Tyree Pickron (above) and Archbishop Wood are the defending Catholic League and PIAA Class 5A champs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(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.)
The Philadelphia Catholic League’s strength continues to grow year by year.
Ever since the PCL became part of the PIAA nearly a decade ago, the league’s influence, talent and depth has grown from what was already quite a high level into a behemoth, with no fewer than eight or nine teams that have legitimate state championship aspirations.
While the Catholic League makes more and more enemies around the state -- Neumann-Goretti has won seven of the last eight 3A championships, Wood the defending 5A champs -- internally it gets even more competitive. Several high-impact transfers have boosted quite a few programs, while others that were already near the top of the league still have plenty to work.
It’s true that there’s no more Quade Green (Kentucky) or Collin Gillespie (Villanova) around this year, but the PCL is certainly not lacking for talent or intrigue.
Here’s a breakdown of the deepest league around:
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Archbishop Wood
4. Roman Catholic
5. St. Joseph’s Prep
6. Archbishop Carroll
7. La Salle College HS
8. Cardinal O’Hara
9. Archbishop Ryan
10. West Catholic
12. Father Judge
13. Lansdale Catholic
14. Bishop McDevitt
It’s true that Archbishop Wood lost quite a bit off its first-ever Catholic League and state tournament championship squads, named league MVP Collin Gillespie (Villanova), as well as Matt Cerruti (Lock Haven) and Keith Otto (Moravian). But fifth-year head coach John Mosco was far from reliant on just one class; the former Neumann-Goretti assistant has been stockpiling depth, and has turned the Vikings into a program that look like they’ll be right up near the top for the foreseeable future. This year, he’s got four Division I-bound seniors to lean on in Tyree Pickron (Quinnipiac), Andrew Funk (Bucknell), Karrington Wallace (CCSU) and Seth Pinkney (TBD), plus versatile junior wing Julius Phillips and a couple freshmen who might see some time as well. They’re plenty battle-tested and raring to prove last year was no fluke.
Neumann-Goretti has been the runner-up each of the last three years, and the Saints -- who had won the previous six league championships -- are as motivated as ever. Like Wood, N-G has to replace some high-level talent: Quade Green, the stellar point guard now at Kentucky, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, an athletic forward now at Villanova. But Carl Arrigale has plenty remaining, including senior big man Marcus Littles, a George Washington commit, and junior guard Christian Ings, who’s ready to take over as the next in a long line of elite Saints guards. They’ve also got a few talented youngsters who are going to make a big impact, including sophomores Ahmad Fair and Hakim Byrd plus freshman Taquan Woodley.
Seth Lundy (above) and Roman aren't the deepest team in the PCL, but the top-level talent is there. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Last year’s third-place finisher, Roman Catholic, returns plenty of weapons for second-year boss Matt Griffin to work with. Towson commit Allen Betrand is the senior of the group, but he’s got plenty of help. Junior wing Seth Lundy is a high-major prospect who’s as versatile as they come, and sophomore point guard Lynn Greer, a USA Basketball U16 national team finalist, is one of the area’s best underclassmen. The Cahillites are boosted by the offseason arrival of junior guard Hakim Hart, who had previously been one of South Jersey’s top scorers at Kingsway.
The final of the four teams that has the best chance to finish atop the league come February is one that finished in eighth last year. But there’s no denying that Bonner-Prendergast is at its strongest in quite some time, now that junior guard Isaiah Wong and junior big man Tariq Ingraham are in the fold. They join 6-8 senior forward Ajiri Johnson, a Rider commit, and a talented supporting cast for head coach Jack Concannon, who’s trying to bring the Friars back to the Palestra for the first time since Brian Daly was head coach in 2008.
Pretty much everybody projected to finish in the top half of the league has a realistic argument for why they should be able to not just make it to the league semifinals but potentially even win the whole thing. St. Joe’s Prep returns four starters from a team that finished in sixth place a season ago, including its starting backcourt of seniors Darius Kinnel and Kyle Thompson as well as junior wing Gabe Arizin and 6-7 La Salle commit Ed Croswell up front. Adding to the mix is 6-10 junior Jacob O’Connell, formerly of Eastern (N.J.); sophomore Trevor Wall should be the first (and likely only) man off the bench for the legendary Speedy Morris, who’s not known for variety in his rotations.
Zach Crisler (above) is one of the highest-ceiling prospects in the whole Catholic League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Hawks’ rival, La Salle College HS, also has some good size in 6-9 junior forward Zach Crisler and 6-7 junior wing Konrad Kiszka, now in their second year as starters for head coach Joe Dempsey. In the backcourt, Dempsey has senior shooting guard Sean Simon and junior point guard Allen Powell, with senior combo guard Matt McMahon likely to see a lot of time as well. The Explorers were also boosted this offseason by the arrival of two more juniors, 6-6 Kahlil Ashley-Diarra (Germantown Academy) and 6-1 Titus Beard (Notre Dame, N.J.), who will both factor into the rotation.
And don’t forget about Archbishop Carroll. Paul Romanczuk’s Patriots don’t have any committed Division I players, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of talent (and a good amount of depth) on the squad. Up front, the Patriots will rely on 6-5 seniors Devon Ferrero and Keyon Butler to do a lot of the dirty work, while rapidly-improving 6-6 junior Luke House is more of a perimeter threat. In the backcourt, sophomore A.J. Hoggard is the star in the making, but senior Justin Anderson and junior Shawn Johnson both return with a lot of experience as well.
There’s one more group of schools, which we don’t see as likely title contenders, but who are certainly capable of pulling off a few upsets to change the balance of the entire league:
Archbishop Ryan graduated two Division I prospects in Izaiah Brockington (St. Bonaventure) and Matiss Kulackovskis (Bowling Green), but third-year head coach Joe Zeglinski has proven he’s got some chops with back-to-back Palestra appearances. Juniors Amin Bryant and Jaquill Stone will become the new go-to targets for the Raiders
Cardinal O’Hara head coach Jason Harrigan welcomed a familiar face to the fold this offseason in senior guard Antwuan “Booty” Butler. The Austin Peay commit had been at Del-Val Charter, where Harrigan coached until 2016, but had to find somewhere else to play his final season after Del-Val’s closure. He joins an undersized but scrappy group looking to take a step forward.
West Catholic head coach Jason Hasson is still very much in the rebuilding phase in his second year with the Burrs, but the former Pope John Paul XXIII (N.J.) coach has several youngsters back who saw a good deal of time in their debut Catholic League seasons. Sophomore forward Naadhir Wood is joined by two impressive freshmen, Zaakir Williamson and Jerome Brewer, to form a nucleus Hasson can build around for several seasons.
Players to Watch
Archbishop Carroll sophomore A.J. Hoggard is one of the league’s brightest young talents. The strong-bodied 6-2 guard can score from all three levels. Patriots junior Luke House emerged into Division I potential this summer, as the 6-6 wing proved he can knock down outside shots at a good clip and he’s got a one-dribble pull-up now too. ...Archbishop Ryan junior guard Amin Bryant is a talented guard who, at 6-4, has great size and athletic ability, and he’s terrific with the ball in his hands. A consistent jump shot, and the Division I offers will pour in. Raiders junior Jaquill Stone is a speedy scoring guard point who loves to get into the mid-range, but he’s best in transition where he can put his top gear to work. ...Archbishop Wood’s Andrew Funk is ready to assume the role of the Vikings’ lead guard, and he looks ready. A 6-4 guard, the Bucknell commit is a knockdown outside shooter with greatly-improved ball skills, and he plays at a confident pace. His backcourt mate, Quinnipiac commit Tyree Pickron, is a tough 6-2 wing and one of the best shooters in the PCL. Up front, the 6-11 Seth Pinkney is a lanky shot-blocking force who’s a developing offensive weapon; he’s shown the ability this summer to knock down an open 3. ...Bonner-Prendergast guard Isaiah Wong, a transfer from Notre Dame (N.J.) is perhaps the league’s top player as a junior. He’s an explosive, high-scoring top-100 recruit with a slew of high-major offers. Joining him inside are a pair of Division I prospects; Rider commit Ajiri Johnson is an athletic force at 6-8 with a budding skillset, while 6-9 Salesianum (Del.) transfer Tariq Ingraham is more of a back-to-the-basket bruiser. …Austin Peay signee Antwuan “Booty” Butler leads a young Cardinal O’Hara lineup after the rock-solid floor general transferred from now-closed Del-Val Charter. He’s joined by a pair of high-upside sophomore guard transfers: Jordan Hall from Middle Township (N.J.) and Elijah Smith from Academy of the New Church. … Eric Esposito and Patrick Robinson are both high-scoring seniors looking to play their way into scholarship offers for Conwell-Egan. Esposito, a 6-5 long-range sniper, is considering a prep year to potentially get onto the low Division I radar. … Father Judge sharpshooter Tom Quarry, a Johns Hopkins commit, is an intriguing combo forward with a fair bit of upside if he can develop his 6-6 frame and round out his game a bit. … La Salle will be led by two juniors, both with D-I futures; 6-9 Zach Crisler is a stretch-four with great length and an intriguing perimeter skillset, while 6-7 Konrad Kiszka is more of a true wing who can slide up or down a position with his well-rounded game. … Neumann-Goretti post and George Washington signee Marcus Littles is perhaps the best low-post scorer in the area. Point guard Christian Ings is an explosive athlete who’s really refined his floor game in recent months. They’re joined by a talented crop of underclassmen led by sophomore guard Ahmad Fair and freshman forward Ta’quan Woodley. … Roman Catholic swingman Seth Lundy should challenge for league MVP as a junior, and has an elite combination of positional size, strength, and skills. Sophomore floor general Lynn Greer III is considered one of the elite floor generals in his class. Towson signee Allen Betrand and sharpshooting junior Hakim Hart bring a scoring punch from the wing. … St. Joe’s Prep features a pair of dynamic duos: Darius Kinnel and Kyle Thompson form a battle-tested, senior backcourt while La Salle signee Ed Croswell and 6-10 Eastern (N.J.) transfer Jacob O’Connell make up one of the area’s most formidable front lines. … West Catholic features a deep, balanced lineup but will likely be led in the scoring column once again by junior Imere Harris, a waterbug-type guard who can fill it up in a hurry from midrange. Also look out for 6-6 freshman wing forward Jerome Brewer, who tracks early on as perhaps the top 2021 prospect in the city
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