, 5-11 guard Ronny Raphael, and 6-4 shooting guard Mo Abdullah who recently received his first Division I offer from Rider on Friday. Throw in a couple sophomore bigs with upside — Jeremiah White and Makye Taylor — and it’s one of the best teams Noble has had in his 20 years as the program’s only head coach.
“We love this group,” he said. “I loved them last year when we played, great character guys, good teammates, we just gotta get better because our goals are always really really big and that’s one of the pressures of playing here, is that our goals are super-high.”
The significant goals that come with playing basketball at Imhotep go beyond winning games. At Imhotep, year after year, players are expected to compete for both a league and a state championship, aim to be ranked in the top 25 in the country, and compete with other top-tier high school programs around the country.
At this weekend’s Philly Live event at St. Joe’s Prep, the Panthers scheduled themselves against a few well-known teams in the country for the weekend. First up for the Panthers on Friday was First Love out of Pittsburgh and the group took that one 56-47. On Saturday, the team dropped a close battle to Gill St. Bernard (N.J.) 71-60, and on Sunday will be competing against Gabe Cupps and the Centerville (Ohio) group.
Naji Reid, one of three seniors on the team, transferred to Imhotep from Lincoln after his freshman year and was enthusiastic when discussing his passion for playing a winning brand of basketball at Imhotep, competing against the best, and being among those ranked in the nation.
“It feels good coming from that atmosphere, a winning program so everybody’s trying to go against you, play their hardest, it’s just a really good feeling,” Reid said. “It feels good to be ranked in the country.”
As Noble’s group continues to take steps forward in the offseason, the Panthers have their sights set on getting their opportunity to compete for a state championship come 2022; yet, according to Reid, that’s not the only trophy they want to win.
“We wanna win everything,” he said. “We just keep working out, practicing, everyday in the gym, just keep pushing each other, the best we can.” — Kayla Yoegel
Mike 'Deuce' Jones is one of two arrives from Trenton Catholic (N.J.) on the Ryan roster. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Ryan’s new duo brings hoops pedigree to Philly
Archbishop Ryan’s got a couple new sophomores on the squad, but they’re not new to each other.
Mike ‘Deuce’ Jones and Thomas Sorber are both new arrivals to the Philadelphia Catholic League school and Joe Zeglinski’s Raiders’ program, having come over from Trenton Catholic (N.J.) this summer. The two have played together on various teams since third grade, and after TCA was going through financial troubles — it’ll reopen this fall as Trenton Catholic Prep, an independent program, but has flirted with closing several times over the years — they made the move across the river.
“(We’re) at Ryan now,” Jones said, “and just trying to make Ryan better.”
Under Joe Zeglinski, who’s been head coach at his alma mater since the 2015-16 season, the Raiders have been up there in the top half of the PCL on a regular basis, going 95-53 (47-33 PCL) during his tenure. With Division I prospects Aaron Lemon-Warren (Mt. Zion Prep) and Christian Tomasco (Hofstra) as well as starting point guard Dom Vasquez (Arcadia) graduating this year, the Raiders’ group needed an infusion of talent in its younger classes.
They got that in Jones, a 6-0 guard and son of former Rutgers standout Mike Jones, who played for the Scarlet Knights in the early 90s; as well as Sorber, a 6-9 forward and younger brother of Peter Sorber, who played two seasons at Morgan State and is now in the transfer portal. Those two, combined with a solid group of returners, should help Ryan maintain momentum after a 12-6 (9-4 PCL) 2021 season.
The duo, who are also teammates on the travel circuit with Team Finals’ 15U bunch, were both in the starting lineup in a win over St. Thomas Aquinas (N.J.) on Sunday. Sorber scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Jones chipped in nine points during a 50-44 win.
“They’re going to continue to get better, and they’ll make our team look good by the time the regular season comes around,” Zeglinski said. “They’re very talented kids and great kids off the court, and they’re going to be great teammates. We’re excited to have them.”
Jones’ arrival in particular gives Zeglinski something of a good problem to have. A terrific ball-handler who can really create for himself off the bounce and score from all three levels, Jones was one of four starters in the Ryan lineup who could define their role as a point guard/distributor type, along with seniors Jalen Snead and David Wise and fellow sophomore Darren Williams, all of whom can create with the ball in their hands; junior Michael Paris, who contributed 14 points off the bench, fits in that category as well.
They’ll get a little more role definition when senior shooting guard Luke Boyd returns from injury, and sophomore wing Jayden Murray (six points, four blocks) is an athletic slasher who doesn’t fit the point guard mold either, but it’s still a lot of on-ball guards in the offense.
“We go with a four-guard offense and we’re looking to attack, get to the paint and make good decisions,” Zeglinski said. “Whoever’s getting the rebound, that’s the point guard on that possession, anybody who has the ball in their hands, that’s the point guard.
“As long as our spacing’s good and our bigs are putting pressure on the defense, giving our guards driving lanes, in our offense you can have four point guards on the court at the same time, as long as we keep our spacing and we’re making good decisions.” — Josh Verlin
— Bonner-Prendergast head coach Kevin Funston referred to the offseason for his team as “a work in progress.” With a lot of young faces, who Funston says have a lot of potential, this summer will be crucial for development.
“I think we just got a lot of learning to do, so just trying to build the chemistry and build a little bit more camaraderie and trust each other,” Funston said. “A lot of guys right now are trying to do everything themselves, so once we learn how to trust each other and get comfortable on the floor with each other, I think we’ll be really good.”
A few contributors that Funston mentioned he and his coaching staff will be leaning on come the ‘21-’22 season are 5-11 senior guard Mandon Seapoe, 6-4 senior forward Hadir Boswell, 6-2 guard Elijah Duval — the younger brother of former Duke point guard Trevon Duval — and 6-3 junior forward Brady Eagon.
With a few strong contributors coming back, Funston is excited for next season and said what will make his team stand out come winter.
“Honestly, what will make us really good is that we can be really well rounded because I think everybody can add something to the team,” he said, “but...we’ve just gotta learn to trust each other.” — Kayla Yoegel
— Heading into the second season following the Speedy Morris era at St. Joe’s Prep, there has been a seismic shift in the players on the court, not so much talent wise as age wise. Morris was notorious for not playing underclassman, but current head coach Jason Harrigan will be playing mostly freshman and sophomore’s next season after he had seven seniors graduate from last year's team.
Freshmen Jaron McKie, son of 14 year NBA veteran Aaron McKie, and Olin Chamberlain, grandnephew of NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, will play big roles for the Hawks come next season. Rising sophomore 6-8 Tristen Guilloutte, who finished Saturday’s game with 16 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and a block will also play a major role for St. Joe’s come next season.
Jaiden Vargas is one of only three seniors on next year's roster, one being Thomas Hart, and has taken the role as the team leader along with Guilloutte. While young, the Hawks have some serious talent, which has been shown across their home event, going 2-0, winning both contests by at least 20 points.
Playing younger players presents its issues such as size, strength, and speed, but it also has its benefits.
“We have their full attention because this is a big moment for them so they work really hard, and they’re really locked in right now,” Harrigan said. — Matthew Ryan