Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
Izaiah Pasha sat there and stewed last summer. It was the first time in the 6-foot-5 Cardinal O’Hara junior wing guard’s life that he ever sat. He thought the Nike EYBL Peach Jam Basketball would be his coming-out party, where his skills would dazzle the gathered Division I coaches and doors would fly open.
Instead, he did far more watching than playing. His team was in Georgia for a week, played eight games. Pasha saw five minutes. He questioned himself. He blamed himself for the lack of playing time. He vowed that it would never happen again. He had to break through his personal threshold and come out the other side with a new mindset—looking to kill on the court.
Izaiah Pasha (above) and Cardinal O'Hara beat La Salle on Weds. for their first PCL win. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
It’s been this new attitude that’s continued to manifest this season in games like Wednesday night when O’Hara held off visiting La Salle for a 60-51 Catholic League victory.
Pasha led all scorers with a game-high 23 points, tying a career best, followed by huge clutch shooting from sophomore guard Hunter Johnson, who finished with 20—12 coming in the fourth quarter.
O’Hara moved to 5-5 overall and 1-2 in the Catholic League, while La Salle, led by Horace Simmons’ 15, Sam Brown’s 12 and Nix Varano’s 11, fell to 6-4 overall and remained winless in the Catholic League at 0-2.
Pasha did a little of everything for the young Lions, defending La Salle’s top two scorers, Simmons and Brown, and being counted on to rebound and score. He had 10 by halftime, though when the game began entering its crucial stage, Pasha banked nine points in the fourth quarter.
“I went to Georgia this summer in a van and I didn’t even start, I wasn’t even the sixth man and all I did was sit,” Pasha said. “It made me hungry. It was an eye-opener. This was nothing to play with. It made me more mature. I played maybe five minutes.
“I had to make one simple change and that was the mindset to kill on the court and prove myself. Ever since I transferred [into O’Hara from Harrisburg], I’ve changed. I’m looking to kill.”
Pasha was coming off a strong game against Roman Catholic last week, where he was one of the few Lions not intimidated by Roman’s shoebox gym and attacked the basket for a team-high 19 points in an 84-52 loss.
“We’re looking to beat the top teams in the Catholic League and Izaiah is going to be a big reason why,” O’Hara coach Ryan Nemetz said. “He has a really high IQ and he can score in a variety of ways. He showcased a little bit of everything, which was really nice to see.
“Anytime a kid transfers, they have an adjustment period, and he’s done that.”
The game featured six lead changes. O’Hara led by as much as eight late in the fourth quarter, and La Salle once held a 34-26 lead midway through the third quarter off a 9-0 run.
That’s when Johnson started nailing three-pointers. Consecutive Johnson treys tied the score at 45-45 with 4:36 left to play. Pasha gave the Lions the lead for good on a driving basket, and extended that later with an emphatic slam dunk with :43 left, giving O’Hara its largest lead, 55-47.
“Once I get in a rhythm and I feel I can’t miss,” said Johnson, who equaled his career high with 20. “I feel like we’ve grown a lot as a team and a family, and we learned in our losses to (Archbishop) Wood and Roman. We learned, applied it and got the win.”
La Salle: 7 | 16 | 17 | 11 || 51
O’Hara: 13 | 11 | 11 | 25 || 60
La Salle: Horace Simmons 15, Sam Brown 12, Nix Varano 11, Ryan Sorge 6, Chris Williams 4, Joe Shields 3
Cardinal O’Hara: Izaiah Pasha 23, Hunter Johnson 20, Pearse McGuinn 8, Amir Speights 5, Zuri Harris 2, Josh Coulanges 2
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.