Archbishop Wood’s Jalil Bethea was in rarified air during the first weekend of October.
Literally and figuratively.
The literally was his 6,200-foot elevation in Colorado Springs. Figuratively was Bethea’s attendance at the USA Basketball Junior National Team minicamp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
“It was a great experience, just being surrounded by people who had been around the game for so long. Being invited to a Team USA thing was a big accomplishment,” Bethea recently reflected.
“I had fun. I definitely learned a lot when I was out there,” Bethea continued.
The Team USA coaches were basically saying ‘You’ve got to play hard all of the time. You wouldn’t be here if people didn’t know who you are. But you get invited to that camp to show how hard you play, not how good or talented you are.’”
It was even more national validation for the 6-foot-4 Bethea, a guard who signed his letter of intent with the Miami Hurricanes and their legendary coach Jim Larranaga, earlier this month. Bethea, the incumbent Philadelphia Catholic League MVP, is ranked as one of the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2024 by both ESPN and Rivals.com.
“I don’t know where else I would have seen myself going other than Miami,” Bethea shared. “The play style fits me very well. They play very fast and they get down on defense too.
“Coach L is a great coach on and off the court. Being with him off the court helped make me want to go there because of the relationship he and I have,” Bethea concluded.
Bethea, who averaged over 23 points and seven rebounds per game last year, is the highest ranked Miami commit in nearly 40 years. The Hurricanes reached the Final Four last season.
“When (Bethea) first came to campus, he was a shooter,” said Archbishop Wood coach John Mosco.
“He played all JV his freshman year. In his sophomore year, he came off the bench and still was a shooter. Between sophomore and junior year, he really expanded his game. Instead of just shooting, he was playing off the dribble and making plays for other people: distributing and sharing the ball.
“It was hard work. He had talent. He just had to mature and stay focused. To not get too upset with little things,” Mosco continued. “In his sophomore year he came out really shooting the ball and in his junior year he exploded.”
Both of Bethea’s parents were athletes and that heritage strongly influenced young Jalil. The future hoops star actually loved football more when he was a kid.
“I started taking basketball seriously, in fifth or sixth grade. That’s when I started traveling,” Bethea recalled. “I feel like playing with Team Final got my name out there a little bit.”
Team Final was Bethea’s squad in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) for the last two summers. Bethea had an incredibly productive summer, where he averaged 19 points a game and shot 86% from the foul line against equally blue chip talent.
“In his sophomore year, playing EYBL Nike circuit, he got on radars,” Mosco pointed out. “He went to a few camps and got better. Besides the colleges recruiting him, you had all of the prognosticators noticing and he really climbed up the ladder.”
“The more you play basketball and the more you go up a level, the more people are physical,” Bethea said. He elevated his game by “getting bigger, stronger and being able to get my shot off a little quicker. It was working on things that I was already good at,” Bethea continued, “just instead of good, trying to make it great.”
Both Mosco and Bethea know that while the talented guard has come so far, there is still far to go to achieve Bethea’s goal of playing in college and pro. While Bethea can pour in plenty of points, defense and contending can always improve for everyone.
Bethea knows he will need to lead and distribute more as he advances. “I feel like going to the college level, you have to be able to trust your teammates instead of just looking for yourself. Once you’re in college, you’re playing bigger, older people and you have to learn ... the older people on your team have already been there and are experienced,” Bethea pointed out.
While Bethea gets headlines, there are other able oarsmen rowing the Wood Viking ship. Fellow senior guard Josh Reed recently committed to Drexel. Wood advanced to the 2023 PIAA 6A final four after reaching the state title game in 2021 and 2022.
The Vikings debut on Saturday in the All-City Classic. “We’re small – 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 – but we’re tough,” Mosco noted. “Our first goal as always is to get to the Palestra for the semifinals and then win the Catholic League. If you do that, states take care of themselves.
Mosco reminds Bethea, “If you want to be one of the best guards to come out of here, like Collin Gillespie and Rahsool Diggins, they’re on the banner. You’re not on the banner yet,” Mosco smiled. “I try to motivate him that way.”