By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
The last time Archbishop Wood won a Philadelphia Catholic League title was in 2021. The last time the Vikings won a PIAA Class 5A state championship goes back a little further, to 2017.
The seniors on this current Wood team were watching from the bench as that 2021 version of the Vikings celebrated the Catholic League title at the Palestra. They know what it is like to be there for a championship, though not own it.
That’s what drives Wood this season.
These Vikings want dates on championship banners they can call theirs.
Archbishop Wood senior Jalil Bethea needs 487 points to become the program's all-time scoring leader. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Leading that quest will be the reigning Catholic League MVP, Miami-bound 6-foot-4 senior guard Jalil Bethea, among the best players in the city along with Imhotep Charter’s Ahmad Nowell (UConn) and Archbishop Ryan’s Thomas Sorber (Georgetown). Bethea has done everything at Wood but conclude a season with a Catholic League or state championship.
Bethea enters this season with 1,047 career points. It places him in a good position to become Wood’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing 2021 Wood graduate and two-time Catholic League MVP Rahsool Diggins’ current all-time mark of 1,533. Bethea only became a varsity starter his junior year, when he scored 649 points (on 85-of-186 shooting, 45.7% from 3-point range). Another great year would give him an outside shot at becoming the Philadelphia Catholic League’s all-time leading scorer, a record currently held by Neumann-Goretti all-time great Ja’Quan Newton, a four-year starter who scored 1,972 points.
For that to happen, the Vikings must win and play deep into the season.
“That’s really all I care about,” said Bethea, who averaged 23.2 points, 4.3 assists and 7.6 rebounds last season. “My expectation for this team is to get everyone better. I put a lot of trust in my teammates. I feel I have a lot of underrated teammates. We have great players. This is a team filled with guys who I don’t think get the credit that they deserve. I was part of the team when we won the Catholic League title in 2021. This year will be different. This is a team that will be counting on me, and I will be counting on my teammates. We can do this. We have the talent and the team to do it.”
Bethea will be counted on to be a leader.
“I told Jalil he has two banners ahead of him right now, with Collin (Gillespie leading Wood to the 2017 Catholic League and state championship) and Rahsool (with the 2021 Catholic League title), and he wants to prove he belongs with them and win a championship,” said coach John Mosco, who is entering his 11th season at Wood. “He has done everything else. He is a remarkable player, one of the best ever. He can lead us to the promised land.”
Joining Bethea will be Drexel-bound 6-4 senior guard Josh Reed and 6-4 junior forward Milan Dean as returning starters for a team that finished 19-9 overall and 9-4 in the Catholic League last season, losing to Roman Catholic twice in the postseason — 66-59 in the Catholic League semifinals and 66-56, in the PIAA Class 6A state semifinals.
Then there are 6-3 senior forward Tahir Howell, 6-2 junior guard Carey "Deuce" Maxey, 5-10 senior guard Ihsan Beyah, 6-0 junior guard Mike Green, 6-3 sophomore guard Brady McAdams and 6-4 sophomore guard Brian Donahue.
Mosco said there are concerns about a lack of height, defensive rebound and their ability to take care of the basketball. The bench also lacks experience. Maxey and Green will provide 3-point shooting, Mosco said, and Reed and Dean will be expected to “step up their offense as the year goes on.”
“We win with pressure defense and a up-tempo style, the way we used to play when I was with Carl Arrigale at Neumann-Goretti,” Mosco said.
As a team, Reed said, the emphasis will be on fundamentals, boxing out and moving the ball. On a personal note, he stressed, his ball handling and playmaking have improved over the summer.
“We’re athletic enough to make up for our lack of size,” said Reed, who averaged 9.6 points a game last year. “Me and Milan will need to carry more points, and that means hitting more shots and taking the pressure off Jalil.”
Mosco said he likes that Wood is picked right behind Archbishop Ryan to win the PCL.
“This is where you want your program to be,” he said. “Your players have to have a mindset knowing everyone is coming after you. We saw (Archbishop) Carroll last year win on our home court and they reacted like they won the Catholic League championship. So, we have to be able to bring it every night.”
Reed said he remembers sitting on the bench as a freshman the last time Wood won the league championship. And last year’s state semifinal loss left him feeling numb.
It’s our turn now,” he said. “We were there. We know what it is like to be there. We want to leave our mark. Winning is the way we do that. We got a taste last year.
“The plan is to cut down the nets in Hershey with a picture of a big Hershey bar.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, 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.