Paul Romanczuk presents the PIAA Class AAA State Championship medals to his team in 2009.
It was supposed to be a short stop. Paul Romanczuk certainly didn’t see himself joining the ranks of the longest-tenured Catholic League coaches. He loves his alma mater, Archbishop Carroll, and was excited to take over its basketball team.
But 13 years there? No way.
“I thought I’d do this for five years,” he says. “Now, I’m up to 13. Pretty soon I’ll be like [St. Joseph’s Prep coach] Speedy Morris, [former Bishop Kenrick and Cardinal O’Hara coach] Bud Gardler and [former Roman Catholic coach] Dennis Seddon.”
Reaching the levels of those Philadelphia prep basketball legends is going to take some more time. Seddon spent 22 years at Roman and is the cub of that group. Gardler was at O’Hara for 39 years, and it seems as if Morris has been coaching since there were jump balls after every made basket.
While Romanczuk’s tenure increases, his Patriots remain one of the area’s most potent teams, even with former standout dunkmaster Derrick Jones’ having moved on to UNLV. Carroll is built around a trio of veteran guards who have keyed a strong 12-1 start that includes a 64-51 win over Roman Catholic this past Sunday. As has been Romanczuk’s habit during the past decade, Carroll is one of the top teams in what is arguably the state’s most powerful league. “This league is a beast,” he says. “It always has been, and it’s not getting any easier. That’s why I so enjoy this job. The passion and history and tradition of the Catholic League are great. Of course, I’m biased, having played in it and coached in it.”
Romanczuk graduated from Carroll in 1995 and went on to score 1,179 points at Penn. After spending a few years away from the game—and hating every second of it—Romanczuk returned to his alma mater and began building a team capable of handing itself quite well in the Catholic League and beyond. Under his direction, the Patriots have reached the class AAA state finals three times. Carroll took the title in 2009, fell to Imhotep in 2013, and to Neumann-Goretti last year.
It’s too early to determine whether Carroll has what is necessary to make another run to the ultimate game, but there is definitely talent on the roster, even if Jones is gone and former Carroll standout David Beatty is spending his final high school season at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J.—the only team to beat the Pats this year. Guards Josh Sharkey, John Rigsby and Ryan Daly are experienced, talented, and capable of standing up to nearly any challenge. Sharkey has already signed with Samford University, Daly is headed to Hartford—both Division I schools—while Rigsby is still considering his options. “They are carrying us,” Romanczuk says.
Sharkey has been particularly impressive, both with Carroll and last summer on the camp and AAU scene. He can score, but he is far more dangerous at the team’s helm. “He’s so good at setting the tone for us, offensively and defensively, and getting guys shots,” Romanczuk says. “He has matured. When he’s playing his best and is under control, he makes the game easy for the others.”
Daly entered the Roman game averaging better than 20 points per game over the previous six games and has become a much more versatile scorer, while Rigsby is an all-around force who fills a variety of roles for the Pats. Though the team’s interior group isn’t as accomplished as last year’s was, when Ernest Aflakpui (now at Temple) was ranging throughout the paint to menace rivals, it is deep and productive.
Romanczuk is happy to take that group into action, no matter how tough the neighborhood might be. And if the last 13 years are any indication, he has no desire to cut the experience short.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: The Eagles made the right move in firing Chip Kelly, but the pool of candidates to replace him is hardly inspiring. Several may become good head coaches, but it’s going to be hard to create excitement among the fans by hiring, say, Doug Pederson or Sean McDermott. And, please, don’t even mention Jon Gruden … Last week’s loss to VCU was tough, but Saint Joseph’s rebounded well to dump Rhode Island Sunday and looks like a team that will be in the NCAA tournament conversation all year. The 12-3 Hawks are sturdy, thanks largely to DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles. Should SJU grab a victory or two over a ranked opponent in the coming weeks, its tourney resume will be strong.