Collin Gillespie (above) led Archbishop Wood to PCL, District 12 and PIAA championships last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
(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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
As John Mosco remembers, it was like a documentary. It was the perfect script, with strong main characters leading the way, and an outstanding supporting cast up to the challenge.
“You couldn’t write a better ‘30-for-30,’” the Archbishop Wood head coach said.
That’s how Mosco described the Vikings 2016-17 season, when reminiscing about how things transpired.
After a strong non-league portion of the schedule, Wood dropped its league opener to Father Judge. Then things took a major turn.
The wall of the southeast corner of school’s gym collapsed, forcing the Vikings to play the rest of their remaining home games at neutral sites. As with any great story, the hurdles they had to go through made the pinnacle that much more gratifying.
The Vikings finished out the regular-season with 12 straight wins before knocking off Neumann-Goretti in the PCL title game, 65-58, in front of more than 8,000 screaming fans at the Palestra for the program’s first-ever league crown. Archbishop Wood was only the third different team aside from the Saints or Roman Catholic to win the PCL since 2000. From there, Mosco’s team rolled to a District 12 Class 5A title victory over Martin Luther King before heading into the state playoffs.
WIth a core group of seniors in Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Matt Cerruti (Lock Haven) and Keith Otto (Moravian College) the Vikings won all five of their state tournament games by double figures en route to the school’s first-ever state championship, finishing the year with a 28-3 record.
Mosco felt having the distraction of not having a home-court advantage actually increased his team’s drive and focus down the stretch.
“We only played two home games and with everything that happened I think we were the first team to do something like that,” said Mosco, now in his fifth season at Wood. “We won the state and Catholic League with a .500 home record.”
Mosco, who spent 17 seasons as an assistant at Neumann, also stated how last year would not have ended the way that it did without the leadership of those three seniors, which is something he continually witnessed while with the Saints.
“They led the team by example in the weight room and in pick-up games while the coaches just sat back and watched,” Mosco said. “At Neumann-Goretti, that’s what I was used to a lot when seniors took over.”
Gillespie became a 1,000-point scorer and the PCL MVP. Cerutti averaged 12.0 ppg and was named Second Team All-Catholic. Otto (4.6 ppg) was a player “who would do anything for his team,” Mosco stated. All three are gone but Wood is far from starting over after its most successful season in program history.
Senior guard Tyree Pickron (Quinnipiac) returns for his fourth year as a starter. The 6-3 versatile wing avg. 13.5 ppg on his way to being named First Team All-Catholic. He’s already eclipsed 1,000 points and Mosco believes “he has the possibility to leave Wood as the school’s all-time leading scorer.”
Tyree Pickron (above), a Quinnipiac commit, will be a four-year starter for the Vikings. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Pickron has been an essential part of Wood’s rise to the top of the PCL and he has seen what players like Gillespie, Cerutti and Otto did firsthand as seniors to propel the program there.
“When I came in as a freshman, people were telling me Wood didn’t win. I think from the beginning for me it was about getting us there,” Pickron said. “Those guys did what they had to do and brought everyone together. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Joining Pickron in the backcourt will be 6-4 senior Andrew Funk, who committed to Bucknell earlier this fall. After averaging 7.6 ppg off the bench as the sixth man last year, Funk will have an even larger role as a starter. Mosco feels the rest of the PCL is going to see what Funk can really do after playing the role he needed to for last year’s team.
“He sacrificed a lot of his game,” Mosco said. “He came off the bench and was a scorer. He would score in bunches for us but he surprised everybody with his defense.”
In the paint, Wood boasts one of the most imposing big men in the league in 6-11 second team All-Catholic senior center Seth Pinkney (5.5 ppg). Pinkney’s forte is defense (as evidenced by his nine-block performance vs Archbishop Carroll last season) but his offensive game has become an area opposing teams need to account for.
Starting at power forward will be 6-7 senior forward Karrington Wallace. Wallace, who already has a number of low-to-mid-major Division I offers from such schools as Towson and Binghamton, came off the bench last year but had moments where he was able to showcase his ability, like his 12-point performance in the second round of the state playoffs vs Mechanicsburg.
Mosco wants to see one thing from Wallace this year: consistency.
“We can’t just have Seth rebounding the ball, Mosco said. “We need that presence. He has a lot of athletic ability and runs the floor well.”
After the four seniors, Mosco said the fifth starting spot as well as sixth man are still up for grabs. 6-5 junior Julius Phillips looks primed for a breakout year after coming into his own in the state playoffs, avg. 4.8 ppg in five appearances. Mosco feels Phillips will “be battling for a starting spot” because he has “really worked on his outside game and ball handling.”
From there, the competition centers upon two freshman. Rahsool Diggins could fill the point guard spot vacated by Gillespie. The 5-11 combo guard can really stroke it from deep and is a guy Mosco has been very high on early in his high school career.
“He gets into the lane. He has long arms and is a good defender,” Mosco said. “He has a great chance to start for us as a freshman.”
Dae’shon Shepherd is another freshman who could see significant minutes in his first season. The athletic wing participated in the Jr. All-City Classic at Imhotep Charter in May and is already making a name for himself.
After a season in which Mosco and the Vikings put themselves on the map, they stacked their non-league schedule with perennial power programs. Archbishop Wood opens its season at DeMatha (Md.) on December 10. Other nonleague games include Our Savior New American School (N.Y.) in the All-City Classic and Montverde Academy (Fl.) in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in West Virginia on January 5.
The early schedule does not do them any favors, but Pickron noted that this is what the program has been working for since he arrived at Wood.
“That’s been the mantra we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Pickron said. “My sophomore year, we had plans to move forward and then last year we won it. Coach Mosco told us about the obstacles we’re going to have to overcome and we’re ready to do that.”
While at Neumann, Mosco helped oversee a team that consistently reached and won PCL and state titles on a yearly basis. Having been a part of reaching those accolades at two different schools has helped prepare his team for a quick turnaround.
“I think I have great experience in doing that from being at Neumann with Carl [Arrigale] and doing it a lot,” Mosco said. “My take on that is we just live in the moment. We keep talking about now because Collin, Matt and Keith are not walking through the door.I stress to them it’s easy to climb the mountain but it’s hard to stay on top of it. Nobody knew who Wood was; now everybody wants to play you.”
The Vikings' 2016-17 season fit the script, and this year’s group is hoping they can write an even better sequel.