Jalen Snead wanted to get on the floor.
So he knew he had to do whatever it took to get there.
Snead is a sophomore off-guard on the Archbishop Ryan High School basketball team, and when his freshman year ended, he knew there was a good chance he could earn some minutes on the varsity squad this year. But he knew there was a lot of work to be done and he knew he had to get better at one area.
So he put in the work.
“I worked on defense a lot,” said Snead, who lives near Max Myers Playground. “I think people started to see I was getting better on defense during the Mayfair Summer League. But I worked at (Max Myers) a lot during the day, too. There’s really good competition there.
“I think people (in the Catholic League) started to see I was getting better at Mayfair. There’s really good competition there, so when I started being able to shut down people there, people started to see that I was a good defender. Defense is all about work and effort. I put that in and I got a lot better.”
The Raiders have needed Snead’s hard work and grit on the court this year, and he’s rewarded them handsomely.
Snead would routinely guard top players in the league, and it helped Ryan finish 8-6 in a tough Catholic League. He really came through in the team’s quarterfinal playoff game, a win over talented Bishop McDevitt. The Lancers, who finished second during the regular season, had some very talented guards and Snead and the rest of the Raiders made it tough on them all night.
They did the same thing on Wednesday night, but this time they fell a little short against another team loaded with talent. Ryan fell to Neumann-Goretti 51-41 at the Palestra in the second half of a Catholic League doubleheader. Roman bested Wood in the first game.
Snead scored five points, pulled down seven rebounds and dished out five assists in the loss. Other Raiders stars: Luke Boyd scored 12 points, Gediminas Mokseckas scored 11 points with eight rebounds and Christian Isopi added seven points and eight boards. Snead and Mokseckas each had a blocked shot as well.
The Raiders played the Saints straight up for most of the night, but the turning point was a 12-0 Neumann-Goretti run early in the second quarter, when the Saints outscored Ryan 14-3.
Ryan hung tough, though, but was the victim of some bad luck. The Raiders cut the lead to 39-34 after three quarters, but the Saints hit a layup about a second after the third quarter ended, but the bucket counted. Neumann-Goretti scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to turn a five-point game into a nine-point lead.
It wasn’t the result Snead and his teammates had hoped for, but it was still a great step for a Raiders team that few expected to be playing at packed University of Pennsylvania.
“This was great to play here, they’re a good team, so it was fun to play against them,” Snead said. “That’s how you get better. We played against some very good teams this year. The Catholic League is good.
“It was fun to play at the Palestra. Everyone always talks about it. It’s a great building. We knew it was going to be fun. But once you start playing, it’s more about the game.”
Since Ryan coach Joe Zeglinski took over five years ago, the Raiders have been to the Palestra three times. But this year was probably the most improbable trip.
It’s not that Ryan is a bad team, but the rest of the Catholic League is loaded. While the other semifinalists were loaded with Division I talent, the Raiders have none as of yet, though Mokseckas is getting some attention.
Ryan does have a player getting offers from Division I squads, but he didn’t suit up. Aaron Lemon-Warren broke his foot late last month and has been sidelined ever since. At the time he got hurt, he led the Catholic League in scoring, so his absence left a huge void in the lineup. But Snead is proud of the way his squad kept fighting without him.
“At first it was really hard because he scored a lot,” Snead said. “We miss his scoring. But we got used to playing without him. We just played differently. Everyone had to play better. And we had to do better on defense because we weren’t scoring as much as a team.”
Ryan’s playoff heroics did more than just give the team a chance to play at the Palestra. The Raiders have qualified for district play now and will battle for a chance to play in the state tournament. Their opponent will be Mastery Charter North.
For seniors like Mokseckas and Isopi, it’s a chance to make more memories with the team, and for Snead and the younger guys, it’s a chance to have more fun while getting ready for next year.
While Mokseckas and Isopi are two of the top players on the team, Ryan will have five key players to build around next year. So this year’s semifinal was a great dress rehearsal.
“We should be good next year and the year after, a lot of us are coming back,” Snead said. “I’m glad we made it (to the Palestra) this year so if we come back, we’ll have played here.
“We’re going to be really good. I think we could be back and hopefully win a championship next year and the year after that. We’re going to be back.”