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Prepping for Preps '21-22: Roman Catholic

10/19/2021, 10:15am EDT
By Ty Daubert

Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)

(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in 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 2021-22 season preview coverage. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)


Khalil Farmer (above) and Roman Catholic are searching for a PCL title after falling one game short last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

A familiar face is leading the Roman Catholic basketball program once again as the Cahillites strive to return to familiar heights.

After five seasons, Chris McNesby is back as head coach following the departure of previous coach Matt Griffin, who replaced McNesby, to become an assistant at Albany. Both McNesby and Griffin have won two Philadelphia Catholic League titles in their time at the helm, but Roman has finished as the runner-up the last two seasons.

Now, McNesby and his team are aiming to pick up 2021-2022 where the coach left off his last time: on top of the PCL.

“For me, being a Catholic League guy for years,” McNesby said last month at the City of Basketball Love Interstate Shootout, “(the goal) is to win the Catholic League. Anything we’re going to be doing this year is going to be geared to playing in a Catholic League championship.”

Roman won back-to-back Catholic League and PIAA state titles in 2015 and 2016 under McNesby — led by current NBA wing Lamar Stevens and fellow former Penn State standout Tony Carr — before he stepped down from the position he began in 2008, guiding the Cahillites to a 168-55 record in eight seasons.

Griffin took over for the next five years and won two PCL championships, in 2018 and 2019. Roman then lost the Catholic League title game each of the next two seasons against Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood, respectively.

The Cahillites saw a great deal of success with Griffin heading the program, and the departure of coach in a winning program can be an obstacle to deal with in some cases. However, Roman feels that McNesby can help them avoid skipping a beat due to his experience.

“It’s amazing,” senior guard Khalil Farmer said of working with McNesby. “He’s been there before. He’s done what we want to do before. He got everything you could possibly get out of it, so we’re excited. We trust him. He’s going to make sure we do what we have to do to win.”

The enthusiasm is mutual for McNesby, who’s enjoyed working with his players ahead of the season.

Chris McNesby (above, in 2016) led Roman to back-to-back PCL and PIAA championships. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“Fortunately, Matt Griffin had a great team that he left,” McNesby said. “I’m fortunate to coach a really good team — great kids that want to be good.They represent Roman very well, so I’m excited to be able to coach a group like this.”

Leading the Roman roster is star two-way senior forward Daniel Skillings Jr., who has committed to Cincinnati; a pure scorer in Farmer, who has offers from a number of schools including Drexel, Albany and Fairfield; and junior point guard Xzayvier Brown, who has offers from Marquette, Fordham, VCU, St. Joe’s and more.

Skillings led the team in scoring and rebounding last season with 19.7 points and 8.1 boards per game as Roman went 10-2 (9-1). Farmer followed with 18.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, while Brown averaged 10.1 points and a team-high 6.9 assists and 2.8 steals.

As the only Roman players to have started all 12 games last year, the trio will carry most of the load on the court for the Cahillites and will also be expected to handle many of the leadership responsibilities.

“Dan, Khalil and X are kind of like our natural leaders by their talent and all that,” McNesby said. “But now we’re kind of needing them to really step up even more. Every day, it’s pushing each other and getting each other better.

“There’s always going to be ups and downs, but the more that those three guys can bring the group along — I always say players play and, as coaches, we can guide them, but they have to take it over.”

Among the supporting cast around Skillings, Farmer and Brown will be senior forward Matija Radunovic and freshman forward Shareef Jackson, son of former Roman standout and NBA big man Marc Jackson.

Radunovic, who McNesby called the team’s ‘X-factor’, is a lengthy 6-foot-7 outside shooter. If he can tighten up all aspects of his game, he can help take Roman to another level. Jackson, as a younger player, won’t be relied on too heavily, but the 6-foot-6 ninth grader should contribute on the defensive end and the glass at points this season at the least.

Senior guards Jahmir Martin and Quadir Brown, senior forward Darnell Carter and sophomore guards Kyree Womack and Toby Ojukwu should all see rotation minutes for Roman.

The Cahillites, whose tallest player is Radunovic at 6-foot-7, will find themselves in matchups in which they are a touch undersized. Staying engaged on defense and the glass will be a key in handling those games and being able to reach their potential, according to McNesby.

Junior point guard Xzayvier Brown (above) is a three-year starter for the Cahillites. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Commitment in that aspect of the game could be the deciding factor in how their season goes. Roman has the guards and the wings with scoring prowess. Locking in on defense to complement the offensive talent could help the program reach its championship aspirations again.

Of course, despite Roman’s terrific talent, that’s not so easily done. The Catholic League is loaded yet again, whether that’s the length and athleticism of West Catholic, the experience and maturity of La Salle, or the talent and depth at Archbishop Wood, all of which have rosters full of future D-I and college players — and they’re not the only ones.

Roman will play a loaded schedule, including non-league matchups against Imhotep Charter, St. Benedict’s (N.J.), Trenton Catholic (N.J.), St. Stephen-St. Agnes (Va.) and John Carroll (D.C.), with trips down to the Governor’s Cup in Maryland and a Hoop Group showcase in New Jersey, which should help prepare them for the postseason against stiff competition. If the team can make strides on the defensive end throughout the season, the Cahillites will certainly be a PCL contender.

Held at the historic Palestra, the Catholic League playoffs are the biggest stage in local high school basketball. And with the right progress, Roman has the potential to make some noise there again this season.

“We got to buy in,” Farmer said. That’s what it’s all about. … If we all come together as a collective group defensively and get stops, the sky's the limit for our group.

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Tag(s): Home  2021-22 Preview  Xzayvier Brown  Daniel Skillings  Khalil Farmer  Scores + Standings  Catholic League  Roman Catholic  High School