The Carroll Times

The Student News Site of Archbishop John Carroll High School

The Carroll Times

The Carroll Times

“Family on 6”

Ava Bannon
The Carroll Boys Basketball teamed stood side by side all year long.

“Family.” It’s a cliche as old as the sport of basketball.

It’s not rare to hear a coach or player talk about how they play like a family or work together like a family, so much so that people get tired of hearing it.

However, for the 2023-24 Archbishop Carroll Patriots basketball team, that cliche fits.

At the forefront of the 2023 offseason, the Patriots had a dilemma. Because their top four leading scorers from the season before had left and with just one full-time varsity player returning, there was work to be done for head coach Francis Bowe and his coaching staff.

Seniors Blake Deegan, Dean Coleman-Newsome, and Seamus Rogers all departed to play college basketball. Meanwhile, star sophomore guard Jake West transferred out to Penn Charter because of PIAA reclassification restrictions.

As a result, it would be a new regime taking the court for the Patriots in 2024 — a young one at that.

The Patriots started the revamp process by bringing in the number four freshman in the nation – Munir Grieg. Grieg, who was originally committed to joining local powerhouse Imhotep Charter, made the last-minute change to Carroll for personal reasons. The Pats complimented the Grieg signing with the addition of Darrell Davis, a crafty guard from Baltimore who complimented the Carroll offense perfectly.

With the rising ranks of Luca Foster, Nasir Ralls, Drew Corrao, and Nate Rusike from the JV club, the Pats lineup began to take shape. Prep for the new season took center stage and the group got familiar.

“The process was trying to show these guys that being so young, you’re going to be vulnerable to a lot of things you don’t think of,” said Bowe. “The physicality of the game, the long season, playing during the winter, some of these freshmen dealing with high school for the first time, academics, you know. There are so many things you need to be prepared for, and, oh, by the way, you need to go out there and win some basketball games. It was, like, when we got here in September, like, let’s keep telling these guys that they’re doing great — they’re working hard — but they can bring it to the next level.”

While any young team will take its share of struggles, the Pats didn’t get there right away. Instead, Carroll began their out-of-conference stretch 7-0 through early December, taking care of business easily in the majority of the contests.

The rough patch wouldn’t come until the Christmas season, when the Patriots hit their roughest patch of the year. They dropped five consecutive games – three of which kicked off the Philadelphia Catholic League season.

“It was humbling, you know,” said sophomore captain Ian Williams. “At the beginning of the season, everything was going our way and we didn’t have any downs, so when we lost that New York game and the one at HoopHall and then the three to start the PCL season, that was just a bump that we needed to go through and realize that those bumps and bruises are going to help us along the way and into the end of the season.”

Just as it seemed not much could get worse for the Patriots, it did. When a snowstorm knocked out power at Carroll for nearly a week, the school’s basketball team was forced to take new measures to practice. Bowe rented out a Competitive Edge gym and was forced to have his team share the small court with a club volleyball team. All the while the Pats prepared for their fourth PCL game against La Salle, which was up in the air as the athletic department scrambled to find a home court.

It was during that week, as they carpooled to various workout facilities, isolated at times from the rest of the school community and hanging out with just each other, when the “family” truly began to take shape.

The Pats eventually found a home court for that Friday’s contest against a scrappy La Salle club. After a tough first three quarters, which saw the Explorers jump in front by as much as 7, Carroll stormed back. A young captain in Williams led the way for Carroll as the clock ticked down. With one final possession, the fortunes of the season were flipped. With five seconds and no timeouts, the Pats ran the length of the court. Williams drove the lane, put up a prayer from 15 feet, and sank it. 49-48 was the final.

Tough wins over Monsignor Bonner and Devon Prep followed before a punishing loss to Archbishop Wood and PCL MVP Jahlil Bethea.

From then on, it was on for the Pats as they strolled through their remaining PCL schedule, even taking defending and eventual champion Roman Catholic to the final seconds in a 49-42 loss where Carroll led by as many as 10 over the Cahillites.

Carroll quickly dispatched both Lansdale Catholic and West Catholic, setting up a date with Father Judge. At the time, a win over Judge along with a Judge loss to La Salle would have moved Carroll up to the sixth seed in the PCL standings. With that in mind, the Patriots took full advantage, downing the Crusaders 81-60 in one of the team’s most impressive showings of the year.

“I think what happened was, people had us losing to Judge because Judge was beating all these teams we were losing to,” said sophomore captain Nate Rusike. “They had a good seed and all, but we just wanted to beat Judge so badly. I remember we were all so locked in and we just really wanted to beat them. I think that all motivated us, but then on through the playoff games we got so much momentum from that.”

Despite Judge beating La Salle and holding Carroll in the 7th seed, the Pats were on a mission this year.

With a win over Monsignor Bonner in the first round, the Pats were set up to take on the mighty Neumann-Goretti in the second round. Neumann, a club the Pats were knocked out of the PCL playoffs by last year and fell to in a much anticipated season opener by 30 had been a pain in the side of Bowe and his team for years.

From the gates, Carroll trailed. Although they were able to pull within five for a majority of the second half, the game remained firmly in the grasp of the Saints. As the minutes ticked down, however, Carroll got as close as they would all night, tying the game up with only a little over a minute to go.

A raucous shoebox gym roared on Tenth Street in South Philadelphia as local basketball legend Carl Arrigale called his final timeout. A trip to the Palestra was on the line as David prepared to face Goliath in the final seconds of the most pivotal game of the year for Carroll.

Ian Williams took the ball downcourt and missed a mid-range shot as Neumann brought it back down the court and extended their lead to four. As minutes turned to seconds, the roar of the crowd seemingly silenced any remaining hope the Patriots had as shots continued to thump off the rim.

As the final seconds ticked down, the court was stormed and the Patriots were defeated, sent back to their locker room, where they’d stay for over an hour as concerns were raised over the crowd’s behavior outside the school.

“It hurt me,” said Williams. “I wasn’t right for a minute. I showed a lot of emotions by myself but I had never really felt that way before. Losing them — it just didn’t feel right since we had such a great opportunity to win, even if it came down to myself playing bad or if I felt like just me or as a team we could have done better. All of that just stayed on my mind for a long time.”

While some see the PCL championship as the true prize for any Philadelphia Catholic League team, none can lose sight of the state playoffs.

After a week-long hiatus, the Pats took down Overbrook in a seeding game and prepared to face off with Big Spring High School from central Pennsylvania.

It was here when the Patriots once again saw their bonds grow stronger. Long bus rides through state playoffs are grueling, but this team had something in common when it came down to it: they were all doing this for the first time.

The Pats didn’t clinch a state playoff spot the year prior, so now, with a team of just sophomores and freshmen, it was a new experience for everyone.

“It was just a different experience, you know, going out and playing an hour or two hours away,” said Williams. “After that Big Spring game, where there wasn’t even any standing room available. Just being in that experience and that atmosphere, getting a big win, it was like, ‘all right, we got to play for something here.’”

Following the playoff opener to Big Spring, Carroll would quickly dispatch both Allentown Central Catholic and Carver Engineering to punch their ticket to the state semi-finals against a strong Scranton Prep team.

After a tight first three periods in the semi-final, the Pats were able to get some breathing room in the fourth before finally pulling away and taking the win to head to their first state championship since 2013.

“It’s the Kevin Garnett phrase, ‘anything is possible,’” said Bowe. “It’s always any day, any game, any second, yet, you did it and showed it so long so maybe the result of Lincoln Park wasn’t what we wanted but we went in there confident enough to go in there and win that game and win a state title.”

Against one of the best teams in state history, the Pats struggled in the state championship without much of a chance from the open. The Patriots fell 80-50 to a star-studded Lincoln Park squad and were left with the memories of a season built on so much more than what was seen on the court and a future with even more in store.

“We lost but these guys said it to me right after, ‘Coach we gotta get back here,’” said Bowe. “I said we need to get back to this; we want gold around our neck. We talked and I told them if this team stays together, which it looks like they are, we can get back there. They’re such a fun group to coach. They hang out all the time and play video games together all the time, so there is such a great bond that has been created with them that I think will keep them together and it was because of that state tournament.”

A team of sophomores and freshmen, competing in the Philadelphia Catholic League with perennial senior-packed dynasties such as Neumann, Wood, Roman, Archbishop Ryan, and St. Joseph’s Prep, was unheard of for the last 100 years of Catholic League basketball until now.

For the Patriots to accomplish what they did at such a young age was a revelation, and set the stage for the league’s next dynasty. With the Catholic League dumping off a ton of star power in departing seniors along with the ever-present transfer portal, the Pats will have a wide-open PCL to compete in next year, if…

The if… has been the biggest question of the offseason around the basketball gym, the school, the area, and the entire high school basketball community. If… this team stays together, they have the potential to easily be one of the most talented and promising young squads in all of high school basketball. The team won’t just be competing for PCL titles but state playoffs and national tournaments, such as City of Palms, which the club has already received an invite to.

If… this ‘family’ stays together, they could quite possibly change the tides of Catholic League athletics and the fate of Archbishop Carroll as an entire community. Now all fans and pundits can do is sit and wait, wait on the decisions of nine teenage boys who can change the course of PCL history.

“All I’m going to say is, we’re going to be around for a long time,’’ said Williams.

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