Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The bus rides were long. Too long, perhaps, for the Archbishop Carroll boys — but in a way, just long enough. A last-minute addition to the 2022 PIAA Class 4A state playoffs, Carroll found itself playing four games increasingly further and further from home, a group of 20-or-so teens and adults spending hours and hours together they hadn’t planned on spending, and enjoying every minute of it.
“That state run was phenomenal for us,” head coach Francis Bowe said, and it wasn’t because of the extra wins. “We drove three hours, so no one was like ‘I’m going home with my parents.’ We were all on the bus — and we got to know each other really well.”
Blake Deegan (above) served as the team DJ on Carroll's long bus rides last March. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Bowe learned, for example, that now-senior forward Blake Deegan can also serve as the team DJ, a crucial role on one long bus ride after another. He also found out that senior guard Dean Coleman-Newsome is not just a Division I basketball recruit but also a solid standup comic, not shy to take the proverbial mic and perform.
“The jokes aren’t even malicious, they’re not even busting on each other,” the fifth-year coach said. “He’ll take a moment in the news or a moment one of us as coaches just did, and he will have us all rolling.”
Carroll made it all the way to the state semifinals before falling short against Quaker Valley, a run that was certainly unexpected considering the Patriots had thought their season was over a month prior. It was only when Martin Luther King dropped out of bracket that Carroll was able to get another chance, not playing for three weeks between a Feb. 16 loss to Devon Prep in the PCL playoffs and a March 8 win at Berks Catholic in the first round.
Without that run deep into the PIAA Class 4A bracket, the Patriots would have a much different impression coming into the 2022-23 season. They would have lost nine of their final 13 games, a sour taste in their mouths, three starters departed, not nearly as much to feel good about. Now they not only have some additional momentum, but all the personal connections that developed from those long, late-night trips across the state.
“When we’re going on two-hour bus rides and just being together a lot, that just allows you to understand the people that surround you more,” Coleman-Newsome said. “When I’m on the court, I understand where Blake wants the ball and Jake [West], I know how they like to play.
“And I know what gets them down, I know what brings them up…being able to understand your teammates is huge.”
Dean Coleman-Newsome (above, right) is fully recovered from knee injuries that cost him his sophomore season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Patriots are hoping that familiarity pays off this year in the form of winning close games, something they struggled with last year in the ultra-competitive Philadelphia Catholic League. Carroll finished 5-8 in league play last season (15-11 overall), losing three league games by three points or fewer, plus a three-point defeat to Devon Prep in the league playoffs.
Flip those losses into wins, and Carroll would have finished in the top six in the league, getting to host that playoff game instead of going on the road, making their path to the league semifinals and championships at the Palestra a good deal easier.
“You’ve got to close,” Coleman-Newsome said. “We had leads, a lot of games that we gave up [...] we allowed teams to get a little life, you know the PCL crowd, that’s momentum. Once they get going, the team’s going to get going.
“When you’re up, you’ve got to step on their necks when they’re down.”
In what should be one of the most competitive years in Catholic League memory, with at least five favorites and no fewer than 11 teams with a realistic shot at the Palestra, one or two wins will be a difference-maker.
“The league’s pretty wide-open this year, a lot of teams fall in the same place, really similar to each other,” Deegan said. “Winning one or two games in the season can make or break where you get in in the playoffs, so we understand that coming in.”
The Patriots have enough returners to have hope, with some former reserves stepping up into big roles and some youth having to play crucial minutes right away; how that all comes together will determine if they can finish in the top five or will struggle just to make the PCL playoffs.
Jake West (above) picked up an offer from Mississippi State recently. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Coleman-Newsome, a 6-2 guard with Division I looks, averaged 14.4 ppg and 7.0 rpg last year; he’s joined as a returning starter by the 5-11 sophomore West (7.6 ppg, 2.5 apg) and 6-5 Deegan (4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), both of whom started half the team’s games last year.
Gone are talented junior Moses Hipps, who led the team in scoring (18.9 ppg) and 3-pointers (76) last year but moved to Georgia in the offseason, as well as graduated seniors Shawnn Smith (8.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.2 apg), now at Lock Haven, and Harold Ivery (3.4 ppg), playing baseball at Mansfield.
A few other returners should see greatly increased roles, including senior guards Seamus Rogers (3.0 ppg) and Khair Dixon (1.5 ppg). The staff is increasingly excited about 6-4 junior wing Su’Meer Alleyne, who saw spare minutes in 17 games last year but looks primed to jump right into the starting lineup, giving the Patriots a nice boost of length, athleticism and effort, instantly making him one of their top rebounders and junk guys, capable of producing without anything being run for him.
“We went from July (thinking) Su’s going to give us some stuff but he’s got a long way to go,” Bowe said, “to ‘oh my gosh.’ We think overall he does so many little things that nobody else knows [...] Su’s an anchor, he’s just an anchor.”
There’s also a lot of buzz around a four-man freshman group: point guard Ian Williams, guard Nasir Ralls, wing Luca Foster and forward Drew Corrao, all of whom have been in Bowe’s rotation since their debuts at Philly Live in June.
Williams, a 5-9 guard, has been in the starting lineup for most of the summer and fall. Rawls (6-0), Foster (6-4) and Corrao (6-8) have all been coming off the bench, playing anywhere from a few minutes per game to almost half the contest at times.
Balancing their development for the future and giving them on-court experience while also focusing on keeping Carroll as competitive as possible is Bowe’s biggest challenge.
“We’re trying to figure out, like, are we going to play them a whole JV game, and then be our [varsity] role guys from there?” he said. “I’m trying to figure out, is that a smart idea? Knowing that in a second’s notice they could go from playing 12 minutes to 25 because someone goes down? I don’t know yet, I don’t have an answer. Right now, they need to play, they need to play a lot.”
A MADE Hoops event in mid-October was Carroll’s last tune-up before the season, a few other fall events their only other opportunities to play together since the June live periods at St. Joe’s Prep and Jefferson University. Other than that it’s just open gym sessions and pickup, getting as much court time as possible with the youngsters to get them ready for the gauntlet to come.
“Right now we’re getting the guys experience,” Coleman-Newsome said. “When the lights come on, those guys are going to be ready for the moment.”