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West Catholic shuts down La Salle to stay unbeaten

01/09/2022, 7:45pm EST
By Zak Wolf

Zak Wolf (@zakwolf22)

There’s one thing that’s clear about West Catholic’s game plan no matter who they’re playing; it’s to share the basketball. The Burrs don’t have one star player; the Burrs beat teams by spreading the ball around and letting everyone get involved. 

The unselfishness of West Catholic is what led them past La Salle 75-55 on Sunday afternoon, and has allowed them to start the season 7-0, including 2-0 in the Philadelphia Catholic League. 

The Burrs had five players in double figures against the Explorers; Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui (17), Bud Clark (14), Kaseem Watson (11), M.J Branker (10), and Nasir Griffin (10). 

“It’s equal opportunity,” West Catholic head coach Miguel Bocachica said. “We have a selfless team, it’s really not about who scores the most points, it’s really about West Catholic wins.”

“On any given night it could be any of those guys. We just move the ball and try to find the open guy. I think we do a good job of if we see the rim we take a shot, if we see help, make the pass to try and simplify it.”

West Catholic has a tightly-knit group with a connection that goes beyond the court. Many of the players live close to each other, which isn’t always the case in the Catholic League, with teams who have rosters from all across the area.

Whether it’s working out with each other and getting shots up in the gym, grabbing a bite to eat together, or just hanging out, the Burrs’ players try their best to do everything together to build team chemistry. All the time spent with each other has created a togetherness that is evident when the Burrs are out on the court. 

“They’ve just all bought in,” Bocachica said. “They care about the program, they care about each other and it makes it easier when we step onto the court. It’s really just my job to let them know when it’s not good enough and you’ve got to turn it up.”

Kareem Watson (above, in Dec.) and West Catholic moved to 7-0 on the season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Being on such a close team allows certain players to make sacrifices for the betterment of the team. In the game against La Salle, it was senior Kareem Watson who decided he didn’t need to score the ball to make an impact. 

Watson scored 16 points in West’s Catholic League opener against Lansdale Catholic, but against La Salle it was a different story. Watson was West Catholic’s lowest scorer, finishing the game with just four points, but he knew his job was to try and shut down La Salle’s sharp shooter Nix Varano (Army). 

Varano scored six points in the first half, but Watson’s defense in the third quarter is what made the difference and allowed West Catholic to pull away. Varano couldn’t even manage to get a shot off in the third quarter as West Catholic outscored La Salle 21-8 during that stretch. 

West Catholic started the game slow, and La Salle took advantage, with Sam Brown setting the tone. Brown, a Rutgers football commit, finished the game with 20 points for the Explorers, who had an eight-point lead in the second quarter before the Burrs were able to turn it on. The Burrs used a strong second quarter to go into halftime with a 32-31 lead and Watson’s energy in the third quarter helped them gain a commanding lead for the rest of the game.

“Throughout the game I knew it wasn’t going to be my night scoring the ball, so I had to just lock in and take him out of the game,” said Watson, who along with his brother is headed to Cal-Bakersfield next year. “You can’t have seven guys scoring 20 points, so you’ve just gotta be prepared for whatever comes and tonight I just had to guard.”

Watson let his teammates know that they could carry the load offensively while he was locked in on defense. The chemistry for West Catholic is what allows them to communicate and make sacrifices for each other like what Watson did. 

“We’re honest with each other,” Watson said, “If somebody has to guard somebody, just ask him to guard them. I just think that comes from us talking to each other all the time, and being around each other in the gym.”

Playing together is something that Bocachica has encouraged his team throughout his first three seasons as head coach of West Catholic. Even when West Catholic struggled and only won three games in the PCL his first season, Bocachica still didn’t want the focus to be on one singular player. 

As time has gone on that philosophy has helped West Catholic get better and better, and now  they’re one of the contenders in the PCL this season. This team is special to Bocachica, because it’s his first time being a head coach at a high school and this will be his first senior class that he spent four years with. 

The Watson twins and Griffin have been with Bocachica all four years, working to try and give West Catholic their first PCL championship since 1959. 

“One of the first things I did with the group that I had when I first got here was point at the PCL banner to just give them perspective on how long it’s been,” Bocachica said. “Not just how long it’s been since we won a title, but how long it’s been since we’ve been this relevant and being talked about as one of the better teams in the league.”

“Just looking at the banner, it makes you want to guard, it makes you want to hit shots and it just makes you want to win and put our school back on the map,” Kareem Watson said. 

By Quarter
West Catholic:  12 I 20 I 21 I 22 II 75      
La Salle:           18 I 13 I  8  I 16 II 55

West Catholic: Wilbanks-Acqui 17, Clark 14, Ks. Watson 11, Griffin 10, Branker 10, Stanford 9, Kr. Watson 4 

La Salle: Brown 20, Williams 13, Simmons 10, Varano 8, Shields 3, Jennings 1

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