Rahsool Diggins is gone… He’s on the UConn roster. Marcus Randolph is gone… He’s on the Richmond roster… Daeshon Shepherd is gone… He’s on the La Salle roster… Jaylen Stinson is gone… He’s on the James Madison roster…
These guys formed the core of the Archbishop Wood basketball program over the past three years. Diggins had one of the all-time great Philadelphia schoolboy careers. He ended up a consensus top 100 prospect and landed in the highly regarded Big East Conference, Randolph, a southpaw sniper, could always be counted on for a big bucket in a crucial moment. A big shooting guard, he plies his trade in the Atlantic 10. Shepherd was one of the most explosive leapers in recent years. He seemed to effortlessly sail through the air in Wood’s Warminster gym and violently deposit the ball through the rim. Like Randolph, he now competes in the Atlantic 10. Stinson was a defensive stopper. A tenacious on ball defender, he took great pleasure in disrupting the best laid game plans of opposing coaches and point guards. He’s continuing his career in Colonial Athletic Association.
All of those guys, four (4) NCAA Division 1 scholarship recipients, played for John Mosco’s Catholic League Champion Vikings last season. All of them are gone…
But wait… There’s more…
The consulate glue guy, Muneer Newton, is contributing to the success of the William Penn University NAIA basketball program. William Penn is currently 15-1 and ranked 2nd in the latest National NAIA poll. Newton has played in all 16 games.
Rob Jackson, another stalwart for Mosco’s program over the past few years accepted a football scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats won the American Athletic Conference championship while going undefeated through the regular season. Jackson and the Bearcats lost to top-ranked Alabama 27-6 in the College Football Playoff.
I say all of that to say two things… One, Mosco and his staff have done an amazing job developing young men into college ready student-athletes. Many of the the young men coming through the Wood program, since Mosco became coach, have gone on to college. More importantly, for the most part, the parents have not received a single bill for room, board, tuition, fees and books.
That’s just GOOD SHIT!
The other reason, I outlined all of that recent success was because I thought Mosco and Wood would fall off.
What program could lose 4,000+ points all at once and remain at the top of the heap? Surely, this would be a rebuilding year at Wood… Right?
Further complicating things for the Vikings was the departure of Mosco’s long-time consigliere, Chris Roantree. Roantree served as an assistant Mosco for the eight seasons. He helped lead the Vikings to the 2017 & 2021 PCL titles, the 2017 PIAA Championship and state runner-up finishes in both 2019 & 2021.
Six full scholarship athletes and his top assistant… Gone… all at once.
Mosco is vulnerable… This is the year the tables will turn and he’s gonna take his lumps in th Catholic League… Right?
Wrong… I was fuckin’ wrong!
I failed to adequately account for the impact of Justin Moore’s arrival in Warminster. After McDevitt joined St. James, North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty and Hallahan on scrap heap of Catholic League history, Philly’s finest point guard became an unrestricted free agent. Committed to play for Zach Spiker and his McDevitt Head Coach Will Chavis at Drexel University, Moore decided spend his senior season playing point guard for the Vikings.
Following in the footsteps of Tommy Funk, Collin Gillespie and Rahsool Diggins, Moore is vying for a seat in the BIG chair. He may very well be the best Philly guard this year.
Deploying a different cast of characters, while reading from the same script it looks John Mosco may be headed toward a familiar ending. Moore may lead Wood to yet another Palestra appearance in pursuit of third Catholic League title and a subsequent deep run in the state playoffs.
Tonight, I ventured out to the Main Line to watch Mosco and the Vikings take on Devon Prep led by Head Coach Jason Fisher. Now in their fourth season as a member of the Catholic League, Devon Prep has established itself as a formidable and highly competitive basketball program.
The tiny Devon Prep gym looks like it holds maybe 300-400 people, if the fire Marshall looks the other way. It’s about the size of the Roman Catholic gym with an actual regulation high school basketball court in place.
This was my initial visit to Devon Prep, it quickly became apparent that they have a very real home court advantage. The game was completely sold-out. Their relatively small student section competed well above it’s weight class. Maybe 100 or so students were EXTREMELY loud, energetic, boisterous and fully engaged to the final buzzer.
I was impressed.
As I watched the teams warm-up, I noticed that Wood looked like a really good high school team. They were long, lean and athletic. Junior PF Carson Howard stands about 6’8.” Senior wing Mike Knouse comes in at about 6’4” and a sturdy 210 lbs. Junior PG Bahsil Laster is a lean and athletic 6’4”. Super smooth sophomore SG Jahlil Bethea is also 6’4”. Senior wing Tyson Allen is a powerfully built 6’3”. The smallest of the bunch is yet another NCAA Division 1 scholarship recipient. The aforementioned Moore is 6’2”, super quick and very athletic.
Devon Prep, on the other hand, looked like a group of high school students that happened to be playing basketball. They aren’t very long… They aren’t extraordinarily athletic…
But… I’ve come to learn that looks can be very deceiving. I’ve seen Jason Fisher’s team rout Archbishop Ryan in Ryan’s gym. I’ve also witnessed their takedown of a nationally ranked St. Frances (MD) program during a fall event.
Devon Prep can play and they have some very good players. Junior forward Lucas Orchard (19.3 ppg) is one of the leading scorers in the Catholic League. Senior guard IV Petit (13.2 ppg) is a skilled and tough competitor. Senior point guard Allen Cieslak (13.3) is hard-nosed and Junior forward Jacen Holloway (12.1) is strong rebounder capable to stepping out and knocking down 3-point shots with ease.
They are a tough out…
Devon Prep runs an offense that appears to have no set “pattern” per se (such as the flex offense). Instead, Coach Fisher’s way of playing offense uses principles that require offensive players to read the defense. For the most part, Devon Prep runs an unstructured free-lance offense that uses screens and cuts, with players reading and reacting to the defense.
The Devon Prep offense is very deliberate and patient, often featuring many passes each possession. This tends to slow the game down, controlling the tempo, usually resulting in lower game scores. Opponents have to be committed to staying attached to their man. Devon Prep thrives on mental lapses and over aggression.
John Mosco had his Wood Vikings ready for this challenge.
Wood jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first quarter. At the 2:25 mark Wood was up 10-2. After one quarter of play, Wood held a 15-2 lead. They extended that lead to 20-2 with 5:19 left in the first half. At halftime Wood was up 12, 27-15.
The lead would hover around the 8-12 point range for the remainder of the game until Devon Prep was able to close the gap to 4, 59-63 with 1:04 remaining in the game. From there, Devon Prep was forced to foul to stop the clock and extend the game. Wood players calmly converted the free throws and escaped with a 10 point, 71-61 road victory.
Justin Moore demonstrated why he is considered the best point guard in the city by many observers. He did an outstanding job defending IV Petit while picking spots to assert himself offensively. Carson Howard was dominant on the boards finishing with 16 rebounds. Senior forward Mike Knouse was a steadying force throughout the contest.
Wood is still Wood… Johnny Mosco hasn’t fallen off.
As of January 15, Wood sits atop the Catholic League Standings, along with West Catholic. The Vikings have 3 league wins and 0 losses. Roman Catholic, Archbishop Ryan and Devon Prep each have 1 loss. Neumann-Goretti has only played 1 league game.
Faced with the challenge of replacing over 90% of the production from last years team without his top lieutenant, Mosco has Wood right where they were last year… At the top of the standings…
Maybe… Just maybe… John Mosco actually knows what hell he is doing.