Quade Green (above) and the Saints went 29-2 in a "down" year last season. (Photo: Josh Einbinder-Schatz/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of CoBL's "Prepping for Preps," our series of articles previewing area high school teams for the 2015-16 season. For the complete list of schools previewed so far, click here)
It’s easy to forget that people were questioning Neumann-Goretti this time one year ago.
Coming off their sixth straight Philadelphia Catholic League championship, the Saints had lost not just a quartet of Division I athletes but arguably the best player in league history, Ja’Quan Newton.
Head coach Carl Arrigale certainly wasn’t lacking for talent, but with a largely-untested roster, it seemed like it would be the year that Roman Catholic or Archbishop Carroll would finally dethrone the champs.
And yet, by the time Neumann-Goretti did fall just short of winning its record seventh-straight PCL title, it felt like Roman’s 64-59 win was the upset and not what was expected the whole way through.
“We’re that close to winning it, and everybody acted like it was a big deal that we lost--we weren’t even supposed to be there at the beginning of the year,” Arrigale said. “But I told those guys it was a compliment, we played well enough last year that everybody forgot we were supposed to stink.”
Nobody will be making that same mistake this time around.
Instead of graduating four starters like they did a year ago, the Saints instead return that number from a team that, oh yeah, still went 29-2 and won its fourth PIAA Class AAA championship in five years.
That includes Zane Martin, a muscular 6-foot-3 lefty guard who averaged 16.5 ppg as a junior; he committed to Towson in the spring. And his classmate Vaughn Covington, a 6-0 point guard and 3-point specialist who averaged 7.6 ppg a year ago and is also drawing Division I interest.
Both of them will start, as will classmate Rasheed Browne, a 6-2 guard who served as the Saints' sixth man last year and is one of the team's best defenders.
But what really makes these Saints special are two juniors who form the best inside-out combination in the city.
Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, a 6-9 forward, went from an awkward young big man to a dominant force in the post in the last eight months, and now schools like Syracuse, Villanova, Penn State, Temple and more are in pursuit after a strong summer with Team Final on the AAU circuit.
While he emerged as a high-level rim protector who dunks everything around the basket with the Saints last fall, he really developed his face-up ability this summer and is quickly becoming a highly skilled all-around big man.
Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (above) has become a force in the middle for N-G over the last year. (Photo: Josh Einbinder-Schatz/CoBL)
“I knew Dhamir was ready to play (last year), I just didn’t know what level,” Arrigale said. “Now, I expect him to play at an extremely high level, especially after the summer. Aaron (Burt) was great for him, his AAU coach...did a really nice job in just developing Dhamir this summer.”
More highly-touted to begin with was Quade Green, a 6-foot point guard, who emerged as a top-50 prospect in the 2017 class in the last year. He’s pulled in offers from the likes of Syracuse, Xavier, Southern Cal, Missouri and more after playing with WeR1 on the Under Armour circuit this summer after averaging a team-high 17.8 ppg for the Saints as a sophomore.
“No one thought he was going to be that much better as a sophomore than he was as a freshman, because a s a freshman he was behind the best player in the Catholic League history,” Arrigale said. “We knew what he was. I’m not going to tell you I thought he was going to be...our leading scorer as a sophomore, but I knew he was going to be pretty damn good.”
While Arrigale’s starting lineup looks fairly set heading into the season, his reserves are still very much up in the air.
Senior Emil Moody, a 6-4 forward, played solid bench minutes last year, but his participation on the football team is keeping him out of valuable hoops workouts. Junior Mike Millsip, a powerful 6-3 guard, had an impressive summer of his own and looks like he’s ready to make an impact at the varsity level.
“I’m hoping Mike can make the next step,” Arrigale said. “Mike was always a kid that always overthought stuff and he’s finally just starting to play.”
Then there are the youngsters--sophomore guards Dymir Montague, a 6-1 scoring guard; Noah Warren, a skinny, left-handed 5-9 point guard with a sweet outside shot and quick hands on the defensive end. And two very talented freshmen--6-4 wing Khyree Temple, a freak athlete, and 6-6 forward Chico Whyte--whose names will be on the Division I recruiting radar sooner rather than later.
“We do need some people,” Arrigale said, but he’s not desperate to put his youngsters out there: “I’ve played with five and six before if I don’t think anybody else is worthy to play. They know that.”
The only graduate from last year was 6-0 point guard Lamarr Kimble, now a freshman at Saint Joseph’s. A three-year starter at Neumann-Goretti, Kimble finished eighth on N-G’s all-time scoring list (1,166 points according to Ted Silary) but more importantly was the unquestioned leader of the team as a senior.
With at least four seniors in the rotation--as well as Cosby-Roundtree and Green--all ready to fill that void, it’s not likely going to be just one that emerges as a captain and leader in the same way that Kimble was the year before.
“Everybody’s going to fight for who’s the main player on the team, but at the end of the day it’s a team sport,” Martin said. “At the end of the day we’re all trying to get the big picture, which is the Catholic League championship, state championship.”
Indeed, the Saints’ biggest problem might be that there’s only one basketball on the court at any given time, about about 10 talented athletes on the roster who all believe they should have it in their hands all the time.
If egos can be set aside, a new string of championships could begin as soon as this year--though Roman's ultra-talented lineup, featuring three Penn State commits, will have something to say about that.
“I expect it to be challenging at some point this year because a lot of our guys improved, but we’ve still got to be able to play the way we play,” Arrigale said. “But they understand how they have to play to win because it’s going to be a similar-type team, just some of the guys have gotten better.”
Sounds like a good problem to have.