By James Nelson-Stewart
In this year of the “COVID”, where teams had to miss period of times due to the virus, one of the biggest and most controversial stories is that of the defending Philadelphia Catholic League Champions, Neumann-Goretti Saints. As a lover of all sports and a die-hard basketball fan, this story concerns me in many ways. In the Year of the Pandemic, where people fought for children to play sports, I find the rule of students “transferring for athletic purposes” seems to be hypocritical and biased due to the fact some of the reasoning of playing sports through this Pandemic were adults saying that playing sports helps with the child’s mental health. But playing for a coach that doesn’t support your vision helps the child’s mental health. I digress but the sad situation of Neumann being disqualified from defending their title seems unnecessary and unwarranted. In this year of so many twists and turns, rules should have been a little more lenient and Neumann should have had a chance to defend their title. It truly is disappointing for the Neumann Family of Coaches and Players but we know they will regroup next year and will be ready for all comers.
The Area’s National level players especially the strong and deep classes of guards really performed up to their lofty standards and then some. Three of the top guards even broke school records in their abridged seasons. 6-2 Marquette Signee Stevie Mitchell of Wilson West Lawn went over 2000 points in his amazing HS career that came to close with a loss in the District 3 Championship Game to Reading High School, led by Rick Perez. 6-6 Villanova Recruit Jordan Longino also closed his career out at Germantown Academy as the illustrious school’s All-Time Leading Scorer by passing legend and former NBA player Alvin Williams. Longino probably would have also surpassed the 2,000-point total but the Inter-Ac League only played a small slate of games this season. 6-3 Rahsool Diggins, the defending PCL MVP and future U-Conn Huskie, also added Wood’s All-Time Scoring title to his growing list of accomplishments that he can still add on to. Definitely one of the favorites to capture the league’s MVP again, he also has a chance to win a Catholic and State Title to his substantial resume of Accomplishments. While those 3 guards have definitely been newsworthy, there has been a plethora of incredible guard play this winter. Hysier “Fabe” Miller, Neumann’s fantastic Guard and incoming Temple Owl, fascinated fans with averages that steadily stayed in triple double range and definitely was in the conversation as the Catholic League MVP. Miami Commit and MCS Star “Wooga” Nisine Poplar, has definitely picked it up after a slow start to the season. Out in District 11, Sr 6-5 Sniper Jevin Muniz has Executive Charter looking at different heights for this season and continuing with his strong and steady play. Last but not least is the #1 ranked 2023 player in the Country D.J. Wagner, leading his Camden Team to an undefeated record while also winning NJ POY. Hard to believe the area has 2 more years of this Phenom. He has filled the big shoes left by his father extremely well. Some other noteworthy guards have been 2021s Florida St. Bound Jalen Warley (Westtown), High Scoring 2021 Guard Bernie Blunt (Rocktop Academy), Jaylen Stinson (Wood/James Madison), Carl Schaller (Garnet Valley/U of Chicago), Rahdir Hicks (Malvern Prep/Towson), Wisler Sanon (Paul VI, NJIT), Matt Compas (Wissahickon), Quadir Miller (Constitution), Griffin Barrouk (Rustin/Hofstra), Freddie Young (Trenton Catholic/Lincoln), Jameel Burton (Chester), Fareed Burton Jr. (Chester), Robert Bell (Abington) and Joe Jackman (CB East). Some notable 2022s have been Jameel Brown (Haverford/Purdue), Khalil Farmer (Roman Catholic), Jeremiah Bembry (Executive), Justin Moore (McDevitt), Saleem Payne (Cheltenham), Tyson Thomas (Allentown Central Catholic), Nate Ellis (William Allen), Argel “Ivy”Pettit (Devon Prep), Jacob Beccles (Constitution) and Derek Simpson (Lenape). Some notable 2023s have been Xyavier Brown (Roman Catholic), Rah Burno (Imhotep), Ruben Rodriquez (Reading), Chauncey Presley (MCS), Earl Stout (Wissahickon), Moe Scro-Dones (North Penn), Shawn Purvy (Souderton), Mark Butler and Keith Gee (Penn Charter).
Will National Ranked Archbishop Wood (Maxpreps #9) finally capture the titles that eluded this group thus far. With the strong starting 5 of Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd (Lasalle), Marcus Randolph (Richmond), Jaylen Stinson (James Madison) and the underrated but extremely athletic and versatile F Muneer Newton and big man Rob Jackson (Cincinnati-Football Scholarship). The majority of this group has been playing for titles since their Sophomore years together. (Randolph came as a Jr.). They lost a heartbreaker in the 5A State Title game to Moon Township in 2019. Then in 2020, this group lost in the PCL Semifinals to Roman Catholic and lost the bid to win the state title due to COVID. They are on to the PCL Title game on Monday 3/15/2021 against the last team that beat them in Roman Catholic. This Roman team is much different from the team that beat them. No longer is 2022 #2 overall player Jalen Duren defending the basket or Guards Lynn Greer III or 2022 Justice Williams manning the backcourt. Now it’s the great backcourt of 2022 Khalil Farmer and Super Sophomore 2023 Xzayvier Brown and 2022 6-5 Daniel Skillings and 6-7 Radunovic up front. This Wood team is the most balanced team that the area may have seen in a while. All 5 starters should be definite 1st or 2nd team All-Catholic. Let’s see if the Catholic and State Titles are within their grasp this year.
The Newcomers really have made their mark around the state whether it was through transfer or the Class of 2024 players making their mark. The Catholic League has seen players such as Zaahir Williamson (Neumann), Christian Tomasco (Ryan), Daniel Skillings & Khalil Farmer (Roman), IV Pettit (Devon Prep), Justin Moore (Bishop McDevitt) make big noise this year. While players such as Jeremiah Bembry (Executive), Jameel Burton (Chester) and Trent Middleton (MCS) has their teams looking for State Gold. The freshman has made their mark throughout the area. Malachi Palmer (Central Dauphin East), Michael “Deuce” Jones (Trenton Catholic) and Nick Coval (Parkland) led the 2024’s but others such as Moses Hipps (Carroll), Robert Wright (Neumann), Elijah Duval (Bonner), Ron Brown (SCH), Jacob Cumminsky (CB East) and Jayden Colzie (Plymouth Whitemarsh) made some waves in the area. 2024 seems to be a strong and deep class throughout the region.
Is this the year the District 11 wins a state title? Executive Charter, coached by former D1 player Ray Barbosa and led by Jevin Muniz and Jeremiah Bembry have to be considered among the favorites in the 3A bracket along with 4A Allentown Central Catholic, led by Tyson Thomas and Liam Joyce and coached by Dennis Csensits. William Allen led by 2022 guard Nate Ellis would be considered a long shot, but the chance is still there. There has been a drought but the time may be near for that to end but I know MCS in 3A and Pope John Paul in 4A are ready to keep that drought going on further.
All-Catholic and All-Area teams will be out later this week.