By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Zion Stanford had a feeling from the start he might end up at Temple.
Since he got a scholarship offer from Owls head coach Aaron McKie in late June while on his unofficial visit to North Philadelphia there was a strong tie to the program, including their head coach, who also played his high school ball — not to mention college and pros — in the city.
“Coach McKie sees a lot of him in me,” Stanford said. “We resemble each other.”
Stanford let his recruitment play out and after a strong spring and summer had more options to choose from, including Boston College, but Temple stayed in his mind.
On the phone last week, Stanford, a West Philadelphia native, officially told McKie he was ready to become an Owl.
“It definitely was a hard decision and convincing my parents because my parents were on board for Boston College,” he told CoBL on Monday. “It just basically was what I felt most comfortable with and where I can develop more at. The coaches at Temple just made me feel at home.”
West Catholic's Zion Stanford announced his commitment to Temple on Monday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Stanford had Division I offers from Bryant, Albany and Fairfield before earning first team All-Catholic League and second team all-state honors while helping West Catholic to the PCL semifinals and PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals.
Local schools St. Joe’s and Drexel extended offers after the conclusion of his season in mid-March and Towson followed suit in May. The list grew even more in late June when he piled up dominant performances during the Philly Live I and II periods.
That’s when the Temple coaching staff began reaching out to him and not long after got him to campus and offered him on June 29.
“When I went on an unofficial visit, I pretty much made up my mind like, ‘Oh that’s where I want to go,’” Stanford said. “I didn’t all the way make my decision because I didn’t go on all the official visits I had planned.”
Rider, NJIT, Hampton and Marist were the other schools he added to his list in June. St. Bonaventure offered him on July 11 and his profile took an even bigger leap when Boston College offered him on July 26.
Stanford took his official visit to Temple in late August and visited Boston College a week later at the start of September. St. Joe’s and Drexel were the other schools he visited.
Ultimately, Temple ended up being the right place for him.
Stanford is a 6-5 wing-guard built like a football player who can do just about everything on the floor. He averaged 14.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.3 spg and 1.8 bpg while shooting 59.6 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from 3-point range last season for the Burrs.
His aggressiveness and hard-nosed style of play also hint that he might have been a standout on the gridiron as well if his mom would have let him play growing up.
Instead, Stanford grew up playing hoops in West Philadelphia looking up to older players from the area like Dahmir Bishop (Imhotep/Florida Gulf Coast) and Donovan Rodriguez (Bonner-Prendergast), who his uncle coached on recreation teams in the city.
There was talent and he played hard, but Stanford wasn’t tabbed as the ‘next best thing’ growing up. However, he came to West Catholic ready to work.
“Some people have been around and relevant since middle school. I was always the one nobody really noticed,” Stanford said. “But if you see me play, you’ll notice me. I wasn’t really into a lot of the politics and stuff like that. I always just kept working and the results showed.”
West Catholic head coach Miguel Bocachica remembers watching Stanford as a middle schooler.
As the biggest kid on most of the teams he played on back then (maybe about 6-2 or 6-3), he was used as a traditional big man, catching the ball and finishing near the hoop.
“I was able to catch him playing in middle school in situations where he was able to be a little more free and rebound the wall, push the ball,” Bocachica said. “I saw glimpses of what he could do.”
Even after growing a few inches at West Catholic, Stanford has never found himself in that role with the Burrs as he’s had the ability to display his skills on the perimeter offensively.
While sharing the floor with taller players like Antony Finkley, Nasir Griffin and Kareem and Kaseem Watson, he’s sometimes been the second-shortest player on the floor for West Catholic, helping him learn how to defend the guard position as well.
“He’s just impactful. He can dribble, he can pass, he can shoot,” Bocachica said. “He guards other teams’ best players. It’s just a credit to him and him wanting to develop. What you see now, I think he can still take it another two notches before he leaves here. That’s just what I’m on now, just getting him to take another step.”
West Catholic was coming off a 12th place finish (3-11) in the PCL in Bocachica’s first season when Stanford arrived. The Burrs finished 10th (5-9) during his freshman campaign in 2020-21 and improved to seventh (6-4) in 2020-21.
They made the leap to 12-1 last season, which was good for a first-place regular season finish before making it to the PCL semifinals at the Palestra.
”The highlight of all this is it’s a lot like our program, where we just kind of started from scratch and we developed the program,” Bocachica said. “He obviously wasn’t on our team when the twins and them were in ninth grade, but he was always around. He’s been a part of this from the start. I didn’t know if I was getting him at one point, but I’m glad he came here.”
“He’s turned himself into the face of this. I didn’t start giving him the ball more or running any plays for him or anything like that. His impact is his impact. It’s just hard to be denied. A lot like our program, he’s developed and taken an opportunity and ran with it.”
Stanford will be the clear face of the Burrs program with Griffin at East Stroudsburg and the Watson twins at Cal State Bakersfield.
It’s a role he’s ready to embrace
“It’s definitely good being able to be a part of the growth around West Catholic basketball,” Stanford said. “I’m following up after the 2022 players, trying to keep the program going.”
His commitment to Temple is significant for the program as well.
“He’s humble, but I don’t think a kid from West Catholic in a long time has gone to play at the level that he is about to play at,” Bocachica said.