Open Gym: Archbishop Wood HS (Philly Catholic League) –
Two seasons ago Wood had a magical run winning the school’s first ever Catholic league title then adding their first District 12 5A and State 5A chips for good measure. With four solid contributors back for the Vikings HC John Mosco had reason to feel good about defending those titles but alas replacing guys like Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Matt Cerruti (Lock Haven) & Keith Otto (Moravian) proved to be their undoing as they fell in the first round of the Catholic league playoffs to Archbishop Carroll and failed to qualify for the district playoffs. Another four guys from the 2016-17 season have graduated leaving only 6’5” ’19 Julius Phillips remaining from that penultimate year but there is reason to be optimistic about Wood’s quest to remain among the league’s elite as this squad is loaded with talented Sophomore’s.
One thing Wood will have going for them this season is two beyond quick guards that will be interchangeable at the lead guard spot. 6’2” ’21 Rahsool Diggins got plenty of experience last season as the starter at PG and his game is maturing rapidly as a solid passer who can set up his teammates in scoring positions but can also score the ball with a smooth and accurate jumper with range to the arc. Adding to that Wood welcomed Haverford School transfer Jaylen Stinson a 5’11” ’21 jet who will keep pressure on opposing defenses with his end to end dashes up the floor. He has a solid handle and good floor vision and his ability to get to the basket and finish with quick bursts will certainly help. The Vikings have a bunch of 6’4” types that will fluctuate between the backcourt and frontcourt and one of them will be 6’5” ’21 Muneer Newton a jumping jack player with an improving jump shot and nice athleticism who will have a chance to start this season. One player I really liked in their scrimmage yesterday was 6’4” ’22 Tyson Allen who missed the summer with a broken leg and is just starting to get back in basketball shape but he showed some intriguing promise as a possible contributor to this incredibly young squad. Diggins, Stinson and Newton will probably start the season playing big minutes as the coaching staff tries to develop some depth with guys like Allen and possibly coach Mosco’s son John (5’10” ’21) or even an athlete from the football team but I like the long term prospects for this backcourt.
You have to start the frontcourt off with Julius Phillips (6’5” ’19) the lone senior on the squad and the final member of that state title team still around. He has been an integral part of the Viking attack but never the focal point and as he enters his final year he will more than likely be asked to lead this young contingent and I believe he’s more than capable of being that guy. He’s worked extremely hard this summer to improve his perimeter game and since he can drive it hard to the rim this should open up the court benefit his teammates as well. Another piece that will certainly get plenty of time is 6’4” ’21 Daeshon Shepherd who is very effective as a down hill scorer with his athleticism and hops plus his familiarity with Diggins as a PG who can deliver the rock to him in advantageous positions. At present it would appear that 6’6” ’21 Robert Jackson will be the first man off the bench but this big will definitely be a contributing player with a solid frame and a good nose for the ball. He still needs work on his hands and footwork in the post but will get plenty of on the job training. As in the backcourt depth will be an issue but they have a couple kids that could help down the road in 6’5” ’21 John Donahue who has a nice stroke with range and a developing game who just needs strength and some toughness and 6’4” Shane McNichol who is starting to get comfortable in his body but is a bit awkward in his movements at the moment and of course they could add a piece or two from the football team to round out the front line.
This team will obviously be very young but will also be quite talented with depth being the major question mark. Phillips as the lone senior will be counted on to provide a strong leader in a role he’s never had to be in with the added burden of trying to secure a college scholarship so there will be questions as to his ability to handle all this responsibility. He’s an excellent student with an even keel personality and is quite level headed in his approach to this season and I believe he’s looking forward to mentoring these young guys the way he was from his freshman year. The backcourt will be dangerous with Diggins and Stinson putting pressure on opposing defenses and Shepherd, Newton and Jackson will all see their roles expand while gaining much needed experience. The Philly Catholic league is the toughest league in the PIAA and with such a young team it may be a stretch to expect Wood to finish in the top tier of teams but with the talent on this roster they should be competitive and once again qualify for the league playoffs. If they can develop some depth they could potentially compete for a district and state berth in 5A but I’m more inclined to think that this will be learning and growing year with a bright future thrown in. If Phillips can lead this precocious group however and the young talent matures rapidly I can see this group pulling off an upset or two and would think that a State playoff berth is a reasonable goal to strive for although at this early juncture I don’t see that happening.