Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
Sammi White's uniform will say differently, but she'll still be representing St. Basil Academy this coming season.
The rising senior is spending her final year of high school at Villa Joseph Marie Academy, but not because she wanted to leave St. Basil. Last fall, White and the rest of the St. Basil community were gutted to learn the small Jenkintown private school would be closing its doors at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, leaving its students to find new homes for this fall.
For many members of St. Basil's highly successful girls' basketball program, VJM was the place to turn.
"I am definitely getting excited, I knew a couple girls who went to Villa and we've gotten to do summer league with our new team but at the same time, it's still hard because I never expected to graduate from anywhere but Basil," White said. "The seniors, we're very close, so it was really exciting that we all ended up together even though we kind of figured it out on our own."
Tori Nigro had only just gotten settled in at St. Basil after two years at Archbishop Ryan when she got the same news as the rest of her fellow students early last fall. After finding what she felt was the perfect place to spend her final years of high school, Nigro was again on the hunt for a new school.
Nigro, who was AAU teammates with White on the Rebels Basketball Academy's 2022 team, found Villa Joseph Marie had a lot of the same qualities that had drawn her to St. Basil. She also soon discovered many of her Panthers teammates had come to the same conclusion about the Newtown school.
"The girls who had been there got really sad, and I was sad too, but I was also frustrated because I had to leave again after finding somewhere I really enjoyed being," Nigro said. "I always believe everything happens for a reason and I looked at it as another challenge, so I'm confident it will all work itself out.
"At first, I think we all looked for ourselves but after we had a chance to take it all in, we talked to each other and decided if we could stay together and all go to the same place, in some ways it could still be similar to what we had at Basil."
VJM had a bit of a breakout season in 2020-21, finishing fourth in the Catholic Academies standings and qualifying for the league's playoffs. While the Jems lose their top player in first team all-league selection Julia Beck, believed to be the program's first-ever 1,000 point scorer now pursuing her primary sport of soccer at Misericordia, they gained plenty of help with the incoming Panthers players.
Nigro and White were both second team All-AACA picks last year and would have been the only returning starters for the league and District 1 Class 3A champions. Now, they and fellow seniors Michaela Joniec and Hailey Magilton along with a handful of underclassmen and would-have-been freshmen at St. Basil are trying to fit in with a new group of teammates.
"I really remember that they played with a lot of passion, brought a lot of energy to the court and never gave up," White said. "I love playing with people like that. Having so much success with St. Basil, we want to be able to lead them and I think our presence can help everyone."
The two rising seniors estimated there are about 10 former St. Basil players attending VJM this coming year, which made for some interesting summer league games with the newcomers joining the returning Jems for their first on-court action together.
"We have the potential, we have a lot of seniors so we'll see how that works out and I think for our coaches, it may be hard at first to adapt," Nigro said. "I think we'll all figure it out as a group. It comes off as they're happy we're there, so I hope we can put it all together."
St. Basil's closure also means the AACA will have a new champion for the first time in five years during the 2021-22 season. While Gwynedd Mercy Academy won the regular season title last winter, taking both meetings with the Panthers, St. Basil got revenge in the title game by beating the Monarchs in overtime.
That was also the last time Nigro got to wear her uniform, having to sit out the team's district and state playoff games due to a PIAA transfer rule, but she does hold the distinction of scoring the final points ever recorded in the St. Basil gym, a pair of free throws to close out the conference semifinals against Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
While she was only there a year, Nigro said that playing for head coach Terry Mancini and assistant John Gallagher at St. Basil was a great experience and helped elevate her as a player.
"I want to put my team in position to succeed and they helped me to do that," Nigro said. "This year, it's all going to be new and different, but I'm going to make the best of it."
Nigro did not like the feeling of not knowing where her next destination would be, but the crafty point guard won't have to worry about that as a senior. She committed to Jefferson in late July, spurring a couple other suitors for another program that just felt like the right place for her to be.
Last fall, Nigro was also a nice addition to St. Basil's soccer team and is hoping to find a similar role with the Jems' state powerhouse program this fall before her final high school basketball season.
White is still weighing her options, looking for programs at schools that offer a nursing program. But, the senior wing, who also plays volleyball, will have some more familiar company easing the transition with younger sister Gabby, a rising junior, also making the move to Villa Joseph Marie from St. Basil.
Coming from a pretty structured offense at Basil, the two former Panthers have liked the up-tempo style the Jems have looked to play with this summer. White noted the pace fits the style they played with their AAU program, while Nigro added that having the ability to slow down the game will be an asset.
"I want to make sure coming from a program that was prone to structure, we still see some of that but mix in that run-and-gun style too," Nigro said. "We can be a team that slows things down and sets up when we need to. That's my position, it's my job and I take pride in that so if it doesn't go our way, it's where I'd put that on myself."
Despite it's small-school status, St. Basil has produced some outstanding alumni at the next level. Natalie Kucowski, a 2017 graduate, went on to have a great career at Lafayette, becoming the Patriot League's all-time leading rebounder as a senior last season, before being selected by the Seattle Storm with the 35th pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
Casey Remolde, a 2019 graduate, was named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East's Defensive Athlete of the Year in her freshman season at Kutztown. Samantha Thompson, a 2006 grad, was the program's all-time leading scorer upon her departure for a college career at Duquesne, while her sister Jaqui, also surpassed 1,000 points before playing at Wagner.
Denae Carter, one of nine seniors on the team that were part of the school's final graduating class in 2021, took over as St. Basil's all-time leading scorer and will be the last Division I recruit from the school, signing with Mississippi State. They, along with all the other players who put on a Panthers uniform over the years, built the tradition this final crop of players are doing their best to honor and continue.
"I am the player I am because of them," White said. "I do want to play hard because I'm representing them in a way. I spent three years there, so I'll always be a Basil girl."