Come down 11th Street look for the opening in the gate, make a hard right. Find a parking space in the lot and walk up the stairs that resemble NYC fire escapes. Pass through the the doors and you are THERE!
You are in the home of the Neumann-Goretti Saints. On this particular evening it was hotter than the dashboard of the 1973 Ford Pinto with the windows up on the Las Vegas strip in the middle of August. Seriously… in late September, it felt like you were in a giant oven set to broil. I immediately exclaimed to the Head Coach, Carl Arrigale, “Maaaaan… It’s hot as Sh#t in here!”
He replied, “that’s the way we like it… This is how poor boys play basketball…”
Coming from a man ALWAYS possessing a plethora of scholarship level college prospects, Arrigale’s comment made me smile. Poor? Maybe not financially wealthy, BUT… by any reasonable measure of high school basketball talent, Neumann-Goretti is undoubtedly one of the “wealthiest” schools in the Greater Philadelphia region over the past two decades.
A lot of diamonds have been mined in that HOT South Philly gym… Earl Pettis, D.J. Rivera, Scoop Jardine, Rick Jackson, Lamin Fulton, John Davis, Danny Stewart, JaQuan Newton and many others... these are true gems!
But… They come and they go…
One year ago, Arrigale’s starting five included a Villanova power forward and a Kentucky point guard. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree was a top 100 frontcourt player. A long lean athletic power forward, he consistently beat opposing bigs end to end. He was on the receiving end of several lobs for spectacular dunks every game. Possessing excellent timing and the patience of Job, he was an elite rim protector… He’s gone.
Also gone is one of the greatest guards in the history of Philadelphia scholastic basketball. McDonald’s All-American, Quade Green was the unquestioned leader of a very good Saints squad. He set the tone… He controlled the ball… He made every big decision… He took every big shot… It was, in every respect, the Quade Green show… He’s gone.
So… what can we expect from the 2017-18 Saints?
While the GREAT guard has moved on to the bluegrass state, Neumann-Goretti still has several VERY GOOD guards on the roster. Senior Dhamir Montague is big, strong, skilled combo guard. Standing 6’3″ with a rock solid 190 lb frame he able to capable defend the 1,2 and 3 position. A solid ball-handler with ranging out to 3-point line, Montague is an experienced leader. NEC, America East and MEAC programs should be all over Montague, he can be an immediate contributor at the low-D1 level.
Another very good combo guard in the Neumann-Goretti camp is Noah Warren. Warren is very quick with the ball in transition and turning the corner in half court sets. On the defensive end, he does an excellent job playing the passing lanes and creating turnovers by stealing and deflecting passes. Although, his release is a little low, it is quick and repeatable. Warren is threat to score from anywhere on the floor. He effectively utilizes a variety of floaters around the basket. Low D1 and strong D2 programs should be pursuing this proven winner.
The top junior in the program is point guard, Chris Ings. He is a solid mid-major D1 prospect with offers from LaSalle and Mount St. Mary’s in hand. Ings is an explosive athlete who attacks the rim in transition. He likes to dunk and is capable of finishing through contact. After a two year stint as Green’s understudy, Ings displays a quiet confidence in his ability to assume the reigns of the program. He directs the team in scrimmages, often telling his big center, Marcus Littles (George Washington commit) to “post up”. With a tight handle, Ings is able to wait for Littles to establish position. Ings repeatedly delivered post entry passes accurately and gently into Littles target hand.
These guys are playing “old school” smart inside out basketball. You can almost see, Ings thinking about the potential mismatches Littles will encounter this season. As the point guard, Ings is building Littles’ confidence and making sure he can go to that well whenever needed and come away with two points. One thing for sure… If defenders allow Littles to get that ball on the low block, comfortably in his right hand, you can go ahead and count the two points. He has a very soft jump hook and a nice turn around jumper. Also, on more than once occasion, Ings used him in “pick and pop” situations and Marcus easily knocked down 15-18 foot jumpers. These two are working very well together…
One should not lose sight of the fact that Arrigale has some other very promising weapons to bring to bear in this year’s Catholic League wars.
Ahmad Fair repeatedly beats his man off the dribble and got in the lane. I mean repeatedly… He is very tough off the bounce… He creatively employs a variety of crossover dribbles, hesitation moves and in and outs to create space or get his defender off balance. He is very quick and likes to attack, attack and attack again. Once he gains increased confidence in his pull-up jumper he will become a complete offensive player very difficult to defend. All this young guard needs is repetitions. This season, he will provide a very nice change of pace when entering the game for this year’s squad. He can be counted on apply pressure and collapse defenses.
Another tough undersized guard is Hakim Byrd. Standing 5’8″, Byrd is very quick and elusive with the ball. Byrd exudes savvy and confidence. Possessing a reliable stroke extending out beyond the three point line he is able to effectively space the floor. With the ball in his hand, Byrd likes to drive and kick to open teammates. Utilizing a very quick first step, Byrd easily blows by initial defenders. He will bring speed and pressure defense to the table when he enters the lineup.
Three newcomers may be important factors determining if Neumann-Goretti can return to the Palestra for Catholic League Championship Game. Chris Evans is a 6’0″ freshman combo guard. A skilled ball-handler, he’s trying to fit in with the established stars populating the Neumann-Goretti backcourt. The one skill he’s not hesitant to display is his shooting ability. He’s got a quick release and he mades several deep jump shots while I was observing the scrimmage.
Two other newcomers will likely eat up frontcourt minutes. Noah Syer is 6’7″ 200 lb transfer from Sterling High. A good athlete, he’s especially active on the defensive end. Taquan Woodley is an intriguing 6’6″ freshman from Camden, New Jersey. Watching Woodley, it’s pretty clear that he will come up with some very clutch rebounds for the Saints. Although inexperienced, he fully uses his length, athleticism, and timing along with a relentless hustle to help secure rebounds for his team. Woodley does a good job boxing out when near the basket, and tracking down rebounds that get away from the hoop.
Neumann-Goretti lost a LOT last year… Carl Arrigale has regrouped and reloaded… Will it all come together? Time will tell… Arrigale has been there every year for what seems like forever…
Arrigale won six straight Catholic League championships before losing the last three titles Roman Catholic (2X) and Archbishop Wood. The only other coach who has won at least six titles in a row is former Roman coach Dennis Seddon, who retired in 2007.
Apart from his 10 total Catholic League championships – a number only Seddon can match, Arrigale has also captured seven of the last eight Pennsylvania Class AAA state championships.
Gonna be interesting in the Catholic League this year… I can’t wait!