Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
On February 25th, a cold, frigid Monday night, more than 9,000 spectators in the city of Philadelphia came out to the legendary Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, also known as Penn or UPenn, to witness an event that takes place yearly called the Philadelphia Catholic League championship game.
Every year at this game, the fans from each school that is participating are loud and raucous that it feels like a college-like atmosphere at either Madison Square Garden in New York City or Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
One of the schools that commanded the attention of the crowd was the Roman Catholic Cahillites. Throughout the past few seasons, they have been one of the best teams in the city and the state and have continued to produce talented players year after year.
In the last three seasons under head coach Matt Griffin, the Cahillites have compiled a 67-16 record and have won two PCL championships and one PIAA state championship. This season, the Cahillites are 23-4 and have played a tough schedule that included wins against national powers Norcross (Norcross, Georgia), Westtown School (Westtown, Pennsylvania) and wins against local powers Neumann-Goretti, Monsignor Bonner, Archbishop Carroll and nationally-ranked Imhotep Charter, as well as a loss to nationally-ranked DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Maryland).
On the roster are two Division I-bound seniors in 6-foot-5 forward Seth Lundy, who is going to Penn State and 6-foot-6 shooting guard Hakim Hart, who is bound for St. Joseph’s. There are other talented Division I players in 6-foot-1 junior point guard Lynn Greer III, 6-foot-3 freshman shooting guard Justice Williams and 6-foot-9 freshman forward Jalen Duren. Other contributors for the Cahillites are 6-foot-1 senior point guard Louie Wild, 6-foot-3 senior shooting guard Gabe Perez and 6-foot-7 junior forward Kyle Maska. This group has proven to be tough as they steamrolled through their schedule by posting a 13-1 record in PCL play.
On championship night against La Salle College at the Palestra, a team that Roman Catholic had previously beaten, they had a very strong first half, as they made the right passes and scored baskets, which led them to a 25-13 halftime lead. In the second half, it was more of the same, as they would go on to 14-point victory, 64-50, which would give the Cahillites their four PCL title in the last five seasons. It was a balanced attack as Hart scored 21 points, Lundy added 18 points and Greer had 14 points.
When asked how it felt leaving Roman Catholic with another Catholic League title under his belt, Lundy replied, “It means everything to me, having three championships, winning four of the last five, it’s just a tradition here, being at the Palestra, it just feels like home to me. It feels great like stepping on your home court and taking a jumpshot. I’ve played here for four years straight, and I was comfortable all four times.”
Duren, a physically imposing player due to his muscular frame and size, is one of the best players in the city and around the nation in the Class of 2022. When asked about his transition into high school, he replied, “I mean, it was very easy to come and fit in with the team, fit in with the school, it’s been easy. I think Justice [Williams] has transitioned well, too.”
Although it was a happy occasion, it was also a bittersweet occasion, due to the fact that it would have to be Greer’s final game this season. Last summer, Greer decided to transfer to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. However, in November, he decided to come back to Roman Catholic. Then, the PIAA had other plans. Due to a transfer rule, he would not be permitted to play in the state playoffs. Greer tried to apply for a hardship waiver, but the state association denied his request.
When asked about Greer’s absence, Hart replied, “But like, Lynn is like a good player for our team. Him not coming to states is going to hurt us a little bit, but we’ve just got to step it up.”
Hart, a player with a dangerous shooting stroke from three-point range, had the opportunity to play in front of his future head coach, Phil Martelli, who had the pleasure of watching his incoming recruit on the night of the title game. When asked about playing in front of Martelli, Hart replied, “It feels great, he gives me like, criticism, like, what to do, what not to do.”
When asked if they felt pressure to repeat as city and state champions, Lundy replied, “Nah, we don’t feel pressure at all. We can get beat by any team, and we know we can beat any team, we just gotta go and execute the game plan. We know we can beat anybody, we knew that since the beginning of the season, and I thought we showed that tonight.”
On playing at a historic venue such as the Palestra, with a sold-out crowd watching them play against La Salle College, Duren added: “I know, from my perspective, this was my first time playing in like, this type of atmosphere, and it was crazy, it gave me a lot of energy and it was just amazing. Just to see so many people there, like 9,000-10,000, full house, it was amazing.”
Lundy added: “From my perspective, playing in an atmosphere like that, I’m kind of used to it now, being a senior [at Roman Catholic], and I know I’m going to play in an atmosphere like that at Penn State, and it’s just something I’ll look forward to every single time, playing in front of bright lights, and I’m looking forward to it in the future as well.”
So far, the Cahillites have been making good on their prophecy, as they won the District 6A city championship against Boys Latin Charter, 94-72, on March 1st, and then this past Saturday, they blew out Spring-Ford, 92-48.
Tonight, they will play Lower Merion High School, the alma mater of former NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, at 7 PM at Cardinal O’Hara High School. But for now, the message is simple: Survive and Advance.
Next season, they will have a nucleus of eight returning players and will look to wreak havoc, while Lundy and Hart will be making their transition to being freshmen in the Big Ten and the Atlantic 10, respectively. But one thing that is certain is that this season will definitely be memorable, especially for the supporters of the school on Broad & Vine Street.
When asked what’s next for the Cahillites, Hart replied, “City and state championship, we’re getting both of them.”
Duren added: “Yeah, the future is bright.”
They already got both the PCL and District 6A city championships down pact, now it’s time for the state championship to be claimed. But first things first, it’s one game at a time.