James Nelson-Stewart: My Final 5 Thoughts on the Scholastic Season

State Champions, Reading High School

One

READING!!! What can you say about this team that has not already been said? The Underdogs from Berks County shocked the nation by beating the 7th ranked Archbishop Wood 58-57 in the 6A finals. For most fans, observers, scouts and writers (including yours truly) thought that this game was going to be a coronation of one of the great teams of the recent Philadelphia HS basketball era in the 7th ranked undefeated Archbishop Wood Vikings, who normally started 4 players that have scored over 1,000 points and signed Division 1 basketball scholarships. But somebody forgot to tell the Red Knights of Reading and Coach Rick Perez of this coronation party. Let me say the group of players and parents of Reading High were confident and excited for the opportunity to prove the masses wrong and did they ever. For Reading High to even be in this position to play for a State Championship was an incredible journey. From having Coach Perez suspended before the beginning of this season to now having the 25th ranked team in the United States in America shows you what the power of perseverance can overcome. The community rallied behind this team from the very start and had the look of possibly having a special season. But best believe it was not going to come without challenges and their one main challenge was Wilson West Lawn HS, led by their special generational player Stevie Mitchell. Reading, who finished with a record of 27-2, played Wilson four times this year and they split those games. But Reading won the most important game of the four and represented District 3 in the State Playoffs. With the restrictions brought on by COVID, only one team would represent a District in the State Playoffs. Each game brought a “Win-or-Go Home” mentality that Reading thrived in. By defeating the only team that beat them this year to get the playoffs, Reading was confident of their ability to win the title. But to achieve that feat, they had to overcome a team that had not lost all year and played in the undisputed best league in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Catholic League). But again, after conquering first their own school board and then Stevie Mitchell and Wilson, they had no fear of vanquishing the formidable Wood team, led by future HOF Coach John Mosco. Incredible season for this group led by Coach Rick Perez and Sr. 6-6 F Moro Osumanu (West Chester), who had 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Title Game. But here is the scary part for the rest of the state, Reading High only had 2 Seniors on their roster (Osumanu and Rene Rodriguez), the rest are underclassmen led by 6-4 Jr Wing Daniel Alcantara, 6-0 Jr G Joey Chapman (who had the game sealing steal), 6-1 Jr G Xavier Davis, 6-1 So Amier Burdine (Starting Varsity QB) and 6-1 Star So Ruben Rodriguez Jr. Reading may be around for a while!!!

Philadelphia Catholic League Champions, Archbishop Wood

Two

Can’t talk about Reading without talking about the team that they beat Archbishop Wood and the season they had. While the disappointment over the last game with linger with some, you can’t take away the run the Vikings had in this 2021 Season. Wood, led by 2 Time Back-to-Back PCL MVP & MaxPreps’s PA POY Rahsool Diggins, had a season that most programs would dream of. From being as high as #7 in the nation, to running through the PCL undefeated (14-0), to winning the PCL and District 12 Titles, this team was nearly perfect. This team had 4 1,000-point scorers and 1st Team All- Catholic in All Time Leader Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd, Jaylen Stinson and Marcus Randolph. They boasted a 2nd Team All Catholic 6-6 Sr F Muneer Newton, who could have been the most indispensable player on the team and other players like 6-4 Jr F Mike Knouse, 6-6 Sr C Rob Jackson and 6-2 Jr G Tyson Allen, who stepped up as injuries bit the Vikings late in the season. This group had a very successful 4 year run as they were the 2021 PCL Champions, 2-time PCL Regular Season Champs, 3 Time District 12 Champs and 2 Time State Finalist with a 3rd one probably stymied by COVID in 2020. Salute to those young men and Future HOF Coach John Mosco for an incredible season.

State Champions, Allentown Central Catholic

Three

District 11 has ended its streak of 36 years without a State Title with its incredible win on a last second layup by Jr PG 6-0 Tyson Thomas that lifted Allentown Central Catholic to the 4A State Championship. Led by Coach Dennis Csenstis, Allentown Central Catholic made their historic run to their state title by beating District 1’s PJP, who had a great run itself and District 12’s Archbishop Carroll, out of the PCL. This team is also primed for a run in 2022 with their best players being Guard Tyson Thomas and Jr G-F 6-6 Liam Joyce and some up-and-comers such as Fr F 6-6 David Fridia. This one is very personal as last year I was part of the Team Final Red Organization from Allentown and these 3 players are also part of that organization. Thomas, son of Team Final Red co-founder Marlon Thomas, was also named Co-MVP of his conference this year.

Destiny McPhaul, West Catholic

Four

District 12, while still the most powerful District in the State of Pennsylvania, left the Boys Basketball season with ZERO state titles but did leave the Girls Basketball Season with 3 state titles. The Boys went 0-3 in title games with losses by Constitution, Ryan and Wood. The Girls did just the opposite by going 3-0 in title games with wins by West Catholic, led by Destiny McPhaul, Cardinal O’Hara and Wood led by Ryanne Allen. With the State Tournament held in this format, teams like 6A Roman Catholic, were not able to participate. But it also shows that parity is growing throughout the state on the Boys side.

Five

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention how much different it could have been if 4A Neumann-Goretti or 5A Undefeated Imhotep were able to participate this year. This is not to take anything away from the Champions of those 2 classes because those schools still had to play very good teams and would have had a chance to beat either team. But for these teams not to have the chance to compete is just not fair. I’m not going into why they were not able to play but they both deserved better.

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