N-G happy to finally be back on the court

Robert Wright III carries the ball upcourt for the Neumann-Goretti High School basketball team in an 83-73 victory over Father Judge. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Running the gauntlet of a Philadelphia Catholic League schedule always presents its normal challenges during the basketball season. This year, Neumann-Goretti High School has its work cut out for it.

Just as things got going, the Saints were forced to shut down for nearly three weeks. Makeup dates are being jammed into normal off days, making the remaining schedule that much tougher. The Saints are ready to tackle it head on.

“It started out as contact tracing, then it went to a full shutdown,” said Neumann-Goretti boys coach Carl Arrigale. “And sometimes it’s just a matter of where you sit in a classroom. We didn’t have anybody sick but we still couldn’t play. It was tough. They’ve seen the whole (Philadelphia Catholic) League play, carrying on like it’s three years ago and we’re not playing. It’s hard.”

On Dec. 24, the Saints returned to action on the road at Father Judge, where the Saints prevailed with an 83-73 victory. It was just the second PCL game for Neumann-Goretti and the first for sophomore guard Khaafiq Myers, who was forced to miss the Saints’ league-opening win over Bonner-Prendergast on Jan. 5 due to contract tracing. It would be the last game for the Saints in 19 days.

“This was my first PCL win because of contact tracing so this win meant a lot to me,” said Myers, who scored a career-high 17 points against Judge, including a 5-for-7 performance from beyond the 3-point arc. “It was very frustrating for me because I’m starting as a sophomore and I had to sit out the first (league) game.”

That frustration was boiling over as weeks of inactivity trudged on. Neumann-Goretti was hitting its stride, winning five of its first six games. The Saints thrive on speedy transition and pin-point passing. They were in their groove and then had to shut it down.

“It’s crazy trying to be an adult, talking to a bunch of teenagers and you really don’t have a lot of answers for them,” Arrigale said. “You know 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids don’t understand the contact tracing. I’m 55 and I don’t understand it.”

Neumann-Goretti senior Aamir Hurst slips, but keeps possession of the ball in a game at Father Judge High School. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

To their credit, the Saints looked great after a 19-day layoff. Neumann-Goretti led Judge by 20 at halftime and the lead never shrank below double-digits. Robert Wright III, another sophomore guard, scored 20 as the Saints pushed the tempo.

“It was good to get back out there on the court and play a game because we hadn’t played in a while,” Wright said. “In practice, we push the pace a lot. We run up and down the court a lot against each other.”

And they push each other, especially Wright and Myers. But that started well before basketball season did.

“Offseason, I just got into tip-top shape with my brother Robert Wright in the gym lifting and everything,” Myers said. “Every practice is a grind because we all can match up with each other. That’s just how it is at Neumann-Goretti with all the great guards that came from here.”

Neumann-Goretti junior Sultan Adewale lays up two points for the Saints in a victory at Father Judge. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

There’s plenty to choose from. Some are playing at Division I colleges and universities and continue to pass the torch to the current players by revisiting their old school at 10th and Moore streets.

“That’s the fun thing about what we’ve built,” Arrigale said. “Those guys come and talk to the young guys when they can and they learn. They know. They’re aware of it. They know someday we could be mentioning their names in those conversations.”

Right now, every conversation points to the Catholic League schedule.

“We look forward to being better and going to the Palestra and winning it all but we have a lot of work to do to get there,” Myers said. “We need to take it one game at a time.”

Wright, unsurprisingly, was on the same page.

“We’re getting better every game,” Wright said. “We’re just trying to get to that main goal at the Palestra and take it all.”

With Myers and Wright leading the way, the Saints can see a light at the end of the tunnel, even with a tough road ahead.

“They’re both really good players,” Arrigale said. “I’ve had a lot of good guards over the years and they have a chance to rank right up there with them when it’s all said and done but they have some work to do.”