Jordan Hall was looking for a good home with more than just high ceilings.
Listed at 6 feet 8, the Neumann-Goretti High School senior bounced around a bit before settling in with the Saints.
Hall played as a freshman at Middle Township High School in Cape May County before moving to the Philadelphia area and transferring to Cardinal O’Hara for his sophomore season, when he became one of the team’s leading scorers. The smooth-shooting forward switched schools again prior to his junior year and is now in his second season at Neumann-Goretti.
“It was a welcoming experience,” Hall said of his arrival in South Philly. “Last year was a good year but I don’t think we had the leadership that we have this year.”
The Saints went 21-8 last year but lost in the quarterfinal round of the Class 3A playoffs, breaking a string of five straight state titles. But the Saints have reloaded and aim to climb back to the pinnacle this winter.
Neumann-Goretti (10-2 record prior to its meeting with Archbishop Carroll on Monday) is led by four highly-touted senior captains with Division I aspirations, including Hall, who is committed to play at St. Joseph’s University next year.
He’s joined by 6-foot-7 power forward Cameron Young, who is a Bowling Green commit; Che Evans, a recent transfer small forward from Baltimore who will attend San Diego State next year; and Hakim Byrd, an uncommitted point guard who has received several offers and certainly has the chops to play at the next level.
“I’ll probably wait it out until the end of the season,” Byrd said. “I’m not sure yet. But it’s nice having guys here that have gone through the process. I’m able to ask them what was important to them.”
It’s not the only way the team has been able to form close bonds. The Saints hit the road earlier this season with stops in Las Vegas and Maryland to compete against elite competition across the country. And they shared a few laughs along the way.
“Especially on the airplane,” Byrd said. “It was a lot of fun with guys cracking jokes and getting to know each other better.”
The Saints went 3-1 in the desert as they took part in the Tarkanian Classic, matching up against powerhouse schools from California, Oklahoma and Utah. They suffered a loss to Legacy Early College from South Carolina in the Governor’s Cup in Salisbury, on Dec. 27.
“We learned we’re not as good as we thought we were,” Byrd said. “It was a humbling trip. We have to dig down and keep playing the way we know how to play and we’ll come out with the win.”
Despite a few character-building losses, the Saints believe what didn’t destroy them will make them stronger in crunch time.
“It’s exciting and it puts a little chip on our shoulder, too, because we were in those games that we lost,” Hall said. “We’re trying to put the country on notice.”
The scary part is Neumann-Goretti has yet to showcase what it has at full strength. Evans has been recovering from a tibia fracture and hopes to make his debut soon. All eyes will be on the Saints, as they’ll have a full house to see their four-of-a-kind make their all-in move.
“He’s close, I think,” Saints eight-time state championship coach Carl Arrigale said. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to get on the court in a week or two and start doing some things. He’s a dynamic player but he’s never played with us before in a game so it will be interesting.”
So much talent in one uniform, only one basketball. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for Neumann-Goretti.
“That’s the best part about our team,” Byrd said. “Anybody can get 20 (points) or 25 a night. As long as we win, nobody really cares.”
“It took us a little bit for us to click and see eye-to-eye,” Hall said. “But we’re going to get it this year.”
Arrigale said the talent is in place, but there’s no guarantees when it comes to winning games when the stakes are high.
“The pressure I feel is to play the right way and do the things we’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “And we do that, we play pretty well.”