Zion Stanford is a muthafucka… With him in the lineup early in the game against Roman Catholic, West Catholic was cruising and in control. Then with about 6:00 minutes left in the first half, Stanford picked up his 2nd personal foul. West Catholic Coach Miguel Bocachica decided to bench his star for remainder of the first half.
Over the course of the next six minutes, an eight point West Catholic lead evaporated and then became a five point halftime deficit.
Essentially… that was it…
Even when Stanford returned for the start of the second half, West Catholic was unable to regain control of the game. Cincinnati commit Daniel Skillings, Jr. demonstrated why some consider him the finest player in the City of Philadelphia. Skillings had 25 points, grabbed nine tough rebounds and blocked four shots in a magnificent performance against a very talented West Catholic squad.
Some of the credit for the point swing after Stanford’s second foul has to go to Roman Catholic’s new and old Head Coach Chris McNesby and his outstanding point guard Xzayvier Brown ’23. McNesby and Brown recognized that West Catholic was switching on the perimeter and on three consecutive possessions they waited until Brown was matched up with West Catholic big man Nasir Griffin trying to contain him at the top of the key.
Brown, a high major PG prospect, used a variety of step-back, in and out and crossover moves to create space and score. It was working and McNesby stuck with it. Also, in the third quarter, with Stanford on the floor, McNesby and the Cahillites went to rookie Shareef Jackson in the post and he was able draw a third foul on Stanford.
Saddled with foul trouble most of the night, Stanford was unable to play with his usual reckless abandon.
While he scored 12 points and had a spectacular blocked shot, Stanford was unable to really reimpose himself on the game. Adam “Bud” Clark tried to pick up the offensive slack while constantly probing the Roman Catholic defense on his way to scoring 20 points.
Maybe West Catholic will run into Roman Catholic again… Maybe next time Stanford can avoid foul trouble next time… Maybe things will be different… But, then again maybe not…
One thing for sure, Roman will have their own muthafucka in uniform by then. And, he used to play for West Catholic. Today, Anthony Finklea a 6’7” 220 lb power forward, ranked in the top 150 by Rivals, sat on the Roman bench in street clothes. Pretty soon, he will be on the floor. Already a tough out, when Roman adds Finklea’s skill, size, toughness and determination they will become the clear favorite to take yet another Catholic League title.
As it stands Archbishop Wood (5-0) is the lone unbeaten team in the Catholic League. Roman (6-1), West (5-1) and Archbishop Ryan (4-1) each have one loss. Neumann-Goretti (1-0) has only played one game. Ryan travels to Wood Monday night and Neumann-Goretti goes to West on Wednesday.
Ryan and West need to find a way to win these games. Roman, Neumann-Goretti and recently Wood have had a stranglehold on the Catholic League Championship. West and Ryan are the upstarts… They’ve been knocking on the door for a few years now…
Nobody is in a hurry to let them in…
It’s an exclusive club… Carl Arrigale, Chris McNesby and John Mosco are cardholding members. Miguel Boc and Joe Zeglinski are trying hard to get in… Membership requires that Ryan and West start beating Roman, Neumann-Goretti and Wood when it counts… Didn’t happen today… Joe gets a shot at John tomorrow and Boc gets a shot at Carl on Wednesday…
A masterpiece… How do we know when we witness one? Who determines? Who knows? Merrian-Webster defines a masterpiece as follows:
1 : a work done with extraordinary skill especially : a supreme intellectual or artistic achievement. 2 : a piece of work presented to a medieval guild as evidence of qualification for the rank of master.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is widely considered a masterpiece. I learned this primarily from cartoons where the painting would frequently be depicted and popular music references. I’ve never actually seen the Mona Lisa and I certainly wasn’t around in 1506 when da Vinci actually put oil to canvas. I guess it’s a masterpiece because everyone says so. Same thing with Vincent van Gogh’sStarry Night… Although I do have a print of this van Gogh masterpiece framed and hung in my kitchen, I have never seen the original and certainly wasn’t around in 1889 when this work was created. I would give anything to have been able to read the notes and have access to drafts of The Souls of Black Folk as W.E.B. DuBois crafted this masterpiece in 1903.
To be in the room when a masterpiece is created… A true privilege…
I often imagine what it must’ve been like to be on the set of the classic film Stormy Weather in 1943 when the Nicholas Brothers performed the greatest dance sequence ever captured on film. How cool would it have been to sit in the editing room with Francis Ford Coppola as he put the finishing touches on The Godfather in 1972? Suppose Stevie Wonder was my homie and I had advance copies of Songs in the Key of Life in 1976…
Imagine that shit…
Back in 1994, I was still wasting thousands of dollars on car stereos… What if I had access to demos of Illmatic before Nas released his masterpiece it to the general public?
Wouldn’t heave been able to tell me shit down the plateau!
Unfortunately, I missed every opportunity to witness the creation of the aforementioned masterpieces. However, I did have the good fortune of witnessing one particular masterpiece come to fruition on a cold Thursday evening in January 2017. That night, in a virtuoso performance, Collin Gillespie scored 42 points grabbed nine rebounds and dished out six assists to lead Archbishop Wood to a an 82-73 victory over Neumann-Goretti in a highly anticipated battle for 1st place in the Philadelphia Catholic League. It was a magnificent performance featuring shot-making, play-making and decision-making of the highest order.
Simply stated… “GILLESPIE TRULY BUSSED DEY ASS!”
That game has since been etched in stone as a masterpiece. Ask anyone that was there…
It happened again yesterday… On Martin L. King, Jr. Day at Archbishop Spalding High School, I had the distinct pleasure watching and recording Imhotep junior forward Justin Edwards’ masterful performance against St. Frances Academy (MD). Edwards scored 29 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, had 3 key steals and blocked a shot while willing Imhotep to a tough victory. St. Frances entered the game ranked 20th in the nation by ESPN. Imhotep was unranked.
But… Imhotep had Edwards…
On this night, Edwards lived up to… No… FUCK THAT… He exceeded his #16 ranking in the class of 2023. His performance against a tenacious St. Frances squad in their backyard certified Edwards status as one to the top high major prospects in the mid-Atlantic region for 2023.
Shit… He may very well be the best prospect.
Edwards high major potential begins with his prototypical physical profile for an elite high major/NBA wing player. He comes in at 6-8, with a wingspan that appears to be 6-10 or more. While he is slender, he has an excellent frame that will fill out over time with broad shoulders and great hip mobility for his size.
As you will see in the highlight video, Edwards is a graceful and fluid athlete with long strides in the open court and the ability to cover a lot of ground. He gives Imhotep an exceptional advantage with his ability to grab defensive rebounds and push the ball up the court effortlessly in transition. He is also very effective on the fast break off the ball, as he understands how to fill lanes correctly and get himself an easy finish at the rim.
Edwards’ most appealing selling point, at this stage in his development, is his highly advanced offensive skill set in the half court, and his high major ready scoring ability. He is an exceptionally polished scorer for a high school junior. Edwards consistently exhibits an ability to operate from all three levels. He is at his best in the mid-range area where he can create space and shoot over the top of the defense with a high release point on his jumper. He also has very precise footwork and is never too sped up by the defense.
Edwards is especially effective working out of the mid-post area where he has a variety of moves in his arsenal to beat his man. He is a capable threat from deep, especially off the drive and kick. He has steady and repeatable shooting stroke and should be a terrific free-throw shooter. At the high school level, he is also a good pick and pop threat when needed to play the four. He does a tremendous job of attacking hard closeouts with superb footwork. Edwards is undoubtedly the best isolation scorer in the mid-Atlantic region.
He has a lot of tools in his bag. Edwards utilizes a variety of hesitation pull-ups, jab steps, step backs, crossovers, spins, etc., and he can stop on a dime with ease to get into his shot. He was an absolute nightmare for the St. Frances defenders.
Keeping it all the way real, EDWARDS BUSSED DEY ASS!
He also has the tools to hold his own on the defensive end at the high major level, in large part due to his size and length. When motivated, he slides his feet very well and can cover a lot of ground when closing out on shooters. Against St. Frances, he repeatedly demonstrated the ability to stay calm in pressure situations and come up big in crunch time. His game will fit well a the high major level, and he should be an immediate impact scorer in a league like the Big East for example.
On the defensive end, at times, he seems to just go through the motions. This was the case in a game against Reading High School earlier in the season. He didn’t demonstrate the competitive desire to lock his man down. Currently, he is not physical enough to handle bigger players down low, and he needs to add some muscle, especially if he’s considering SEC and Big 10 college destinations.
At his best, I haven’t seen a better player in the class of 2023. It was truly a pleasure watching Edwards play against St. Frances. I was in the room as he delivered a masterpiece performance against a tough nationally ranked opponent on their home turf.
Rahsool Diggins is gone… He’s on the UConn roster. Marcus Randolph is gone… He’s on the Richmond roster… Daeshon Shepherd is gone… He’s on the La Salle roster… Jaylen Stinson is gone… He’s on the James Madison roster…
These guys formed the core of the Archbishop Wood basketball program over the past three years. Diggins had one of the all-time great Philadelphia schoolboy careers. He ended up a consensus top 100 prospect and landed in the highly regarded Big East Conference, Randolph, a southpaw sniper, could always be counted on for a big bucket in a crucial moment. A big shooting guard, he plies his trade in the Atlantic 10. Shepherd was one of the most explosive leapers in recent years. He seemed to effortlessly sail through the air in Wood’s Warminster gym and violently deposit the ball through the rim. Like Randolph, he now competes in the Atlantic 10. Stinson was a defensive stopper. A tenacious on ball defender, he took great pleasure in disrupting the best laid game plans of opposing coaches and point guards. He’s continuing his career in Colonial Athletic Association.
All of those guys, four (4) NCAA Division 1 scholarship recipients, played for John Mosco’s Catholic League Champion Vikings last season. All of them are gone…
But wait… There’s more…
The consulate glue guy, Muneer Newton, is contributing to the success of the William Penn University NAIA basketball program. William Penn is currently 15-1 and ranked 2nd in the latest National NAIA poll. Newton has played in all 16 games.
Rob Jackson, another stalwart for Mosco’s program over the past few years accepted a football scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats won the American Athletic Conference championship while going undefeated through the regular season. Jackson and the Bearcats lost to top-ranked Alabama 27-6 in the College Football Playoff.
I say all of that to say two things… One, Mosco and his staff have done an amazing job developing young men into college ready student-athletes. Many of the the young men coming through the Wood program, since Mosco became coach, have gone on to college. More importantly, for the most part, the parents have not received a single bill for room, board, tuition, fees and books.
That’s just GOOD SHIT!
The other reason, I outlined all of that recent success was because I thought Mosco and Wood would fall off.
What program could lose 4,000+ points all at once and remain at the top of the heap? Surely, this would be a rebuilding year at Wood… Right?
Further complicating things for the Vikings was the departure of Mosco’s long-time consigliere, Chris Roantree. Roantree served as an assistant Mosco for the eight seasons. He helped lead the Vikings to the 2017 & 2021 PCL titles, the 2017 PIAA Championship and state runner-up finishes in both 2019 & 2021.
Six full scholarship athletes and his top assistant… Gone… all at once.
Mosco is vulnerable… This is the year the tables will turn and he’s gonna take his lumps in th Catholic League… Right?
Wrong… I was fuckin’ wrong!
I failed to adequately account for the impact of Justin Moore’s arrival in Warminster. After McDevitt joined St. James, North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty and Hallahan on scrap heap of Catholic League history, Philly’s finest point guard became an unrestricted free agent. Committed to play for Zach Spiker and his McDevitt Head Coach Will Chavis at Drexel University, Moore decided spend his senior season playing point guard for the Vikings.
Following in the footsteps of Tommy Funk, Collin Gillespie and Rahsool Diggins, Moore is vying for a seat in the BIG chair. He may very well be the best Philly guard this year.
Deploying a different cast of characters, while reading from the same script it looks John Mosco may be headed toward a familiar ending. Moore may lead Wood to yet another Palestra appearance in pursuit of third Catholic League title and a subsequent deep run in the state playoffs.
Tonight, I ventured out to the Main Line to watch Mosco and the Vikings take on Devon Prep led by Head Coach Jason Fisher. Now in their fourth season as a member of the Catholic League, Devon Prep has established itself as a formidable and highly competitive basketball program.
The tiny Devon Prep gym looks like it holds maybe 300-400 people, if the fire Marshall looks the other way. It’s about the size of the Roman Catholic gym with an actual regulation high school basketball court in place.
This was my initial visit to Devon Prep, it quickly became apparent that they have a very real home court advantage. The game was completely sold-out. Their relatively small student section competed well above it’s weight class. Maybe 100 or so students were EXTREMELY loud, energetic, boisterous and fully engaged to the final buzzer.
I was impressed.
As I watched the teams warm-up, I noticed that Wood looked like a really good high school team. They were long, lean and athletic. Junior PF Carson Howard stands about 6’8.” Senior wing Mike Knouse comes in at about 6’4” and a sturdy 210 lbs. Junior PG Bahsil Laster is a lean and athletic 6’4”. Super smooth sophomore SG Jahlil Bethea is also 6’4”. Senior wing Tyson Allen is a powerfully built 6’3”. The smallest of the bunch is yet another NCAA Division 1 scholarship recipient. The aforementioned Moore is 6’2”, super quick and very athletic.
Devon Prep, on the other hand, looked like a group of high school students that happened to be playing basketball. They aren’t very long… They aren’t extraordinarily athletic…
But… I’ve come to learn that looks can be very deceiving. I’ve seen Jason Fisher’s team rout Archbishop Ryan in Ryan’s gym. I’ve also witnessed their takedown of a nationally ranked St. Frances (MD) program during a fall event.
Devon Prep can play and they have some very good players. Junior forward Lucas Orchard (19.3 ppg) is one of the leading scorers in the Catholic League. Senior guard IV Petit (13.2 ppg) is a skilled and tough competitor. Senior point guard Allen Cieslak (13.3) is hard-nosed and Junior forward Jacen Holloway (12.1) is strong rebounder capable to stepping out and knocking down 3-point shots with ease.
They are a tough out…
Devon Prep runs an offense that appears to have no set “pattern” per se (such as the flex offense). Instead, Coach Fisher’s way of playing offense uses principles that require offensive players to read the defense. For the most part, Devon Prep runs an unstructured free-lance offense that uses screens and cuts, with players reading and reacting to the defense.
The Devon Prep offense is very deliberate and patient, often featuring many passes each possession. This tends to slow the game down, controlling the tempo, usually resulting in lower game scores. Opponents have to be committed to staying attached to their man. Devon Prep thrives on mental lapses and over aggression.
John Mosco had his Wood Vikings ready for this challenge.
Wood jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first quarter. At the 2:25 mark Wood was up 10-2. After one quarter of play, Wood held a 15-2 lead. They extended that lead to 20-2 with 5:19 left in the first half. At halftime Wood was up 12, 27-15.
The lead would hover around the 8-12 point range for the remainder of the game until Devon Prep was able to close the gap to 4, 59-63 with 1:04 remaining in the game. From there, Devon Prep was forced to foul to stop the clock and extend the game. Wood players calmly converted the free throws and escaped with a 10 point, 71-61 road victory.
Justin Moore demonstrated why he is considered the best point guard in the city by many observers. He did an outstanding job defending IV Petit while picking spots to assert himself offensively. Carson Howard was dominant on the boards finishing with 16 rebounds. Senior forward Mike Knouse was a steadying force throughout the contest.
Wood is still Wood… Johnny Mosco hasn’t fallen off.
As of January 15, Wood sits atop the Catholic League Standings, along with West Catholic. The Vikings have 3 league wins and 0 losses. Roman Catholic, Archbishop Ryan and Devon Prep each have 1 loss. Neumann-Goretti has only played 1 league game.
Faced with the challenge of replacing over 90% of the production from last years team without his top lieutenant, Mosco has Wood right where they were last year… At the top of the standings…
Maybe… Just maybe… John Mosco actually knows what hell he is doing.
Camden, NJ (January 13, 2022) For the past three years, Camden High has dominated the local scholastic hoops basketball scene. The Panthers had lost exactly one (1) game in three seasons. Since the start of this season, Camden had beaten nationally ranked Roselle Catholic (67-64) in a tough season opener in the new Camden High gymnasium, blown out the reigning Philly Catholic League Champions Archbishop Wood (73-41) on a neutral court and knocked off South Jersey contender Lenape (76-64) at home. On paper, these were three tough local opponents. Once they got their legs under them, the Panthers started to consistently open up BIG CANS of “whoop ass” on regional opponents.
Bishop Eustace fell by 19 (66-47), then they slaughtered Winslow Township by 54 and in their most recent game the Panthers decimated Eastern by 61 points. Camden High is by far the best and most dominant local team. Every local ranking has Camden sitting in the #1 spot and it has been that way for quite a while. Indeed, Camden entered their game tonight riding the crest of a 44 game winning streak.
Simply stated, since DJ Wagner arrived and Rick Brunson assumed the reins, none of the locals can fuck with Camden.
Well… almost none of them…
There was that one December night in 2019 at Cherry Hill East HS when Roman Catholic, featuring 2022 NBA lottery Pick Jalen Duren, current LSU Tiger Justice Williams, recent St. Joseph’s transfer Lynn Greer and current Cahillite star Xzayvier Brown came across the Ben Franklin bridge and knocked off the Panthers 70-59 in front of an overflowing, boisterous, raucous and decidedly Camden crowd.
Other than that one night, Brunson and the Panthers have run the table.
Indeed, the Panthers have been so dominant that it’s difficult to imagine a local high school basketball team beating them for the remainder of this year and through next year. Unquestionably, Camden High is head and shoulders above the local competition.
The problem is… Montverde ain’t from ‘round here…
Those boys are different.
While Camden has at least 8 eight Division 1 basketball prospects, including 2 high major targets (Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw), Montverde’s roster is filled with high major prospects top to bottom.
Take a moment and think about the fact that Kwame Evans, ESPN #3 in the class of 2023, and Derek Queen, ESPN #2 in the class of 2024, do NOT start and play sparingly for this Montverde team.
Dariq Whitehead, ESPN #5 in the Class of 2022 (Duke Commit) is the leader of this talented bunch. He finished with an exhilarating 18 points in front of about 30 of his supporters who drove down from Newark to see his matchup with Wagner, ESPN #1 in the class of 2023. Whitehead did not disappoint… He dunked, made threes and even did a little Globetrotter inspired behind the back euro-step layup.
Dillon Mitchell, ESPN #18 in the Class of 2022 (Texas Commit) chipped in with 13 points. For Camden, Aaron Bradshaw, ESPN #22 in the Class of 2023, showed why he is so highly ranked. He was the lone Panther able to match the length and explosiveness of Montverde. He was aggressive attacking the basket and made several spectacular blocks. Bradshaw led Camden with 17 points and Wagner chipped in 4.
Those of us of a certain age will remember the tremendous anticipation accompanying the build up to an early Mike Tyson defense of his heavyweight title. That’s what this week was like… How would Camden fare against national competition? Some openly wondered if Montverde could hang with the Panthers.
Then… the bell rung… And, Montverde landed a hard right cross squarely on Camden’s jaw… For all intents and purposes, the fight was over in the first round.
Montverde jumped out to a quick 14-2 lead with 5 thunderous dunks. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 22-4 Montverde.
Camden needed a standing 8 count. For the uninitiated, A standing eight count, also known as a protection count, is a boxing judgment call made by a referee during a bout. When invoked, the referee stops the action and counts to eight. … Standing eight counts by the referee are scored the same as a knockdown, whether the boxer was knocked down or not…
1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… Okay… Let me wipe your gloves…
Eventually, Brunson went into a 2-3 zone and forced Montverde to shoot from the perimeter. This lessened the frequency of the aggravated assaults on the rim.
As the game progressed through the second, third and fourth quarters, Brunson was essentially a “cut man.” He liberally applied grease to his players eye area, ears and forehead to prevent Montverde’s leather boxing gloves from tearing and cutting the skin. When it looked like their eyes were getting puffy, Brunson applied an ice-cold steel bar to the skin to prevent swelling. The Camden coaches used a cotton swab to push clotting powder into the cut that did appear. In this way, they were able to stop further bleeding that might have deterred their player’s attention and focus during the game.
Camden lost a decisive unanimous decision. They did not win a round… 120-108 on all three cards…
But Camden did live to fight another day… Four of their next seven games are against more teams that ain’t from ‘round here. Hopefully, tonight’s loss will serve an learning opportunity. Camden may want to study that Floyd Mayweather shoulder roll tomorrow. Money Mayweather always protects his chin AND gets that bag.
There’s really nothing new under the sun… Thirty years ago, long before the advent of the NCAA “Transfer Portal” one of my youngbucks, Reggie Townsend, wanted to roll out during his freshman year… I’m so glad he fought through adversity and became a really good player right here in the Big 5.
It’s early Fall 1992 and John Griffin is entering his 3rd season at helm of the Men’s Basketball program at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s University. His first two years were just ok… He went 13-17 year one and 13-15 year two.
But there was a palpable buzz around the Hawk program.
Bernard Blunt and Rap Curry were no longer underclassmen with high ceilings… There were certified studs… Both were legitimate NBA prospects entering their junior seasons. Carlin Warley was a walking double-double and Bernard Jones shot about 87% from inside 15ft. Demetrius Poles was a highly skilled utility knife (PF/C) that could do just about everything – pass, shoot, rebound – on the court.
These were my youngbucks… I had extremely high expectations for this bunch.
To this core, Griffin added three really good freshmen… Mark Bass, Will Johnson and Reggie Townsend. Bass was from Trenton, NJ, Johnson was from Philly and Townsend hailed from Saginaw, Michigan.
Griffin knew he had a good team on paper. With Bass and Townsend coming from out of town, Griffin asked me to mentor these kids to help them adjust to Philly and the social, emotional and academic demands of college life.
Several evenings a week, we met at the Fieldhouse or in the dorms. We had a a lot of fun… Of course, my guys handled their business academically. I viewed my role as that of a “translator”… I put the history, social science, English material in terms they would understand and contexts they could relate to. There were a LOT of cuss words and laughter… I demonstrated how a lot of the scholars they were reading were “lying muthafuckas”…
But after each session, I was very sure my guys understood the material and were able to appropriately explain any and all relevant concepts. They were solid students and used me to gain the confidence necessary to compete in the classroom. Of course, both hold degrees from St. Joe’s.
On the court, they had very different journeys. Bass, standing… maybe… 5’9” was ready for college basketball as freshman. He was able to identify and carve out an important role for himself playing off of Blunt and Curry. Bass was a tremendous athlete with an unusual level of grit, determination and self-confidence. Coach Griffin and the upperclassmen immediately embraced him. He started every game and averaged 10 ppg and 34.1 mpg while guarding some of best players in the nation.
Townsend, on the other hand, appeared in 22 games and only played 4.8 mpg when he did get on the floor. He averaged a minuscule 1.4 ppg.
Once they got deep into the season, the study sessions would get a little tense. Townsend was frustrated. Bass was cool… Shit Bass was starting and getting double figures most nights. Nonetheless, Bass ALWAYS supported and encouraged his friend and teammate.
One evening, Townsend declared… “I’m out Del!”
“Where the fuck you going Big Dog?”
“I think Imma go to Praire View…”
“Huh?.. Praire View? Fuckouttahere Bro… Naaaah.”
“Yeah they was on me hard… I’m tired of not playing.”
“Slow down Big Dog… Your time is gonna come… Carlin is good… BJ is good… Meat is good… Just be ready when your time comes.”
“Chill Big Dog… You gonna be alright.”
The next season, Townsend started 18 of 28 games and scored 7.6 ppg while playing 23.4 mpg.
Then the Big Dog took over...
Townsend started his last 61 games in a SJU uniform. He was damn near automatic on the low block. Think of a poor man’s Wayman Tisdale… His footwork was impeccable and he could easily step out to 18 feet with a sweet stroke. He averaged 15 ppg and 6 rpg as a junior and 15 ppg and 6.5 rpg as a senior.
Townsend finished his career with 1146 points, 484 rebounds and an appearance in the 1996 NIT finals at Madison Square Garden where the Hawks lost to Nebraska and a freshman PG named Tyronn Lue. Real Shit… When A.I. bussed Lue’s ass and disrespectfully stepped over him in the NBA finals, it felt like revenge for my youngins… Real Shit…
“Yeah… Fuck Dat Ni**a A.I.!”
More young players need to fight through adversity like the Big Dog.
Happy New Year to Reggie Townsend… The Big Dog from Saginaw… Luv U Bro!!
People have favorites… Some won’t admit it… Not me…
I have favorites… I like some players more than others.
My favorites usually fall into one of 2 camps. Either, I believe they are the BEST players or I just LOVE the kids. A special few fit into both categories: Jamal Nichols, Jameer Nelson, Sr., DJ Newbill, Langston Galloway, Ryan Daly, Samme Givens, Donta Scott and Eric Dixon are some examples. Once they become a favorite, there’s literally nothing that can change that status… As my favorite Ol’ Head, Claude Gross, told me almost everyday, “I love you and ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”
There are no rankings you are just a favorite… There is no BEST favorite, there’s no LEAST favorite… they are all the same…
Three area middle school players were basically born into Black Cager Sports “favorite” status: Tor Harrison, Jr., Kamal Yard, Jr. and Jarrod Denard, Jr. Indeed, Jarrod, Jr. was just a thought when his Dad, Jarrod, Sr. publicly thanked my man Marlon Garrett and I for helping “him get better as a player, and grow up…” as he committed to college.
I’ve known each of them for years now… I can’t remember meeting them and I know they can’t remember meeting me… You know… Just like your family…
These young men are exceedingly respectful, always thoughtful, super intelligent and mature. They are exactly what you want to see in young Black boys… When I see them, I am always excited to learn what’s going on in their lives.
“What up Boy?”
What follows is always fascinating…
Their fathers are my friends and that has resulted in a high level of trust and respect in my relationships with their sons. I am truly grateful that they allow me to be my loud, opinionated and authentic self with their boys. I look forward to the high school journey with each of them.
Well… I finally got to see one of my favorite middle school guys actually play basketball yesterday. Low and behold, I LOVE him and he’s one of the BEST middle school guards I’ve seen in recent years.
Jarrod Denard, Jr. is one of the leaders on a talent-laden Happy Hallow Elite 2027 team.
Although Jarrod and his teammates are only 7th graders, it was really hard to evaluate them as players because there was a significant talent gap between Happy Hallow and the 8th/9th graders they were facing.
Happy Hollow smoked ‘em… They were quicker, more athletic, better shooters, better passers, better defenders, more unselfish, more disciplined… Shit… They were just waaaaay better at basketball.
Even though the talent gap between the teams was huge, I was able to make a few basketball observations about one of my favorites. Jarrod is an advanced middle school basketball player. He understands how to play. At the middle school level, he’s one of the more prolific scorers in the region. Possesses good size for a Varsity HS point guard at 13, standing about 5’10″ with a nice wingspan. He uses his strong frame well to absorb contact around the rim. Jarrod is an extremely confident shooter that is dangerous at mid-range or well behind the HS 3-point arc. He doesn’t hesitate to square up from 22-25 away from the hoop. Needs very little space or time to get off a quality shot against middle school/junior high school competition. He is able to create his own shot or spot-up off the ball effectively. He handles the ball very well and uses quick, short dribbles and changes of direction/speed to keep defenders off balance. Jarrod is very aggressive in transition, always looking to make something happen. He is a quality passer, that has the ability to create for his teammates by driving into the lane and kicking the ball out. Most importantly, he appears to be a strong leader with a competitive drive… Like his Daddy!
Jarrod, Jr., as a 13 year old 7th grader, already possesses varsity High School talent, but like most middle school prospects, he hasn’t proved that he can consistently produce against elite HS level talent… YET! An elite high school program team looking for a tough, talented, scoring point guard would be well-served by catching Happy Hallow Elite and talking to Jarrod Denard, Sr. about his son’s educational plans.
As I sit here writing at 11:28 pm on Thursday, December 16, 2021 the basketball season has ALMOST fully commenced. Everyone has been playing games… except the best team in the region. The Sixers are 15-15 and currently sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. Joel Embid and the boys are a far cry from the squad that finished last year’s regular season as the number 1 seed in the east. Philly hoopheads and sports talk show hosts are searching far and wide for reasons to explain the rapid decline. Tobias is soft… Maxey’s not ready… Doc can’t coach…
The main problem, however, is readily identifiable. The best “sorry ass” player in the history of Philadelphia basketball is holding the entire Sixers organization and fanbase hostage.
Ben Simmons has discovered that Philadelphia basketball aficionados have, what he considers, unrealistic expectations. For example, these folk actually believe that 6’10 supremely gifted and highly skilled athletes on the books for $385,244 per game should attempt and complete dunks in the playoffs when positioned directly under the rim with no defenders in sight.
Yup… Philly fans really be trippin’…
They want a point guard the does shit like make at least half of his free throw attempts… Fuck is wrong with these people?
Simmons has grown tired of these outsized expectations, taken his ball and gone to one of his several area homes… “Fuck that” he said… Just pay me not to play.
“Fuck Philly… I ain’t playin.”
The Sixers brass and Philly fans have come to realization that Simmons is the pettiest man this side of Kountry Wayne… He is really shittin’ on everybody in the 215 and there’s apparently nothing Sixers president Daryl Morey can do except keep cutting heavy checks to the best “sorry ass” player ever to grace Philly hardwoods.
At the college level, Villanova is good… In fact, they are very good. The Wildcats are currently ranked 9th in the AP Top 25 and 10th in the Coaches Poll. Out of 350 or so D1 programs, Nova is ranked ahead of 340 of them. Yet, somehow it doesn’t feel like they are “Nova” good. Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright has actually set the bar so high with 2 recent National Championships that a 7-3 record – with losses to then #2 UCLA, then #6 Purdue and then #2 Baylor – has people asking “what’s up with Nova.”
On North Broad Street, Temple is struggling… As my friend Sam Rines always says, the “object of the game is to put the ball in the hole.” Aaron McKie has the Owls playing very aggressive and tough defense for 40 minutes every night. They also rebound well and share the ball. What they don’t do is put the ball in the hole. For instance, in their recent lost to UCF, the Owls shot 15-56 from the field and 3-30 from the 3-point line.
Da Fuck you gonna do with that?
The one player that did put the ball in the hole on a regular basis for Temple is out for the remainder of the season. Khalif Battle was averaging 21.4 ppg while shooting 53.9% from the field and 50% from the 3-point line. He’s gone ’til next season. McKie and his staff are searching for answers. As the Owls head into Conference play it’s not clear if a solution to this problem is on the horizon.
St. Joseph’s (6-4) and La Salle (5-4) have put together winning records. But… the combined records of the teams The Hawks and Explorers defeated are 26-38 and 14-39 respectively. Thus, it difficult to gauge how much of the winning record is attributable to actual improved play and how much is a result of shrewd scheduling.
Drexel stands at an even .500 (5-5). Zach Spiker’s Dragons are a feisty bunch. Their game at Temple on Saturday will tell us a lot of the state of the Drexel program. Road wins against St. Joseph’s and Temple would confirm what some are already suspecting, the Dragons have closed the gap on these Big 5 programs.
After taking an entire season off, Steve Donahue’s Penn Quakers (3-10) are struggling to gain stable footing. While Jordan Dingle is off to a magnificent start, the team has yet to play consistently well as a unit. We’ll see how they do in the Ivy League.
At the high school level, Imhotep (3-1) lost on opening night to the tough defending BIG BOY state champion Reading HS Red Knights in Reading. Since then, they’ve reeled off 3 straight wins including two over Salesianum (DE) and Roman Catholic.
Neumann-Goretti (3-0) has jumped out of the gate with three solid victories over Bishop O’Connell (VA), Howard (DE) and Salesianum (DE). Archbishop Ryan (3-0) defeated also defeated 3 solid opponents with a 15 year man-child, 6’8″ PF/C Thomas Sorber leading the way. West Catholic (1-0) knocked off a strong Lincoln HS squad. Perennial Public League power Math, Civics and Sciences (4-0) is off to a strong start.
All of this has served as an excellent precursor to the main event.. Indeed, it has been a very good undercard… Now it’s time for the main event…
As Michael Buffer would say… “Lets get ready to rumble”.
The mighty Camden HS Panthers (0-0) get underway on Friday against North Jersey power Roselle Catholic. Featuring, DJ Wagner, the consensus #1 player in the Class of 2023, Camden is carrying the weight of expectations that exceeds all of the aforementioned teams combined. Anything short of a State Championship would be considered a failure for this bunch.
Shit is different over in Camden.
The Panthers have an exceptional coach, Rick Brunson, that has lost exactly one (1) game since taking the reins of the storied program two seasons ago. Two of Brunson’s former players, Lance Ware (Kentucky) and Taquan Woodley (South Carolina) are in the SEC and competing at the very highest level of college basketball. Another, Jerome Brewer (Sunrise Christian Academy) is excelling at one the premier prep programs in the nation. Brunson has graduated a high major frontcourt.
And… still they rise… Brunson discusses his unique approach to coaching in this provocative interview with Antoine Miller.
Despite the loss of exceptionally talented players, Brunson and the Panthers have not skipped a beat. Indeed, most believe that this year’s team is an improvement on teams with a combined record of 42-1 over the past two seasons.
They got dudes…
The current Camden roster features, Wagner (ESPN #1, 2023) and Aaron Bradshaw (ESPN #22, 2023). Wagner is 3rd generation Camden basketball royalty. His quickness and near elite athleticism, match his playing style perfectly. Wagner has great body control and knows how to use his body to his benefit when it comes to attacking the basket. He finished very well through contact at the high school level as a 14 and 15 year old. His body is now beginning to mature.
At 16, he’s gonna be a major fuckin problem for high school opposition.
He likes to get downhill in transition and can finish at the rim with either hand confidently. He is able to get defenders off-balance and create space with extremely tight crossovers, in-and out dibbles and step back jumpers. He’s a solid rebounder for his position and one of the most fierce backcourt defenders in the nation. Against elite competition on the Nike EYBL circuit, his jumper wasn’t very consistent. This can be largely attributed to shot selection and being the primary scoring option on his team. Wagner drew a ton of attention from opposing defenses. There are no issues when it comes to his jump shot mechanics and his ability to knock down tough shots helps solidify his case as the number 1 prospect in his class.
Protecting the rim for the Panthers will be Aaron Bradshaw a 7’0” 210 lb lithe PF/C with tremendous athleticism and explosion. He is incredibly fluid and coordinated for a player his size. Bradshaw is able to run the floor and play like a wing at times, but still defend and rebound like a 7-footer. He has nice touch on his mid-range jumper, complete with a high release point that makes it impossible to block. Bradshaw has range all the way out the high school 3-point line. Outside of Duke commit Dereck Lively, Bradshaw is, perhaps, the best defensive big man on the eastern seaboard. He possesses amazing physical tools to get the job done. His size and length give him an incredible advantage contesting shots inside the post and on the perimeter, and agility and quickness allow him to maneuver around the floor with ease.
Then there are the other five Division 1 prospects on the Panther roster…
Senior PF Rasheer Fleming (St. Joseph’s commit) stands 6’8” and is an agile, athletic defender with a rapidly evolving set of offensive skills. Junior point guard Cian Medley is a pure playmaker. He does an excellent job of orchestrating the high powered Camden offense and is a terror on the defensive end of the floor.
Junior wing Cornelius “Boog” Robinson has a great combination of strength and athleticism. He is an intense competitor that seems to come up with every 50/50 ball in his area. Robinson scores a lot of baskets by overpowering defenders with his tremendous body strength. He plays with a lot of toughness. Robinson is extremely aggressive, and often intimidates opponents with his nasty demeanor. He has very good quickness, leaping ability and has the strength to go inside and finish through contact. Robinson make effective use of jab steps and looks to drive to the basket. His ability to create shots for himself off the dribble has improved over the past couple of seasons. He is a strong defender and tremendous rebounder for a 6-5 player.
Senior Elijah Perkins is an athletic wing holding offers from Georgetown, Nebraska, La Salle, Radford and Hampton among others. Another long junior wing, Dasear Haskins holds an offer from Monmouth.
Nothing short of a state championship and maintaining a high top 5-10 national ranking will be acceptable for this team. In some ways, they are not playing against the opposition.
The Panthers are playing against the ghosts of past Camden teams. Their leader, DJ Wagner is on a mission to establish himself firmly as an all-time Camden great alongside players like the recently deceased Ron “Itchy” Smith, Bill Culbertson, Billy Thompson, Kevin Walls, Mayor Vic Carstarphen, Arthur Barclay and Louis Banks.
Perhaps, most importantly, he wants to hold his head high at family dinners when his legendary father, Dejuan Wagner, and Grandfather, Milt Wagner, are at the table. A state championship (or two) gets that done.
The best team in the region finally laces ’em up tonight… I, for one, am ecstatic that I get to watch Wagner and the Panthers chase history. The quest begins today.
When I am wrong, I try own my mistakes. At the core of the Black Cager Sports mission is helping talented student-athletes transition to college. West Philadelphia HS senior guard, Deyishon Miller is one of the more talented basketball student-athletes in the Greater Philadelphia region. Until I walked in the St. Joseph’s Prep gym today, I never heard of him. That’s my fault…
I should’ve been aware of the young man’s presence on the Philadelphia basketball scene. I have to thank my good friend, Amauro Austin, for the tip. We were discussing West Philadelphia’s recent road victory over Bonner-Prendie and I asked Amauro, “Is Bonner bad or does West Philadelphia have some guys?”
Amouro replied, “It’s my understanding, West Philly has a couple of guys.”
Over the years, I have come to realize that Amauro is like a hungry Pit Bull looking for a bone in the park when it comes to talented, yet unheralded, basketball prospects. For example, he introduced me to Charlie Brown while he was toiling away in relative obscurity at George Washington HS. When he suggests that I take a peek, I always move the curtain to the side and take a hard look.
Based on his statement that West Philly has some dudes, I made my way down to see the Speedboys play a very young and talented St. Joseph’s Prep team.
One of West Philly’s dudes, Deyishon Miller, put on a magnificent display as the rapidly rising Public League team defeated it’s second consecutive Philadelphia Catholic League team on the road. Miller scored 36 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out 10 assists, shot 16-17 from the free throw line and drained 5 3-pointers.
Miller is a very fluid scorer who gets buckets in a variety of ways. Standing 6’4” and coming in at a solid 210 lbs, he is a very good athlete with excellent lift and explosiveness. He is able to pair his athleticism nicely with a quick first step to consistently blow by defenders and attack the basket off the dribble. His leaping ability also makes him a lethal cutter and transition scorer, taking very little time to load up and bounce.
Miller is a confident dribbler with a knack for creating space, especially when it comes to his step-back jumper. He’s a shot creator in every sense of the term. Miller can score from all three levels, he demonstrates an ability to operate as a pick-and-roll ball handler and an off-ball scorer. Miller also exhibits very good vision and playmaking ability.
The tallest player on West Philadelphia’s roster, defensively Miller was matched up against 6’9” 240 sophomore center Tristen Guillouette. He did an outstanding job defending the post. He was able to hold his position and keep Guillouette off the boards Offensively, Miller played point guard for the Speedboys. He did an excellent job controlling the pace of the game and keeping his teammates involved.
The West Philadelphia Boys Basketball Program has done an outstanding job developing Miller. He consistently makes the correct basketball play. Low-mid D1s, PSAC and CIAA schools need to make their way to West Philly’s gym as soon as possible.
Deyishon Miller is a solid college basketball prospect. Now that the Speedboys have started the season with 2 convincing wins against solid Catholic League teams and he’s posting “Oscar stats”, people will start to take notice.
Again… I apologize for not knowing Deyishon Miller until today… Now that I know him, so will every low to mid D1 and D2 coach in my rolodex.
I’ve never attended the Mummers parade in my life… Nor, have I attended a Flyers game… Union soccer? Drive by the stadium in Chester 5 times a week, have never ventured inside.
WWE wrasslin’? That’s not my thing… But, I must admit, about thirty years ago one of my youngins wanted to see Razor Ramone sooooo bad, I broke down and bought us some tickets. While my youngbuck absolutely lost his mind, that evening confirmed what I strongly suspected. I just cannot do scripted sports (other than some NBA playoff games).
NASCAR? Naaah… I’ll pass.
In my forties, I discovered I love golf. Truth be told, I like the game… I LOVE that golf offers the perfect opportunity to talk shit to opponents for 4 hours without risking a torn achilles tendon or ACL tear.
Tennis? I absolutely loved watching tennis when Serena Williams was 20-30 years old. For some reason, my interest has waned lately.
Now… Since I can remember, I’ve been passionate about basketball. I’ve loved it ever since I sat in a theater at the age of ten and a young Lawrence Fishburne screamed “they killed Cornbread… they killed Cornbread… they killed Cornbread” over and over and over again for what seemed like an hour. Jamaal Wilkes (Cornbread) became my favorite player until Magic Johnson knocked off Larry Bird in the NCAA Championship game in 1979.
I’ve been to hundreds of basketball games over the years since then. NBA games, G-League games, semi-pro games, NCAA Final Four games, high major college games, small college games, high school games, AAU/grassroots games… every type of game you can imagine.
Nothing… and I mean nothing is like a game between my beloved alma mater Lincoln University and our long-standing rival Cheyney University. But this game ain’t for everybody.
If you eat potato salad and you don’t know who made it… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…
If you prefer pumpkin pie over sweet potato pie… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…
If you think Eminem is better than Biggie, Nas or Jay-Z… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…
If you never dropped your candy on the ground, retrieved it and kissed it up to God… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…
If you never played “catch a girl, get a girl”… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…
If none of your cousins sell weed… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…
On Wednesday, December 7, 2021, this magnificent rivalry resumed at Cope Hall on Cheyney’s beautiful campus nestled on the border between Delaware and Chester counties. A raucous sell out crowd filled the brightly lit sauna… I mean gymnasium.
The thermostat had to be set to “broil”… Those familiar with some of the older HBCU facilities across the country understand that the heat is just like the heat in old public housing projects. It’s either off and bitter cold or on and sweltering. There’s no adjusting temperature… No fine tuning…
In the old projects, if you want the temperature to get below a 100 degrees? Open a window. You want it below 90 degrees? Open 2 windows.
And so it was at Cope Hall…
Once it became overpowering, they opened the doors in the rear of the gym for some relief. Within seconds, no fewer than 50 young Cheyney “scholars” rushed in and immediately sat in the bleachers blending seamlessly into the sell out crowd.
I must admit, I was taken aback by their lack manners. The overpowering aroma of high grade marijuana was unmistakable. Ignorant ass Cheyney kids…
They didn’t even offer to let the Ol’ Head hit the blunt!
Keeping it real… The game itself was not very competitive. Since joining the CIAA conference, Lincoln has devoted significant resources to the basketball program. Meanwhile Cheyney, struggling financially, has de-emphasized sports. Cheyney no longer competes in the PSAC and they have disbanded their football program.
They are trying to revive the basketball program. They’ve made a GREAT Head Coaching hire. Simon Gratz and University of Maryland Legend Terrell Stokes will eventually have the Wolves back on top.
However, he just got there. He wasn’t brought on board until October… He had to recruit this year’s team in the cafeteria… That’s not normally where you find top notch college basketball talent.
Eventually, HBCU’s will stop handcuffing their new coaches and get them situated in the spring. The few dollars saved by not paying a coach for a couple months are not worth aggravation of falling woefully behind in recruiting… But that’s a matter for another time.
Back to the game… Entering the game, Lincoln had whupped dat ass 9 consecutive times… The Lions were going for 10 straight… Mission accomplished!
The margin on this night was 28 points.
Nonetheless, despite the lopsided nature of recent contests, the Lincoln/Cheyney game remains a must see event for those that understand and appreciate HBCU culture. It’s special… At halftime, the cheerleaders had a ferocious battle in the middle of the court. Anticipating the confrontation, the crowd spilled on the playing surface. One overly optimistic Cheyney athletic department employee walked through the crowd asking the students to please stand outside the out of bounds lines.
I watched her ask no fewer than 25 kids to please get of the court… Each one, very politely, said Naaaah…
However, it wasn’t confrontational… To the untrained eye, it may have looked hectic, perhaps evern out of control. But there were armed Cheyney police in the gym at all times… These officers knew each and every one of their Cheyney students… There are only about 650 enrolled in the school. The officers knew the kids were “technically” wrong and violating protocol… The also knew both sets of cheerleaders were “killing that shit.” They were not about to be party poopers.
Why escalate the situation? One (white) cop standing next to me looked at the unfolding events and said “it’s good to see these kids having so much fun.”
He was absolutely correct… That was GREAT policing! Once the teams emerged from the locker rooms, the crowd dissipated from the floor and the players proceeded to warm up in preparation for the second half. At any other gymnasium in the Greater Philadelphia Region, security and the police would have immediately utilized force to clear the floor… and rightfully so.
But the people in Cope Hall that night don’t eat everybody’s potato salad. The Cheyney police know that…
As the game drew to a close, some of the Cheyney students – the same ones that broached the rear entrance smelling like that new fragrance “eau de purple haze” – grew increasingly frustrated and restless. With less than a minute on the clock and the Wolves down 28 they started chanting “Fuck LU… Fuck LU… Fuck LU… Fuck LU.”
I loved it…
I love Cheyney… I love when Lincoln whups dat Cheyney ass! Once that mission is accomplished, I become a Cheyney fan.
I want Cheyney to go 28-1 every year. The one loss must be… has to be… gotta be to Lincoln.
Cuz Lincoln is better than Cheyney in every way… For example, Lincoln kids would’ve let the Ol’ Head hit the blunt… But Cheyney is better than every other school in America.
I know it’s confusing. I know it’s convoluted.
You ain’t supposed to understand wit yo pumpkin pie eatin’ ass…