Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Whether he knew it or not at the time, Josh Wyche altered the trajectory of Cristo Rey basketball when he arrived three seasons ago.
Only a few games into his tenure at his new school, his teammates instructed the then-sophomore that he needed to be ‘the guy.’ COVID and injuries have limited his time on the court, but Wyche’s talent is different from those who have previously suited up for Cristo Rey, the non-PIAA school which opened in 2012 and didn’t have an athletics program until several seasons later.
Wyche is the face of what athletic director and first-year head coach Kyle Sample hopes is the beginning of something special at 17th and Allegheny in North Philadelphia.
He became the first Division I recruit in program history earlier this week when he announced he will play college hoops at Lafayette College next season. He now gives those who come through the program a standard to shoot for.
Cristo Rey's Josh Wyche became the program's first Division I recruit with his commitment to Lafayette earlier this week. (Photo: Courtesy Cristo Rey)
“It’s amazing for our program,” Sample said. “It speaks to the work that we’ve put in in my three years of being at Cristo Rey, recruiting stellar student-athletes that not only care about games and competition, but also care about books and academics.
“Josh is the epitome of that. He is the example of what we see from our program down the line and in the future. Everyday he is setting the example, raising the bar to where our younger underclassmen want to be when their 11th and 12th grade year gets here.”
Wyche has known Sample since sixth grade when he played with Sample’s son on a travel team. He played for Sample for two seasons at Harriton High School before following him to Cristo Rey in 2020, when he re-classified to the Class of 2023, and also played for Sample with the K-Low Elite program.
“Being able to have Kyle Sample, being able to work out with him,” Wyche said. “He’s a great basketball mind. Being able to be under his wing through AAU and my high school career, that played a big part in me knowing how to play at that high of a level.”
The now 6-8 wing/guard started as a 6-1 point guard at Harriton. He’s maintained his playmaking skills while also growing about seven inches since then to turn into a player who can play positions 1 through 4 on offense and guard all five spots on defense.
“A great player that’s going to play hard and play for his teammates,” Wyche said of what he hopes to bring to Lafayette. “Not to be cocky, but I feel like I can do everything. Defensively, I can rebound, guard. I can guard one through four. Offensively, I feel like I can score when needed, facilitate when needed. I can bring whatever the team needs.”
Wyche received his first Division I offer from Robert Morris in June 2021, when college coaches were first allowed to offer him directly. Following a sophomore grassroots season with K-Low and high school campaign at Cristo Rey with limited exposure due to COVID, he knew his junior high school season was going to be big for sustaining the momentum of his recruitment.
Instead, he went down three games into the season with a fractured ankle when someone diving for a loose ball landed on it.
“That injury, it hurt him. It hurt him mentally, it hurt him physically and it hurt his recruitment more importantly because a lot of people that were trying to see his progression from the summer to the winter weren’t able to see him,” Sample said.
Wyche came back in limited fashion at the conclusion of the high school season, but without much to show there was some pressure and uncertainty heading into this offseason despite being back to 100 percent physically by the time he re-joined K-Low in the spring.
“It was nerve-wracking not being able to play and not knowing how I was going to play when I came back because I hadn’t played for two, three months,” Wyche said. “It was a bit of pressure, but honestly I just kind of locked in, getting to the gym, getting shots up, working on my body, especially since I wasn’t able to play. I just kind of turned my mindset on for when AAU started.”
“The first game of AAU, I was like, ‘Yea. It’s real. I’m really back for real now.’ I had like 19 or 20 the first AAU game and I was like, “Yea. We good.’”
Wyche played well enough through the spring to get on the radar of Lafayette and first-year coach Mike Jordan, who was hired in March. Lafayette offered him during a team camp in June.
He said along with offers from Robert Morris and Lafayette, Siena and Hampton both called him late in the summer. Sample added high-academic schools like Harvard and Penn were ‘sniffing around’ about the playmaking wing as well as he has a 4.2 GPA.
There were always a lot of connections to Lafayette, however.
Jordan is a Philadelphia native, who played at Penn and spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Drexel and Colgate, respectively. Sample and K-Low Elite director Lonnie Lowry, who Wyche said played an important part in his recruitment, both have a relationship with Jordan and his staff members.
When Wyche took a visit to Lafayette at the start of the school year, he realized the campus and school were exactly what he was looking for academically and culturally as well.
“On the basketball side of it, I really like the coaching staff,” Wyche said. “Coach Mike, he’s been recruiting me. My coaches know him. It’s all good things. Once I was on the visit, I kind of just fell in love with it.”
“It was exciting just getting the pressure off my back a little bit. It was exciting to put it out there and let everybody know.”
Wyche is the second local commit Jordan has secured from the 2023 class. Penn Charter guard Mark Butler committed to the Leopards in June.
Butler did some recruiting of his own to try and lure Wyche to Lafayette. The two local Lafayette recruits haven’t discussed their future together at length yet, but Butler commented, ‘About time,’ on Wyche’s commitment announcement on Instagram.
“He always just texted me like, ‘Yo bro just slide. I already know you want to come over. Just come on and commit,’” Wyche said. “I do know him, I like his game. I know people who go to his school and I know him personally. I guess you could kind of say that played a part. It is good going there with someone that I know, and I kind of know how to play with.”
Wyche is excited to represent Cristo Rey as the school’s first Division I recruit and lay the groundwork for the younger players now at the program and the seasons to come.
He’d still like to leave a bit more of his own legacy on the court, however, as his first season was limited due to COVID and a concussion and he only played in a handful of games during his junior campaign.
“It’s definitely an accomplishment, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to play a full season yet at Cristo Rey,” Wyche said. “I’m looking forward to it. I like us against a lot of people. This is kind of just like the stepping stone for Cristo Rey. I’m just the first of many Division I players to come out of Cristo Rey. I love my guys.”
Sample acknowledges Wyche’s impact at Cristo Rey goes far beyond athletics. He has the chance to be the school’s valedictorian and is poised for success in whatever he does at Lafayette and beyond.
“The kid is just special, a special person,” Sample said. “The typical kid coming from that situation in the city of Philadelphia doesn’t always meet the standards or exceed the expectations like a kid like Josh Wyche.
“I hope (at Lafayette) they’re as excited as much as he’s excited, as much as we’re excited at Cristo Rey to have such a great player start us off with our first Division I commitment and I’m extremely excited for the younger guys who Josh has taken under his wing like Devin Booker, Tyler Tolbert, Amir Nelson, Amari Dow, the guys in our program.
“He does a great job everyday in just being a leader and being a great example. I’m excited for Josh and I just want to say thank you to him for what he’s doing for our program and for our school, the attention he’s bringing to our program. I can’t repay him enough.”