Open Gym: St. Joseph Preparatory School (Philly Catholic League) –
The 2017-18 season started well enough as the Prep went 8-1 in non league games and 5-1 in the league including HC William “Speedy” Morris 1,000th career coaching victory as the Hawks were priming themselves for a run at the Catholic league title. Somewhere along the way they hit a pothole as they dropped 5 of their final 7 league tilts and found themselves behind LaSalle College HS for a district playoff game even though they had won their game with the Explorers in the league. Both squads had won their playoff openers to set up an interesting day on Friday Feb. 16th for the league quarterfinals and the Hawks were in a precarious position. With LaSalle taking on Roman at City College in the afternoon and Prep heading over to Neumann-Goretti at 7p most pundits figured that the favorites would advance and for St. Joseph Prep this would mean an end to their season. When the fourth quarter started LaSalle had led for much of the game and they seemed to sense that a district and state playoff berth was in their grasp. The collapse was not subtle however as the Explorers suddenly seemed to realize that they were not the favorites and with an epic meltdown scored just one point in the first seven minutes of the frame and lost going away 56-46 blowing a 10 point lead within the first two minutes of the quarter. For the Prep this new found lease on life inspired them to upset N-G and advance to the league semi’s at the Palestra. They lost that contest to Roman but handled Frankford in a District 12 seeding game to earn the districts #3 seed in the PIAA 6A state tourney. They won their first state game vs. District 11 #2 seed Northampton HS 62-57 before falling to District 1 #1 seed Abington 66-61 to bring their season to a close and with it the graduation of three seniors who were all integral to the success of the team as 6’8” Ed Croswell (LaSalle), 6’0” Darius Kinnel (Hartford) and 6’0” Kyle Thompson (West Chester) took off their Prep jerseys for the last time.
The cupboard is not entirely bare especially in the backcourt as the Hawks bring back several guys who played meaningful minutes a year ago. 6’3” ’19 Gabe Arizin returns to the starting backcourt as a senior leader and the longest tenured player on the roster. He has been a shooter in this offense for most of his career but has had bouts of inconsistent shooting which has really frustrated people close to the program. This also seemed to lead to turnovers as he tried to compensate for his off nights by forcing the ball to the basket often making poor decisions in the process. After and up and down grassroots season I couldn’t wait to get a good look at him in the open gym and he looked relaxed and at the same time he was focused on being a leader for this team and doing it by example in leading the drills and being vocal throughout. In the scrimmage part he was hitting jump shots from the midrange to the arc and was keeping his teammates engaged. He passed the ball extremely well and he only forced one bad play in over 30 minutes of scrimmaging. This is how he needs to play all the time and as a senior I think his lead early will go a long way in determining the Hawks prognosis. 6’2” ’20 Trevor Wall is the ping pong ball on this team as he bounces all over the place with a solid motor and high basketball IQ. He can score it at all three levels and he has the handle and passing skills to help spread this offense out setting up the back door scoring game that is so effective. Wall also gets after it defensively as he is a tough hardnosed player who moves his feet well to maintain control of his opponent. 6’3” ’20 Chris Arizin (Gabe’s cousin) started to get time late in the season but made the most of his opportunities as he showed off some athleticism in getting to the basket on slashing drives to finish thru contact and he also showed some nice touch on a perimeter jumper with range to the arc. He also shows some good instincts defending the ball which will be a major help against some of the top notch guards that dot the Catholic league rosters. 6’0” ’21 Jimmy King impressed with his floor game as in about 24 minutes of action in the scrimmages he shot the ball maybe three times. The impressive part was his ability to find open teammates with slick dishes that often times led to good scoring opportunities for his teammates. Coach Morris is high on him and if he can continue to make those types of positive plays he will earn some big minutes this year in coaches tight rotation. There were three juniors that also stood out on this day starting with 5’11” ’20 Brian Geatens. He had a silky smooth jump shot with excellent range and a quick release and I remember that he missed only a handful of the shots he took. He had good court vision and a fine passing game and could garner some time for the Hawks this season. 5’10” ’20 Mike Keenan was almost a play alike to Geatens as he was a proficient passer and ball handler who stuck his nose in on the defensive end but was not quite as good a shooter. 6’0” ’20 Colin Hagan was another guy who showed some skill as a shooter but was not as smooth running the floor and making plays. He does have a good motor and plays with consistent effort.
At the start of last season 6’10” ’19 Jacob O’Connell, who is committed to Princeton, was the starter up front with Ed Croswell but as the season progressed it was apparent that Jacob needed more seasoning and the Hawks needed more athleticism so Trevor Wall was inserted into the lineup and unfortunately O’Connell’s role became less pronounced as the campaign wore on. I played close attention to his development this spring and summer and after a few performances this fall at team events he appears to have worked extremely hard in expanding his low post game. He was catching the ball in a crowd and keeping the ball up instead of exposing it to opponents by bringing it down for slapping hands to knock loose. His footwork looks immeasurably better and he was using his body to create space for a step back jumper or a step through move to the basket. Several times in the open gym scrimmages he faced up from the elbow or FT line extended to bury a soft jump shot. He rebounded the ball well starting their transition game with crisp outlet passes but still has that tendency of circling a defensive rebounder then going up to try and slap the ball to a waiting teammate which is fine when your out of position but he seems to put himself there as if by design. As he develops his upper body and gains strength and muscle I’d guess that we’ll see less of that. He’s a sharp passer who can kick it out to open shooters but can also hit a cutting teammate with a solid lead pass. Defensively he still doesn’t challenge opposition shots the way the staff would like him too but he does have the ability to block shots or at the very least alter them. He needs to become more aggressive on that end and I’m hearing that he may Prep a year to develop his body to withstand the rigors of college basketball. Coach Morris will get help from the football team as 6’4” ’21 Marvin Harrison Jr. will join the fray at some point. He is the son of former Indianapolis Colts All-Pro WR Marvin Harrison Sr. who was also a standout basketball player at Roman Catholic HS back in the day. The only problem there is that the Hawks FB team is very good and is expected to make a run to the PIAA 6A championship game in mid December. Harrison will supply some athleticism to the interior and will show off some hops as well as they hope he can supply a boost on the glass and some additional interior scoring to balance out their attack.
Fate is a strange bedfellow when it pertains to the Catholic league race this coming season. I believe the early favorites to be Bonner-Prendie and Roman Catholic but it does get murky from there. In a strange twist of fate, you know that bedfellow thing, LaSalle and the Prep have kind of reversed their roles from a year ago as the Explorers have the 3 senior integral parts team while the Hawks have underclassman and a couple seniors. N-G, Carroll, Ryan and Wood will contend for sure and LaSalle and Prep will as well so the league should be solid again with every game counting in the final shakeout for playoff seeding. I expect that St. Joseph Prep will make the Catholic league playoffs but unless they can put together a run like last season and knock off a higher seeded team their chances of making the district seeding games or state tournament seem nil at this early juncture. This is one of the quirks of the PIAA 6A state tourney in that District 12 which comprises the Philly Public and Catholic leagues only gets 3 slots in the 32 team bracket despite the fact that some of the best 6A teams in the state are from those two leagues.