Big-name players alone don’t make a league.
That is evident this season in Philadelphia Catholic League boys’ basketball, which is as competitive as ever after losing several of last year’s stars to Division I powerhouses.
Quade Green and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree graduated from Neumann-Goretti and are substantial contributors at Kentucky and Villanova, respectively.
Last year’s league MVP, Collin Gillespie, who led Archbishop Wood to the league title as a senior, recently recovered from a broken hand and should figure prominently in Villanova’s postseason plans.
Meanwhile, the league is up for grabs, with traditional powers being challenged by teams on the rise.
“We had some big-time players go to Villanova and Kentucky, but somehow I think the league got better,” Cardinal O’Hara coach Jason Harrigan said. “I think that anybody can win on any given night.”
Harrigan, in his second season, coached the Lions to a 54-42 home win over St. Joseph’s Prep on Wednesday.
The Hawks (12-4, 5-3) were without La Salle University-bound forward Ed Croswell, who was out with an injury. But the still-formidable Hawks jumped ahead, 9-0, before O’Hara rallied.
“Our guys trusted each other,” said Harrigan, who coached Del-Val for seven seasons and won the Public League title in 2015.
Antwuan Butler, who played for Harrigan at now-closed Del-Val, scored 19 points, but more importantly to his coach, led the young Lions (8-6, 3-4) to victory.
“I think he’s grown tremendously over the last month or so, picking guys up, giving them direction, and really taking control of the basketball game as a senior point guard,” Harrigan said of Butler, who will play at Austin Peay next season.
O’Hara was winless in PCL play last season and isn’t the only program notching big wins while rebounding from last year’s rough ride.
La Salle went on the road and handed Bonner-Prendergast (13-3, 6-1) its only loss in league play Wednesday night.
The Explorers (11-5, 4-3) were without junior jumping bean Konrad Kiszka, who sat because of an injury.
Allen Powell III led the team with 19 points and showed poise the group lacked in recent losses.
La Salle’s defense was also key in the 61-50 triumph, coach Joe Dempsey said, as was the play of junior forward Zach Crisler.
Close games are great for spectators, but for coaches, it’s also something else.
“It’s brutal,” Dempsey said. “It’s brutal.”
Archbishop Ryan, which lost two Division I players to graduation last season, went on the road to beat defending champ Wood, 78-74, on Jan. 10.
McDevitt (11-5, 2-5), coached by former Engineering and Science star Will Chavis, then knocked off Ryan on the road two days later.
On Wednesday, the Lancers, who won one PCL game last year, battled perennial power Roman Catholic tight until falling in the fourth quarter, 60-49.
Neumann-Goretti (11-3, 6-0), the PCL’s lone unbeaten team, needed overtime to dispatch one-win Father Judge (9-6, 1-5), 67-59, on Jan. 14, while Judge nearly nipped the Prep in double-overtime.
La Salle clipped Conwell-Egan (5-8, 1-6) by two points at the buzzer, while the Eagles knocked off McDevitt by five.
One-win West Catholic (6-9, 1-6) nearly beat Bonner-Prendergast last week, before the Friars held on, 68-67.
Archbishop Carroll (11-4, 5-1) is third in the standings after finishing 7-6 in PCL play last season and missing out on semifinal action at the Palestra.
Teams could still stumble before the regular season ends Feb. 11, so coaches are gearing up for what could be an intense finish.
“I think what you’ll see down the stretch here is who can keep their guys motivated and focused, because it’s a long season. It’s a grind,” Dempsey said. “Every team watches video. Every team lifts weights. And to get up for every single game is hard.”