When a team comes out of the nonleague schedule 7-1, you wouldn’t think a team would point to its lone loss as the reason to be optimistic.
But for the Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team, that’s the way they see it.
Heading into Catholic League play, the Raiders have played a ridiculously ambitious schedule. They’ve traveled to Brooklyn, they’ve hosted some of the top teams in the region, and they had a quick road trip to Virginia that saw them play three games against elite teams.
The second game during the tournament was against nationally ranked Mount St. Joseph of Maryland. A controversial call, followed by a buzzer beater handed the Raiders their first loss of the year.
It wasn’t the way they wanted the game to end, but it could become the game they point to as the moment they came together as a team.
“Honestly, I was so mad because I felt like we were the better team and we lost that way, it was hard,” said senior guard Jalen Snead. “I was hurt. I took the ball away and they didn’t call the foul until I had the ball and was going in for a layup. That would have ended the game. I just felt like they took it from us.
“But we all felt that way and we all were there for each other. Coach always tells us that no championship team goes undefeated, they all have spots in the year where they are going to face tough times. We got through it together.”
The Raiders plan on experiencing a lot of challenges this year because they have high hopes coming into the Catholic League portion of their schedule.
Last year, Ryan advanced to the Catholic League semifinals and went on to represent District 12 in the Class 5A state championship game. The Raiders fell to Cathedral Prep in the title game, but it showed the guys on this year’s team what’s possible.
The team did lose four great leaders in Aaron Lemon-Warren, Dom Vazquez, Christian Tomasco and Dylan Maloney, but this year’s captains, Snead, point guard David Wise and swingman Luke Boyd, are battle-tested veterans who are ready to take on the responsibility of being leaders. It’s a big responsibility since the captains are looked at as extensions of coach Joe Zeglinski, but the three are happy to be given that task.
This year’s squad got off to a good start in Catholic League play, besting neighborhood rival Father Judge 69-59. Ryan rebounded from losing the first quarter 28-8, but outscored the improved Crusaders 61-31 over the final three stanzas.
Pretty much, Ryan picked up right where it left off during the nonleague schedule.
“I think the biggest thing about this team is when we stay Ryan, we think family,” said Wise, who is the team’s starting point guard after years of filling any position the team needed. “Ryan is a family, for real. We never bicker, and if we do, it’s a good bicker because we’re doing it because we care about each other.
“It comes from our coach, I think. We practice family. We say family after we break, on our locker room, it says family. Everywhere we go, we practice family. We care about each other away from basketball. That makes it easier to care about each other when we’re playing basketball.”
Wise pointed out a great example of how this team is so united.
During a trip to Virginia, the team stopped by the University of Richmond, where Ryan graduate Chris Mooney is the coach. While there, sophomore big man Thomas Sorber picked up an official offer from the Spiders.
“When Thomas gets his offers, everyone on this team is excited about it, we were all really happy,” Wise said. “We want each other to be successful in everything we do. Basketball and life.”
The Raiders have been successful in basketball, but they haven’t reached the level they wanted.
They’ve advanced to the Catholic League semifinals in each of the last two seasons. Typically that means a trip to the Palestra, but last year those games were played at the higher seeds’ gym because of the pandemic.
Those trips to the Palestra and to the Giant Center in Hershey not only gave them experience in playing tough teams, but it gave them a chance to showcase their abilities in front of massive crowds, which can be quite nerve wracking. When the Raiders play in those games this year, they’ll know what to expect.
“It definitely brings more experience to ourselves, and we know how to handle pressure,” said Boyd, now in his third year as a starter. “We’ve been to the Palestra, too. We’ve all experienced that, state playoffs, played in some big games. It’s only going to help us out against tougher teams in the Catholic League, Roman, Neumann, Wood. Those teams have that experience so it helps that we have it.”
It can’t be understated what the three seniors bring to this team. And it’s especially nice because all three bring something unique to the table.
Wise is now the point guard. It’s his first year running the offense, but he has a unique perspective running the show. The last two years, he has played every position possible, so he knows exactly what everyone else should be doing.
“I think it helps having that experience because the younger guys won’t be afraid to ask me for help because they know I did it before,” Wise said. “We have a new sophomore at the four. Technically he’s the four, and he’s good, he’s really good, but he doesn’t know all the plays. I know them, though, because I had to play there when (Aaron Lemon-Warren) got hurt. I teach him whatever I can.
“Luke and Jalen know their positions, so I don’t have to do much with them, but I teach our new big his position. It helps a lot that I played everywhere because I know where they should be and I know where the ball should go. If they’re in the right spot, I know where to get them the ball. And they’re really good about getting in the right spot.”
Boyd may have made the biggest strides from last year to this year.
When he became a full-time starter as a sophomore, he opened the floor up for his teammates because he was one of the best shooters in the Catholic League. He still is. When Boyd is on, and he’s been on quite a bit this year, there are no better shooters out there.
But he’s not one dimensional. Now he’s a slasher who can get to the rim, and the improved game has been giving opponents fits in the early going.
“I worked on everything and I think a big reason is because I hadn’t played AAU since eighth grade, but I did this summer and that helped me,” Boyd said. “I think all the practice. I played with Team Final Black, they would have organized practice and then I would practice with the guys here, so I was playing basketball every day, getting better. It’s helped a lot.
“I think it gave me more confidence, too. I could dunk since sophomore year, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it in a game. Now I do. I just became a better player, and I’m a lot more confident.”
Then there’s Snead, who might not get the same recognition as the scorers because his stats don’t show in the box score.
Well, actually they do, but it’s always on the opponents’ box score.
Snead is the defensive guy. He’ll play anywhere and it should be a pretty big compliment if you see him guarding you because it means you’re the other team’s top scoring threat.
It also means you’ll probably be in for a long night and you won’t be tweeting out too many highlights.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Snead said. “I try to guard the best player on the other team and stop him. I’ve always been a defensive guy since eighth grade, I took it seriously. My middle school coach helped me with it. But when I got here, Coach Zeglinski loved it. That’s what got me on the court. And now I love guarding the best player.
“I love looking at a guy and having him know it’s not going to be easy. If I can stop them, it’s only going to help us win. It might not be noticed by a lot of people, but we know it. We know how much defense means.”
Defense means wins. It’s been that way since Zeglinski walked back into Ryan to take over the program. It’s why he’s already won more than 100 games since taking over as the coach before the 2015-16 season. It’s why they’ve had deep runs in the state tournament three times and four times made the final four of the Catholic League.
But this year, deep runs aren’t the goal. They never really were.
But this year, with this group, the goal is to celebrate with championships. They’re eyeing a Catholic League crown, a city championship and a state title.
“I want to redeem myself,” Boyd said. “We didn’t play as good as we could have. I don’t want to lose again. I want to redeem myself for the PCL because we never made it past the semis. I want to get there and win. I’m sure Dave and Jalen are the same thing. They want to win the chip. I want to say I won a PCL championship for the school. I want to do it for Ryan. It means a lot to me.”
“We can win states, we can win everything, PCL, city championships,” Snead said. “I felt we could last year. This team chemistry is great. We have Thomas this year, too. We didn’t have Thomas. He’s a great teammate, always has a great attitude, always brightens the room. The guys on this team all have the same goal.”
“The seniors, me Jalen, Luke, we came back hungry to win,” Wise said. “We aren’t going that far to lose it. We’re going far to win it as a senior, that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
This season is all about taking care of business.
But it’s not all business.
As much as Zeglinski has preached winning and doing the right thing, he’s been even bigger on relationships. Family, more specifically.
The Raiders are more than a high school basketball team. They are a community. They are a family.
Winning would be fun, but even better because they’ll do it together.
“It’s always been fun,” Boyd said. “We’re a winning team, that makes it fun. Every year we’re pretty focused. It’s fun to win. That’s when we have fun. When we lose, it’s not fun. But we do enjoy being around each other, so that makes it fun.”
“This team, chemistry-wise, best I’ve ever been around,” Snead said. “We all have fun together. It helps when we win, but this team is close. It’s been that way since the summer.”
“When we were (in Virginia), we had fun just being around each other,” Wise said. “We had a Madden 2K tournament, split the team into brackets. We were talking, listening to music, walked to Starbucks. And the last day we went to Richmond University, saw their facility, weight room, talked to the coaches and then played knockout on their court. We were around basketball and each other. We like playing together. We really like winning together.”