Neumann-Goretti boys look to bounce back

Championship familiarity can breed contempt. At nearly every level of sports, teams that frequently win titles become the villain the masses want to see dethroned.

Just ask Duke's college basketball program or the NFL's New England Patriots. Before you head out of town, however, stop by South Philadelphia and Neumann-Goretti High.

Since 2000, the Saints have competed for all but three Catholic League championships (2003, 2004, and 2008). That time frame includes vying for the last nine PCL crowns, a streak that also included six straight coronations (2009 through 2014).

The most recent trend, however, includes losses in the last three PCL finales (Roman twice, and now Archbishop Wood).

The Saints will embark on the PIAA Class 4A playoffs at 6 p.m. Friday at Southern against District 3's York Catholic (22-3), and they will have a chance to extend a new streak and make it four straight state championships.

"It starts in practice," said senior Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. "As seniors, we try to say something to keep everybody's heads up and refocus us to get ready for the long playoff stretch. Winning the city [title] was like a little stepping-stone to that. I feel like in that game we showed what we can be from the second quarter on."

Last week, the Saints (19-7) survived Del-Val, 65-58, in the District 12 title game after falling behind, 20-8, in the first quarter.

Cosby-Roundtree, a 6-foot-8 forward who will play at Villanova, said the slow start could have been a result of the PCL championship hangover.

"Yeah, sort of, kind of," he said. "We didn't really practice real intense, either. That could've been from losing in the championship. We'd been working for that all season, and it's kind of crushing losing that, so it could have been for some of us."

Cosby-Roundtree, who drew two early fouls against Del-Val, credited senior forward Emil Moody with changing the momentum of the game with defense and said that defense - not offense - will be the key to another PIAA crown.

Fellow senior Quade Green, a 6-foot guard headed to Kentucky, came into this season knowing that expectations would be high and that detractors would be plentiful.

Green has been criticized on social media for his choice of Kentucky, and some question whether he is skilled enough to excel at a school known for players who stay for only one season before declaring for the NBA draft.

Green, Philadelphia's first McDonald's all-American since Maalik Wayns (Roman Catholic in 2009), said he wasn't fazed by the outside noise.

"Nah, I don't worry about that," said Green, who averaged 22.8 points per game in PCL play. "I see it, but I don't worry about it, though. At the end of the day, I'm going where I'm going and doing what I'm going to do, and hopefully [one day] make some money out of this."

Green said he has faced similar sentiments since sixth grade and uses the negativity as motivation.

Cosby-Roundtree, who averaged 15.7 points in PCL play, has the same mind-set.

"I don't get it as bad as Quade does," Cosby-Roundtree said, "at least to my knowledge. All I can say is that it fuels me when someone tells me I can't do something."

Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale, tied at 10 with Roman's Dennis Seddon for most PCL championships, has talked about dealing with the noise with his players and coaches.

Quade "doesn't show it too much," Arrigale said, "and I don't know if inside it's bothering him. I think he's one of the most underappreciated players to ever play in this city. I don't know if it's because he plays for us or because he's going to Kentucky. I don't know. I just don't think the city appreciates how good he is. I talk to [my coaches] about it, about the 'haters.' I guess that comes with winning. I'd rather be that guy than the guy everybody loves because they're beating them all the time.

"It's frustrating at times, but I'm a grown man, and I could really care less what people say or think. I do this for the enjoyment."

Later, he added: "I can walk away from it, and I'll be fine. But I just don't get when they go after young kids in high school, and most of the time it's grown men who are doing it."

Cosby-Roundtree, who sounded as if he wanted to empower his teammates, said the Saints needed contributions from everyone to be successful.

"I feel like we're working toward that," he said. "I feel like we'll really know when we play York Catholic on Friday night where our heads are at."