IS THIS the year Ss. Neumann-Goretti High loses its grip on the Catholic League? The league has looked up at the Saints in five straight seasons and nine of the last 13.
Maybe the crown is a little heavier without 6-5 forward John Davis, last year's second-leading scorer, who is now a freshman hooper at Towson. But, please, don't expect Carl Arrigale's squad to go quietly.
"We have to be mentally tough because there are a lot of challenges," Arrigale said. "And people doubt that we can keep it going, so we use that as motivation."
It also helps to have dynamic wing Ja'Quan Newton, a 6-3 senior Miami (Fla.) signee. Troy Harper and Tony Toplyn, seniors who inked with Campbell (N.C.), will also bolster the Saints' sixpeat chances.
"We have to stay true to who we are and understand the league is always tough," said Arrigale, who added that his team's strength is in transition. "There are some teams that have gotten better."
Rubbing elbows with the Saints in AAA play will be Archbishop Carroll, led by uber-athletic junior Derrick Jones (6-6), and fellow junior Ernest Aflakpui (6-9). Joe Mostardi, Austin Tilghman and Samir Taylor will patrol the perimeter for a very dangerous Patriots squad.
Long-time N-G assistant (18 years) John Mosco, is the new head Viking in charge at Archbishop Wood. The St. John Neumann product will have seniors Pat Smith and Joe LoStracco at his disposal.
In AAAA play, all eyes are on the feisty Roman Catholic bunch led by senior guard Shep Garner, who penned with Penn State. His backcourt running mate, Rashann London, pledged allegiance to Drexel. Sixth-year coach Chris McNesby is looking to become the first Cahillite coach to win a CL title since Dennis Seddon back in 2007.
William "Speedy" Morris and St. Joseph's Prep are back at it after an 11-2 campaign. Chris Clover, a 6-3 junior forward, gets top billing for the Hawks, who lost last year's league MVP Stephen Vasturia, now a freshman at Notre Dame.
La Salle head coach Joe Dempsey graduated important senior talent from a team that halted N-G's record 73-game CL winning streak last season. Guards Najee Walls and Shawn Witherspoon will lead the expedition in the absence of Amar Stukes, now a collegiate Explorer.
Cardinal O'Hara alum Steve Cloran is the new clipboard-wielder for the Lions. The St. Francis (Pa.) graduate looks to help rebound from last year's 2-11 mark in league play.
In AA, West Catholic and Conwell-Egan will both have new skippers. West's Jasmine "Jazz" Williams, who played at Millersville, will lead his alma mater, which didn't win a game in CL play last year. Frank Sciolla is an SJP and Cabrini grad working toward basketball success at Conwell-Egan.
Once again, the CL will have one division with 10 teams in the overall playoffs.
(Win totals heading into this season)
Coach: Paul Romanczuk, 11th year (missed '05 on medical leave). Education: Carroll, Penn. Career: 174-97.
Last year: 23-7, 10-3.
Savvy seven: Derrick Jones, 6-6, F; Joe Mostardi, 6-1, G; Samir Talyor, 5-11, G; Austin Tilghman, 6-1, G; Ernest Aflakpui, 6-9; Armand Sorrentino, 6-5, G-F; Josh Sharkey, 5-9, G.
Romanczuk's comment: "If we don't care who gets the credit, good things are going to happen for us. Depth is one of our strong suits."
Coach: Bernie Rogers, 14th year. Education: Ryan, Ursinus. Career: 192-136. Last year: 14-9, 9-4.
Savvy seven: Brendan Horan, 6-2, F; Nick Heuser, 5-7, G; Matt Dever, 6-3, F; Kevin Nichols, 5-8, G; Austin Chabot, 6-4, F; Austin Slawter, 5-9, G; Fred Killian, 6-5, F.
Rogers' comment: "Guys are working real hard to get ready for league play!"
Coach: John Mosco 1st year. Education: St. John Neumann. Career: 0-0.
Last year: 14-10, 7-6.
Savvy seven: Pat Smith, 6-4, G-F; Joe LoStracco, 6-7, C; Tommy Rush, 5-9, G; Cody Fitzpatrick, 5-9, G; Luke Connaghan, 6-4, F; Tommy Funk, 6-0, G; Eric Walsh, 6-1, G.
Mosco's comment: "We have a senior group looking to play a tough non-conference schedule to help compete with the top Catholic League teams."
Coach: Jack Rutter, 19th year (missed final 16 games of '05 on medical leave). Education: Dougherty, Alvernia. Career: 172-252.
Last year: 14-10, 6-7.
Savvy seven: Tyrell Long, 6-5, F; Amin Taylor, 6-1, G; James Bogans, 5-8, G; Jayson Clark, 5-11, G; Fateem Jackson, 6-3, C; Matt Reed, 6-1, F; Michael Falbo, 6-3, C.
Rutter's comment: "We're going to the end the Catholic League season in the Palestra one way or the other."
Coach: Tom Meakim, 5th year. Education: Bonner, Textile. Career: 24-63.
Last year: 5-17, 2-11.
Savvy seven: Danny Ings, 5-11, G; Tyler Higgins, 6-4, F; Jack Carden, 6-2, G; Tom McLoone, 6-3, F; Joey Quinn, 5-11, G; Joe Oquendo, 6-3, F; Tim McCaffrey, 6-4, F.
Meakim's comment: "The league is very difficult and very balanced, but we have been competing and hopefully we can turn this around."
Coach: Steve Cloran, 1st year (also Haverford School, 2003-11). Education: Cardinal O'Hara, St. Francis (Pa.). Career: 91-115.
Last year: 8-14, 2-11.
Savvy seven: Mark Plousis, 6-5, C; Andrew Louden, 5-9, G; Tip Swartz, 6-3, F; Carl Pola, 6-2, F; Kairi Jones, 5-9, G; Deshawn Darden, 5-10, G; Sekou Donzo, 6-0, G.
Cloran's comment: "We have one simple goal: Every day we walk out of the gym, we want to say, 'We got better today.' If we can string a lot of those days together, then we are all doing our jobs."
Coach: Frank Sciolla, 1st year. Education: St. Joseph's Prep, Cabrini. Career: 0-0.
Last year: 8-16, 3-10.
Savvy seven: Stevie Jordan, 5-9, G; LaPri McCray-Pace, 6-1, G; Chase Kumor, 6-3, F; Jordan Burney, 6-1, G; Vinny Dalessandro, 6-5, F; James Thompson, 6-0, G; Sean Kelly, 6-3, G.
Sciolla's comment: "We are really excited to compete and we want to prove that we are for real in the best league in the state."
Last year: 8-16, 3-10.
Coach: Sean Tait, 5th year (also Wood, 2009). Education: Judge, Cabrini. Career: 64-48; 48-41 at Judge.
Last year: 10-12, 5-8.
Savvy seven: Will Brazukas, 5-9, G; Marc Rodriguez, 6-0, G; Jonmichael O'Connor, 6-1, G; Jamir Coleman, 6-5, F; Pat Mulville, 6-2, G; Quincy Reed, 5-11, G; Justin Fleming, 6-1, G.
Tait's comment: "We are young and inexperienced, and we are trying to find our way in the non-league schedule so we will be ready for league play."
Coach: Ed Enoch, 3rd year (also Penn Charter, 1978-82); Education: Penn Charter, Penn. Career: 15-31 at LC, PC total unavailable.
Last year: 12-12, 3-10.
Savvy seven: Brian Rafferty, 6-4, G; Andrew Riviello, 5-10, G; Kyle Pavlik, 6-3, F; Corey Kirk, 6-3, F; Tom O'Connor, 6-3 F; Brendan Schneider, Jake Sada.
Enoch's comment: "We are a guard-oriented team that shoots the ball pretty well and we will rely on our shooting and our experience."
Coach: Joe Dempsey, 10th year. Education: Archbishop Kennedy, Elizabethtown. Career: 121-107.
Last year: 9-4, 15-8.
Savvy seven: Shawn Witherspoon 6-1, G; Najee Walls, 5-11, G; Chucky Champion, 6-0, G; Jalen Herdsman, 6-5, F; David Krmpotich, 6-7, F; Langston Ellison, 6-7, F; Dan Corr, 6-0, G.
Dempsey's comment: "We graduated seven seniors and we had a pretty good year. I'm most concerned with our leadership and our basketball IQ. Our talent level is fine."
Coach: Chris McNesby, 6th year. Education: Roman, East Stroudsburg. Career: 89-44.
Last year: 19-7, 12-2.
Savvy seven: Shep Garner, 6-1, G; Rashann London, 6-2, G; TreVaughn Wilkerson, 6-6, F; Manny Taylor, 6-6, F-C; Carnell McGirt, 6-5, F; Tony Carr, 6-1, G; Gemil Holbrook, 6-4, G.
McNesby's comment: "It's a good group led by seniors like Shep and Rashann, and their leadership will hopefully take us pretty far."
ST. JOSEPH'S PREP
Coach: William "Speedy" Morris, 13th year (also Roman, 1968-81; Penn Charter, 1983-84). Education: Roman. Career: 647-175; 259-79 at SJ Prep.
Last year: 11-2, 24-6.
Savvy seven: Chris Clover, 6-3, G/F, Kyle Thompson, 6-2, G, Tom Fox, 6-1, G; Ricky Slusarczyk, 6-4, F; Alex Stewart, 5-11, G; Ryan Wall, 6-2, G, Chris Hoffner, 6-0, G.
Morris' comment: "We're just trying to get better every day."
Coach: Carl Arrigale, 16th year. Education: Penn Charter, Lycoming. Career: 349-85.
Last year: 23-6, 12-1.
Savvy seven: Ja'Quan Newton, 6-3, G; Troy Harper, 6-1, G; Tony Toplyn, 6-6, F; Jamal Custis, 6-6, F; Lamar Kimble, 6-0, G; Vaughn Covington, 5-11, G; Quade Green, 5-11, G.
Arrigale's comment: "We have some guys that have been around a long time and they understand the challenges, and we expect it to be tough just like every year."
Coach: Jasmine "Jazz" Williams, 1st year. Education: West Catholic, Millersville, West Chester. Career: 0-0
Last year: 2-20, 0-13.
Savvy seven: Devonta Peterie, 6-0, G; Jalen Roberson-Cosby, 5-11, G; Jamil Harris, 6-4, F; Brandon Cole, 6-4, F; Josh Townsend, 6-5, F; Jalil Branch, 6-0, F; Taquan Johnson, 6-4, G.
Williams' comment: "Looking to establish a defensive identity and a winning culture going forward to improve possession by possession."
Ja'Quan Newton, N-G, G; Shep Garner, Roman, G,
Pat Smith, Wood, G
Joe LoStracco, Wood, C, jr.