By David Cordova
In many inner-city schools across America, there are programs in parochial schools that are a great alternative to those in a public school setting. The education is better and also, it is believed that the players are more disciplined. And nine times out of ten, the exposure may be better, too, depending on the level of talent in whatever city or state that the team is in.
During the months of February and March, Dave’s Joint was fortunate to see the competition in three metropolitan areas: New York City (CHSAA), DC/Maryland/Virginia (WCAC) and Philadelphia (PCL), as they all played in their respective Catholic League tournaments.
In those three cities, the level of talent is always high, and there are plenty of players that have made names for themselves. Here is the breakdown of the three leagues, one by one:
WCAC (Washington Catholic Athletic Conference)
It’s Feb. 27th, and the action inside Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, is very exciting, as it is the semifinals. Even though the four teams have state playoffs coming after these playoffs are done, it is this event that many come to see and that the players that play in the league are looking forward to.
On this date, you see plenty of college coaches in the building, such as Brenden Straughn of St. Joseph’s University and Mike Jones of Virginia Tech University. Both coaches are from the DMV area that have moved on to the college level and are coming to see some young talented prospects in order to recruit them, and both have plenty of ties to the area.
Jones is a 1991 graduate of the legendary DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, where he was also the head coach of the Stags for 19 seasons, before departing last season to be the associate head coach for the Hokies. Straughn was once a coach for the Team Takeover program that competes in the Nike EYBL and was also an assistant coach at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland and spent one season on the staff at Loyola (Md.) in 2018-19, before joining the staff at St. Joseph’s, where he just completed his third season under head coach, Billy Lange.
Also in the building that night was legendary Villanova University head coach Jay Wright, and his assistant, Dwayne Anderson, who is a native of Silver Spring, Maryland.
All three coaches have had success in getting players from the DMV, including Jones, who has one of the premier recruiting classes in the nation, which includes high school seniors such as DeMatha Catholic (Md.) guard Rodney Rice and Woodrow Wilson (DC) swingman Darren Buchanan, Jr., both of whom will sign letters of intent this spring to play for the Hokies.
In regards to the WCAC, there’s plenty of big-time programs that are in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area. In addition to the aforementioned DeMatha, there is Gonzaga and St. John’s College in Washington, DC, Bishop O’Connell and Paul VI out in Virginia and Bishop McNamara in Maryland.
On this Sunday, it would be four programs suiting up, with Gonzaga meeting up against Paul VI and Bishop McNamara going up against DeMatha. Normally, the semifinals would take place on the campus of American University in Washington, DC, but because of the COVID stu
In that first game, there would be plenty of firepower on both sides of the game and great crowds for both teams, as both teams had Division I-caliber players.
On the Paul VI side, they had senior point guard and Michigan commit Knasir “Dug” McDaniel leading the way, alongside junior guard Deshawn Harris-Smith, sophomore guard Ben Hammond, sophomore forward Garrett Sundra and freshman forwards Jaquan Womack and Christian Gurdak.
Gonzaga countered with two Division I signees in seniors Devin Dinkins (George Mason) and Jared Turner (Northeastern), as well as senior guard Eddie Paquette, freshman guard Nykolas Lewis, junior forward Thomas Batties, senior forward Quinn Clark and sophomore guard Justin Gilmore.
Throughout the game, it was a tough battle between both teams and the energy of both crowds on both sides was impeccable. As good as Gonzaga and their veterans were, it was the play of McDaniel and PVI’s younger players that made the difference, as they grinded out a win, 62-55, to move on to the championship game.
The next game would be another great battle between McNamara and the legendary powerhouse, DeMatha. It was the matchup between a top-flight program and a gritty, tough underdog, who was determined to get the big win and make it to the championship game.
McNamara’s players consisted of senior forward and Miami commit Favouir Aire, junior guard Jeremiah Quigley, freshman guard Jaren Curtis, senior forward Joshua Doakes, senior guard Brandon Foxworth and junior guard Jaden Johnson.
On DeMatha’s side, the Stags had some firepower starting with two Division I signees in seniors Tyrell Ward (Xavier) and Rodney Rice (Virginia Tech) and other standouts such as sophomore forward A.J. Swinton, junior forward Logan Lewis, senior forward Jerrell Robertson, sophomore guard Jaeden Mustaf, junior guard Isaiah Arnold and junior guard Jaden Winston.
During the game, it was a dog fight for both schools, as DeMatha fought hard to stay in the game and kept the game close. However, McNamara, the underdog coming into the game, after losing to their counterparts, 77-50, on Jan. 25th at DeMatha during the regular season, maintained control throughout the contest, and pulled off the victory, 62-56, to advance to the championship.
The following night, in front of a sold-out crowd at Robinson Secondary School, Bishop McNamara and Paul VI met up in a rematch of a game played on Jan. 8th, in which the Mustangs knocked off PVI, 64-61. The second time around, both teams played a close, grueling contest throughout four quarters, but it would be the Panthers that went on to finish off the league season strong, winning this year’s WCAC title, 43-42.
With the level of play that all four of the teams provided during that Sunday, it is safe to say that the Catholic school talent in the DMV is definitely top-notch and is definitely something worth watching.
PCL (Philadelphia Catholic League)
They call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love, but when teams step on the court, it is anything but that. The court is where the competitors meet and are looking to escape victorious. In Philly, only the strong survive.
The PCL is one of the best leagues in the nation. Their playoffs are definitely a sight to see, especially the semifinals and the championship game, both of which are events that are jam-packed with people. Or rather, sold-out affairs. Basically, it’s standing-room only.
Even if four of the Philadelphia Big 5 schools are playing that night, the Palestra, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school located in the University City section of Philly, the community is out to watch the future of tomorrow aka the best of the best Catholic League talents that the city and its surrounding suburban areas have to offer.
To understand why the Palestra is such a legendary place, you must first visit the hallowed grounds, located on South 33rd Street, next to Franklin Field, where Penn’s football squad plays at. The Palestra, opened in 1927, has been home not only to both the Penn Quakers men’s and women’s basketball teams, but it is also the place where the Big 5 teams (which include Villanova, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s and Temple) also come to duel throughout the season.
In that arena, which seats around 9,000 spectators, many of the best have played games there, such as the late, great Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, the late Kobe Bryant and many more have played in. Every time one goes there, you can’t help but feel the goosebumps that you feel when stepping into such a historical place such as the Palestra.
Now, in regards to the PCL, it is definitely filled with some good talent at the powerhouses in the city such as Neumann-Goretti, Roman Catholic, St. Joseph’s Prep, Archbishop Ryan, West Catholic and also suburban schools such as Archbishop Wood, Conwell-Egan Catholic, Archbishop Carroll, Cardinal O’Hara, Monsignor Bonner and LaSalle College High School.
In the PCL, there’s never an easy game. Every game is a battle to be fought, and only one team can be the winner.
On the night of Feb. 28th, a Monday night, a crowd of 9,000 spectators, which included respective student sections of each school and not counting media, came out to witness this year’s championship game between Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Ryan. Even throughout tip-off, the intensity of the crowd was through the roof and baselines were packed with media. If you were late to the game, a seat would be hard to come by.
One of the most unique things about the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs is that it is truly a religious experience, as there is always a sister of the Catholic faith that leads the crowd in prayer. Honestly, a prayer always helps, especially before a big game such as the championship.
Archbishop Ryan had some talented players on their squad, such as sophomore forward Thomas Sorber, junior guard Michael Paris, senior guard Jalen Snead, senior guard Derrick Williams, sophomore guard Darren Williams, sophomore forward Jaden Murray, senior guard David Wise and senior guard Luke Boyd.
On the Neumann-Goretti side, there were sophomore guards Rob Wright III, Khaafiq Myers and Amir Willaism, senior guards Aamir Hurst and Masud Stewart (Binghamton commit) and junior forward Sultan Adewale.
Throughout the first half of the game, both teams traded shots and kept the game close. But in the second half, the Saints’ duo of Wright and Myers were the difference, as they made their shots and completed assists. What also helped them was the fact that during the fourth quarter, the Raiders made plenty of attempts at shots, but the defense of the opposition made it impossible to make clutch baskets, held the ball (there is no shot-clock in the PCL) or Ryan’s guards missed shots.
All in all, it was Neumann-Goretti who would emerge victorious, winning the game, 61-57, with the school winning its 22nd PCL championship in school history and its 12th under its head coach, Carl Arrigale.
This night was just another major night in the Philadelphia basketball scene, another moment made. If you weren’t there, you had to be there.
CHSAA (Catholic High School Athletic Association (NYC)
If there is one place that many like to go to, it’s New York City, for many reasons. In the basketball community, it’s because it’s the “Mecca of Basketball.” During the high school season there’s always many places to see games.
In late February and early March, the CHSAA playoffs is the premier event to go to in the five boroughs. But this season, it was the go-to, due to the fact that for the third straight season, the New York State Federation Tournament would be canceled, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as colleges in the five boroughs were still reluctant to host events in their gyms, due to projected amount of spectators.
Therefore, the remaining three rounds of the CHSAA playoffs would be played at the David S. Mack Exhibition Complex on the campus of Hofstra University in the Mineola section of Long Island, starting with the quarterfinals, which were played on Sunday, March 6th.
On this date, there were four games: Archbishop Molloy vs. St. Francis Prep, Christ the King vs. Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop Stepinac vs. St. Raymond and Holy Cross vs. Bishop Loughlin. In the end, it would be St. Francis Prep, Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop Stepinac and Bishop Loughlin who would advance to the semifinals.
Then on Friday night, March 11th, there would only be two teams left: Archbishop Stepinac and Cardinal Hayes. Both would be ready to play in the championship game. Previously, both teams played each other three times before, with Hayes winning on their home court on Dec. 10th in The Bronx, 70-67. Stepinac would win their next two matchups, 67-56, on Jan. 28th, in White Plains, and in the CHSAA Archdiocesan championship on Feb. 26th, the Crusaders took the title, 51-40.
Another thing about both teams is that both were in the national polls in publications such as ESPN, USA Today & Max Preps.
Stepinac had players such as highly-touted and nationally-ranked sophomore guard Johnuel “Boogie” Fland, freshman guard Danny Carbuccia, senior guards Samuel Gibbs (Loyola [Md.] commit) and Joel Baez, senior forward Isaiah Alexander (Loyola [Md.] commit), sophomore guard Braylan Ritvo, sophomore forward Jacob Hogarth and junior forward Benjamin “Benjyi” Little.
Hayes countered with their own nationally-ranked and highly-touted sophomore in guard Ian Jackson, and other players such as senior forwards Tobe Awaka (the CHSAA Player of the Year) and Tarique Foster, sophomore guard Elijah “Choppa” Moore, senior guards Mamadou Traore and Darrell “DJ” Victory, Jr.
From the opening tip, the Cardinals were in attack mode and took advantage of the Crusaders’ mistakes and ran off to a big lead at the half. Although they normally held teams to 54 points per game throughout the season, Hayes went on to score 42 points in the first half, at least two-thirds of the points. The second half would be more of the same, as the Cardinals would go on to win the championship, 79-59, splitting the season series, 2-2, but winning the big game that counted throughout the season.
From the first game of the season, this was destined to be the championship game and it all came to fruition. It was a fitting end to a great season in the New York City metro area.
In each of these places, there was definitely a great spirit and a love for the game of basketball. When the playoffs roll around, everything gets different. When it comes to Catholic League titles, it’s all about the love for God and the game on the hardwood court.