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Prepping for Preps '21-22: Philadelphia Catholic League (Boys)

12/02/2021, 10:15am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The best high school basketball league in Pennsylvania just gets deeper and deeper.

Ever since joining the PIAA in 2005, the Philadelphia Catholic League has continued to pull more and more talent from the greater Delaware Valley into its orbit. Every subsequent new coaching hire has served not just to dilute talent within the 14-team conference, but to somehow find more ways to boost the league’s overall profile. 

That’s put the PCL in a spot that, coming into the 2021-22 season, might just consist of the most talented group of rosters ever assembled in one league in this state. It’s an absolutely loaded league from top to bottom, with a couple dozen Division I prospects at minimum along with plenty of other future college players. 

Once league play begins in January and February, we’re going to learn quite a bit more about how the PCL’s going to shake out, but here’s how I see it all shaking up heading into the season: 

Neumann-Goretti senior guard Masud Stewart. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

1. Neumann-Goretti (4-6, 4-6)
Head Coach: Carl Arrigale
Names to Know: Sultan Adewale (Jr./F), Luke Bevilacqua (Soph./PF), Khaafiq Myers (Soph./PG), Masud Stewart (Sr./PG), Amir Williams (Soph./SF), Robert Wright III (Soph./G)

It’s tough to bet against the Saints. Don’t let last year’s record fool you: an eligibility issue due to a transfer led to several forfeits, which cost N-G a shot at playing for a league championship. And quite a bit of that team is gone, including point guard Hysier Miller (Temple), power forward Zaakir Williamson (Buffalo) and shooting guard Chris Evans (Claflin), with Stewart (9.5 ppg) the only returning starter. But Arrigale and his staff have reloaded, adding the 6-8 Adewale from St. Louis Christian (Mo.) and the 6-9 Bevilacqua from St. Augustine Prep (N.J.) to form the league’s best frontcourt, joining them with the sophomore core of Myers (5-9), Williams (6-5) and Wright (5-11), all of whom got their feet wet as freshmen but look ready for starring roles after all picked up their first Division I offers this offseason. The only thing they don’t have is much varsity experience, but there’s so much talent and depth, combined with the Saints’ formidable work ethic and Arrigale’s record of success, that it’s hard to say anybody in the PCL is better heading into the season.

2. Roman Catholic (10-2, 9-1)
Head Coach: Chris McNesby
Names to Know: Xzayvier Brown (Jr./PG), Khalil Farmer (Sr./SG), Jahmir Martin (Sr./G), Toby Ojukwu (Soph./G), Matija Radunovic (Sr./SF), Daniel Skillings Jr. (Sr./SF)

Really, Roman should be “1A,” as the Cahilites have every bit an argument as Neumann-Goretti to be preseason favorites after falling just short to Wood this spring. It feels like McNesby is picking right back up where he left off. The once former and now current Cahillites’ boss has a squad that’s got everything it needs to contend for yet another PCL championship, six years after he won back-to-back titles and then stepped aside. Last year’s runner-ups return their top five scorers, with an upperclassman-laden rotation that also includes a promising freshman, 6-6 forward Shareef Jackson. Skillings, a 6-7 wing committed to Cincinnati, and Farmer, a 6-3 guard committed to Hofstra, will handle the bulk of the scoring, while the 6-2 Brown is on the cusp of a breakout year after pulling in his first offers this summer. Ojukwu’s development will be important for their overall depth.

Archbishop Wood senior guard Tyson Allen. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

3. Archbishop Wood (19-1, 14-0)
Head Coach: John Mosco
Names to Know: Tyson Allen (Sr./G) Jalil Bethea (Soph./SG), Carson Howard (Jr./PF), Mike Knouse (Sr./G), Basil Laster (Jr./SF), Justin Moore (Sr./G), Josh Reed (Soph./G)

You can throw last year’s record out the window: this is almost an entirely new Wood rotation, with all five starters from last year now on college hoops rosters, and a number of faces new to the Warminster school sure to factor in heavily. But Mosco’s got plenty in the stable to make another run at it, with a talented-but-balanced top group. There’s Knouse (6-4) and Allen (6-2), who were both key reserves/spot starters in Wood’s playoff push, Howard (6-8), an arrival from Lacey Twp. (N.J.), and the sophomore duo of the high-scoring Bethea (6-2) and super-athletic Reed (6-1), who thrived on the JV squad last year. Finally, the addition of Moore, a 6-2 Drexel commit who came over due to Bishop McDevitt’s closing, gives them an experienced, quality point guard who can mentor the talented youngsters and keep them steady in late-game situations. 

4. West Catholic (7-5, 6-4)
Head Coach: Miguel Bocachica
Names to Know: Adam Clark (Jr./PG), Nasir Griffin (Sr./F), Zion Stanford (Jr./SF), Kareem Watson (Sr./G), Kaseem Watson (Sr./G), Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui (Jr./G)

I couldn’t rationalize ranking the Burrs any higher than four, but they’re still certainly in the conversation for a PCL championship and within the top tier, with the depth, length and athleticism Bocachica’s built up in West Philly certainly worth watching. Losing Anthony Finkley to Huntingdon Prep (W.Va.) definitely hurts, but they’ve got enough other pieces to stay in the mix. The Watson twins are 6-7, Griffin is 6-8, Stanford is 6-5 and Wilbanks is 6-3, plus another 6-5 junior in Marcus Branker Jr., so they’ve got good size across the board, and they’ll play the most aggressive defense in the league. The biggest issue for West Catholic will be consistent outside shooting, where they shot 28% as a team last year; if this year’s version can hit 33-35% of their 3-pointers, they’ll be awfully tough to beat. But if not, that inability to come up with a clutch shot could cost them against the other elite teams in the league.

La Salle College HS junior wing Horace Simmons. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

5. La Salle College (9-5, 8-5)
Head Coach: Mike McKee
Names to Know: Sam Brown (Sr./G), Caleb Bryant (Jr./PF), Horace Simmons (Jr./SF), Nix Varano (Sr./G)

This is when the depth of the league really starts to show, because it’s very possible that we’re not even out of the realm of the true title contenders yet. The Explorers have plenty of pieces, from arguably the best pair of shooters in the league in 6-3 Varano (12.8 ppg, 39% 3PT last year), an Army commit, plus the 6-6 Simmons (12.6 ppg, 51.2%), who has offers from GW, Richmond, Penn, Marquette, and more. Bryant’s a physical and developing 6-8 post player, a new element this year, and the 6-2 Brown (15.6 ppg), a Rutgers football commit, would also be a D-I level hooper if he’d devoted his athletics career to the hardwood. They’re not as deep as the teams above them, but McKee has shown he can coach, and it’s a group that came within a couple points of beating N-G, Roman, and Ryan last year. If Bryant gives them a real presence inside they could be the dark horse of the league, but there isn’t a ton of room for error (or injury).

6. Devon Prep (9-5, 9-4)
Head Coach: Jason Fisher
Names to Know: Allen Cieslak (Sr./G), Jacen Holloway (Jr./SF), Ty Mishock (Soph./PG), Lucas Orchard (Jr./SF), IV Pettit (Sr./G)

Perhaps the toughest team to place in this entire rankings were the Tide, who now get to show they’re for real after a breakthrough 2021 season followed by a generally strong summer. Fisher doesn’t have one true star on the roster, but it’s a group that’s greater than the sum of its parts, leading the league in assist-to-basket ratio (80%) last year as well as 3-pointers per game (8.3). Pettit, a 6-2 guard, was the only double-digit scorer (14.2 ppg), but the 5-10 Mishock (8.7) is a strong candidate to join him this year, as are the 6-5 Orchard (7.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), 6-5 Holloway (6.7 ppg) and 6-1 Cieslak (4.0 ppg), who recently committed to D-III Susquehanna and has put together a number of recent 20-point outings on the AAU and high school summer circuit. But now the rest of the league will be taking them much more seriously, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to having a real target on their back after a few big upset wins a year ago.

Archbishop Ryan senior guard Jalen Snead. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

7. Archbishop Ryan (12-6, 9-4)
Head Coach: Joe Zeglinski
Names to Know: Luke Boyd (Sr./SG), Jalen Snead (Sr./G), Thomas Sorber (Soph./PF), Darren Williams (Soph./G)

We’re still very much in the realm of teams that could end up at the Palestra in February, and Ryan has the pieces to go even further than just a semifinals appearance. Zeglinski does have quite a bit to replace in prepping wing Aaron Lemon-Warren (18.8 ppg/8.3 rpg) and forward Christian Tomasco (12.7 ppg/7.5 rpg), now a freshman at Hofstra, plus point guard Dom Vasquez (10.7 ppg/4.5), now at Arcadia. Back for their senior years are wings Boyd (9.9 ppg) and Snead (7.0 ppg), but the development of the 6-3 Williams, a promising left-hander who saw deep reserve minutes a year ago, will be critical. They’ve also added a promising young forward in Sorber, a 6-8 space-clearer and skilled post scorer. Zeglinski has already shown he’s one of league’s best coaches, getting several other teams to overperform, and there’s a chance he gets this group into a top-four spot if he can work his magic again.

8. Archbishop Carroll (9-7, 7-5)
Head Coach: Francis Bowe
Names to Know: Dean Coleman-Newsome (Jr./G), Blake Deegan (Jr./F), Moses Hipps (Soph./SG), Shawnn Smith (Sr./G), Jake West (Fr./PG)

The Patriots are an interesting mix of youth and experience, holdovers and new faces, and some versatility on the floor. If Bowe can get all the pieces working together, and his team stays healthy, this is definitely yet another program that can find itself in the mix for one of those four semifinal spots. The stud-in-the-making is Hipps, a lanky 6-4 guard who still looks like he’s got a few inches left on his frame; as a freshman, he averaged 13.4 ppg made 37.4% of his 3-pointers and then had a strong summer, pulling in offers from VCU, Fordham, Temple and La Salle. But after Hipps, no returner for Carroll saw more than spare minutes. Coleman-Newsome is a strong 6-0 point guard who missed the entire 2020-21 season due to a serious knee injury, but if he gets back to form, he can be a D-I prospect as well; Smith, an athletic 6-2 wing guard, comes over from now-closed Bishop McDevitt. A pair of wing forwards, Deegan and senior Sal Monastero, should give the Patriots some rebounding and pick-and-pop ability.

9. Cardinal O’Hara (3-10, 2-10)
Head Coach: Ryan Nemetz
Names to Know: Josh Coulanges (Jr./G), Maasai Harris (Sr./G), Hunter Johnson (Soph./G), Pearse McGuinn (Soph./F), Izaiah Pasha (Jr./SF), Amir Speights (Soph./SG)

This is where things start to get a bit murky, with a number of programs that have talent on the roster but still have a ways to go to prove themselves as ready to really compete for a league title. But any of the teams in the next four have the potential certainly to move into the top eight, and maybe even pull a couple upsets to get into the top half of the league. That includes the Lions, who finished 2-10 a year ago, but have most of their core group returning. The addition of significance is Pasha, who comes to the PCL from Harrisburg area, and the versatile 6-5 wing could immediately become their top producer. The key for O’Hara will be how quickly its sophomore class improves; Johnson, McGuinn and Speights are all future college players who got a healthy dose of minutes a year ago, but will now play their first full high school season. Keep an eye on the 6-0 Harris, a track star who’s had a good offseason on the hardwood.

St. Joe's Prep freshman guard Olin Chamberlain. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

10. St. Joseph’s Prep (3-11, 3-10)
Head Coach: Jason Harrigan
Names to Know: Olin Chamberlain (Fr./PG), Tristen Guillouette (Soph./PF), Tommy Hart (Sr./G), Jaron McKie (Fr./G), Jaiden Vargas (Sr./G)

The Prep is beginning to rebuild under Harrigan, the former O’Hara coach who’s now in his second year with the program that Speedy Morris ran for two decades, and the Hawks are dangerous enough to pull a few upsets while staying young enough that they’re likely a year away from true contention. Chamberlain, Wilt’s great-nephew, is a terrifically talented 5-11 point guard who should start right away, as should McKie, whose father Aaron coaches the Temple Owls just a few blocks away. Guillouette, who spent the last two years at Life Center (N.J.), is a skilled 6-9 post with great hands who can really score around the basket.

11. Father Judge (4-12, 2-10)
Head Coach: Chris Roantree
Names to Know: LaQuan Byrd (Jr./G), Kyle Jones (Jr./G), Paul King (Jr./SG), Anthony Lilly (Soph./PF)

It’s the dawn of a new era at Judge, as Roantree — who graduated from the Northeast Philly school a couple decades back — takes his first head coaching gig after a successful run as Mosco’s right-hand man at Wood. Between his time with the Vikings and Team Final on the summer circuit, Roantree’s spent a lot of time around high-level ballplayers, and it’s the kind of hire that signals Judge wants to work its way up the PCL ladder in the same way his former spot has. His first squad is going to be a mix of new faces and a few returners, likely a year away from serious contention in the league  due to chemistry and youth — though certainly capable of pulling a few upsets along the way. Jones, who moved to the area from Georgia, is cousins with former Wood guard Rahsool Diggins, and King is an under-the-radar scorer who came in from now-closed Bishop McDevitt; Lilly, at 6-6, needs to give them a post presence.

12. Bonner-Prendergast (3-4, 3-4)
Head Coach: Kevin Funston
Names to Know: Brady Eagan (Jr./SF), Deuce Ketner (Soph./SF), Kyree Latimer (Soph./PG), Mandon Seapoe (Sr./G), Shakur Smith (Sr./SF)

In putting together this piece, just about every Catholic League coach said the same thing about Funston’s Friars: “watch out.” Bonner’s super-young, and has to replace most of its rotation from a year ago, but Funston has consistently gotten his teams to outperform in his first three years in Drexel Hill. Gone is last year’s leading scorer Malik Edwards and his 22.4 ppg, as well as James Welde (8.9 ppg), now on the football roster at Villanova; Mike Anderson (8.3 ppg), Elijah Duval (8.7 ppg) and Hadir Boswell (3.7 ppg) are all off at other high schools/prep schools. Returning is Seapoe (9.0 ppg), but the remainder of the Friar rotation are going to be either returners who didn’t do a ton last year — the 6-5 Ketner and 6-3 Latimer are two examples — or newcomers, like Smith (Imhotep) or junior wing Baasil Saunders (Constitution), both 6-4. The Friars will have some length, something Funston can use to his advantage defensively.

13. Lansdale Catholic (2-10, 2-9)
Head Coach: Joe Corbett
Names to Know: Liam McDonnell (Sr./G), James Juarez (Sr./G), Brandon Thomson (Sr./G), Evan Lojewski (Jr./F)

It’s going to be a bit of a new look for Burnett, who’s typically built his teams around a space-clearing big man, whether that was someone like Luke Godzieba or 2021 grad Jimmy Casey, a 6-7, 240-pound two-sport athlete who averaged 13.7 ppg and 9.4 rpg and is now doing a prep year at the Peddie School. Without Casey, returning seniors McDonnell (5.5 ppg) and Thomson (5.7 ppg) will have to increase their output, along with Juarez (3.6 ppg), a well-used sub a year ago. They’ll also get some support from Archbishop Carroll import Dan Curran (Soph./G), a lacrosse standout, as well as junior guard Matt Hopkins and senior guard Jake Coonahan

14. Conwell-Egan (2-11, 2-11)
Head Coach: Adam Bowen
Names to Know: Tyairq Corbin (Jr./G), Jordan Garrison (Sr./F), Niame Scott (Jr./PG), Brendan Lynch (Jr./F)

Another team that’s replacing a lot is Conwell-Egan, as Bowen has to replace a class of six graduated seniors, including leading scorer Donald Imo (12.5 ppg), a 6-6 forward now on the roster at D-II Chestnut Hill. Of the 11 players on his varsity, seven are new to the program, either as transfers or freshmen, including rookie Antwone George, who should see minutes right away. The Eagles will rely more heavily on last year’s third-leading scorer, senior forward Jordan Garrison (8.1 ppg), as well as junior guard Tyairq Corbin, who started five games last year and played in 13 but only scored 12 total points. Boys’ Latin transfer Niame Scott and a pair of cousins who transferred over from Father Judge, Brian Jeter and Kevin Conway — all juniors — will be in the mix with their classmate Lynch, a JV player last year.

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