From North Philly to Strong Island: The Emergence of Ameen Tanksley

On the low?
Yeah, the only way to blow
You let your shit bubble quietly
And then you blow

Jay-Z, Coming of Age

Ameen1Ameen Tanksley, Hofstra University

Sometimes everything just comes together… Sometimes the situation is just right… Your teammates believe in you… Your coach has confidence in you… The school community embraces you… Your stroke is tight… Sometimes… Sometimes, the timing is just right… When it happens, it can seem magical…

Welcome to Hempstead, Long Island. Here, about 25 miles east of NYC two of Philly finest are putting together a phenomenal season in the 5,023-seat David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex. Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley have emerged as, perhaps, the most lethal tandem at the mid-major level. In their first season at Hofstra, they have taken the Island by storm.

Green’s production comes as no surprise. He is the known.  He’s been killin ’em… We all know what to expect from Juan’ya.  Three years ago, he exploded on the collegiate hoops scene averaging 17.7 ppg and 4.5 apg as highly decorated frosh for the Niagra Purple Eagles. Green followed up with a strong sophomore campaign in which he averaged 16.5 and 4.9. In just two seasons, Juan’Ya dropped an astounding 1131 points on Niagara opponents.

Juanya1

Juan’ya Green, Hofstra

He was well on his way to the finest career in Niagra’s illustrious history since the legendary Calvin Murphy was named a three-time All-American in the late 1960s.

Tanksley, on the other hand, was a solid but not spectacular player. As a freshman he contributed 8.7 ppg and snared 5.9 rpg. As a sophomore he improved his output and scored 11.3 ppg while still grabbing 6.0 rpg. He was a good player. But he was overshadowed by Green and Antoine Mason who averaged 18.7 ppg that year as the Purple Eagles went 19-14 and won the MAAC Regular season championship.

In April of their sophomore year, Tanksley and Green learned that their coach, Joe Mihalich was taking the job at Hofstra University. Coming off a season where they had experienced a great deal of success, Niagra was expected to be even better going forward. Niagara’s top five scorers were all underclassmen expected to return next season. Green and Tanksley would be leaders of an established group.

mihalichJoe Mihalich, Head Coach, Hofstra University Basketball

But, Coach Mihalich was out… The questions were obvious…  The answers were not… What should the Philly boys do? Should they stay with the reigning regular season champs? Should they stay with a program loaded with experienced and highly productive players?

Or… Should they roll the dice?  Should they take a take a chance? Do they leave the security and comfort they established in the Niagara program for the uncertainty surrounding Hofstra?

Hofstra was flailing and floundering… They had just finished in 10th place out of 11 teams and hadn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament since 2001. While Niagra was winning the regular season championship, Hofstra was going a dismal 7-25 during a season in which four players were arrested on charges related to several on-campus burglaries. When Mihalich arrived, there were only seven players on the roster, and none averaged more than 6.8 points per game.

The Philly boys, perhaps predictably, decided to roll out with their Philly coach. Just as Mihalich demonstrated his loyalty while serving as an assistant at LaSalle University for 17 years (1981-1998), his Philly recruit displayed a tremendous amount of loyalty and followed him Long Island. They haven’t looked back.

 

tanksley and greenTanksley and Green

After sitting out a year following their transfer, the Philly boys are having a huge impact at Hofstra. Green has wasted no time establishing himself as a premier CAA guard. That is no small accomplishment. He is averaging 17.6 ppg, 6.8 apg and 5.1 rpg. While these numbers are outstanding, they are not surprising. He’s not new to this… Green came in the collegiate door blazing straight from his prom. For those that have followed his development, nothing less than 17, 5 and 5 every night is acceptable from Mr. Green.  He is well on his way to continuing the recent lineage of outstanding guard play in the CAA.  He appears to he heir to Eric Maynor (VCU), Charles Jenkins (Hofstra), Devon Saddler (Delaware) and Franz Massanet (Drexel).

However, the biggest surprise in the CAA this season has been the emergence of Tanksley as a viable POY candidate. Through his first 12 games with Hofstra Tanksley has averaged a league leading 19.8 ppg. After two solid seasons at Niagra, he has become a go to guy in Hempstead. Reaching double figure is every game, Tanksley exploded for 32 against LIU-Brooklyn and 30 in a contest with Norfolk State. He had been over 20 on four other occasions. Even more impressive than his production has been his efficiency.

Tanskley is shooting 56.6% from the field and an amazing 53.7% from the 3-point line. After shooting only 33.3% on 3-pointers at Niagra, he has transformed himself into a deadly long-range specialist. Tanksley attributes his improvement to good old fashioned hard work.

“One of my coaches, Mike Farelly stayed on me… he constantly worked with me in the gym. We shot thousands of shot every day. He really helped me understand the mechanics of being a good shooter. We focused on eliminating wasted motion and developing a reliable and repeatable stroke. My confidence is really high as a result.”

Things really couldn’t be better for Tanksley. He’s very comfortable with the choices he has made. “A lot of Philly kids fall for the hype of playing high-major college ball. The most important thing for me was playing right away and getting better. My high school coach, Andre Noble, really helped me understand the importance of trust. I trust coach Mihalich and Coach Farelly.”

Imhotep wins fourth Public League title with thrilling 67-66 victory over VauxAndre Noble, Head Coach, Imhotep Charter High School

He credits Noble for helping him discern what’s really important. “After talking to Brother Andre, I was able to look in the mirror and be honest with myself. I was able to ask myself do you want to play high-major because everybody around me wants me to go high major. Once, I realized which questions were the most important, Coach Mihalich gave me all the best answers.”

A strong B student, majoring in Linguistics and Business, Tanksley is enjoying every minute of his stay on Long Island. “As a linguistics major, I really enjoy the fact that there are more media outlets in New York City. I have met all kinds of people since I’ve been here. I even spent some time in the Hamptons this past summer. I love Hofstra!”

On the court, Tanksley credits his success this season to Green. “The chemistry was always there. But at Niagara we also had Mason and I had to find my opportunities. This year, Juan’Ya looks for me… He finds me and he gets me the ball in spots where I can finish. He’s an incredible player… he makes me better.”

More Philly kids should take Tanksley’s advise and look in the mirror and be honest with themselves…

If not Us? Who?

“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
John, Chapter 8, Verse 7

A major comeback up from my minor setback
They still don’t know we living just thinking about the get back
The get back
I crack a smile knowing God has a day for me
Until that day comes I slay these niggas faithfully
The get back

Fabolous, “The Get Back”

I am a sinner.

I am a certified, bonafide and confirmed sinner. At 15, I was an adjudicated delinquent. At 16, I was the father of a baby born out of wedlock. In college, I smoked marijuana daily. Indeed, one day the Dean came to my room to confront us about playing our music too loudly. Upon entering, he almost choked on the billows of fine smoke wafting through the air.  I’m sure he got a contact…

A few months later, the same Dean uncovered our “fundraising” efforts which included selling all you could drink “get blast” passes to our fellow students for the low price of $10.00. He became aware of our activities after a few of our “pass holders” threw one of our classmates through a plate glass window in the lobby of our dorm.

The Dean didn’t throw us away… He didn’t call the police… He dealt with us personally… We had to deal with him and he held us accountable to him… I thank God for Dean Burroughs…

I never forget that I along with every one of my college friends exercised incredibly poor judgement during that 18 to 22 year old period.

I’ll never forget entering the communal bathroom to brush my teeth and discovering three of my homies from Darby Township washing their genitals in the sink. C’mon man!! What the fuck? Why y’all doing that shit?

“Yo Grec… we running a train on this white girl down the hall… she lettin erry body hit it…”

I looked down the hall and there were at least 10-12 guys waiting patiently in line for their opportunity to knock off this drug addled, drunk, confused and lost young woman… Unbeknownst to them, my friends were all a police statement away from felony rape charges and maybe 7-14 upstate…

This is the perspective from which I view young men that experience public “falls” today.

“There but for the grace of God go I”

If not us? Who? Who will be there to encourage our young men? Who will stand up and applaud there efforts to do better?

Fall from Grace-page-0Savon Goodman, Arizona State

On December 20, 2014, Savon Goodman posted 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Lehigh. He shot 9-11 from the field and even left 5 points on the floor by shooting only 6-11 from the free throw line. Three days later against Detroit, Savon shot 8-12 from the field and improved his foul shooting by going 6-8 from the charity stripe while securing 11 rebounds on his way to 22 points.

Trayvon ReedTrayvon Reed, Auburn

On December 17, 2014 Trayvon Reed grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in 12 minutes as Auburn defeated Winthrop. Three days later he grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked 5 shots as Auburn defeated East power Xavier.

BrandonBrandon Austin, Northwest Florida State

Brandon Austin has averaged 16.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.2 apg for Northwest Florida State College. Please note that while he has started every one of the the 14 contested for the undefeated Raiders, he is averaging ONLY 19.8 minutes per contest. He is playing less than half a game because his squad has been decimating opponents by an average score of 92 – 59.

These young men are on their last opportunities… They have felt the pain and embarrassment associated with publicly disappointing your mother, father and grandparents… They have watched as the sports media and the general public condemned them as “thugs” and declared them unworthy of future opportunities…

Still…

They got up and moved forward…

Still…

They searched for someone to give them another chance, another shot to prove that they could be contributing members of learning communities and integral parts of basketball programs…

These young men are my little brothers… I was there when it was “ALL GOOD”… I was there when they were declared top 50 players…. I was there when scores of coaches called, texted, tweeted and direct messaged all day, every day, day after day after day…

I was also there when the police came… I was there when they were pariahs… I listened when they wondered if it was all over…

I provided references, honest references for coaches afraid to take a chance on them…

I truly respect Herb Sendek (ASU), Bruce Pearl (Auburn) and Steve DeMeo (NWFS) for looking past the headlines and reaching out to the young men when they needed a strong hand to lift them up.

I love these guys… Like me, they fucked up “BIG TIME” while in college…

I applaud their efforts to revitalize their academic and athletic careers.

Those of you who are without sin, feel free to cast stones.

The rest of you, I ask that you support and encourage the efforts of OUR young men to stay on the straight and narrow path to success on and off the court.

 

 

 

PA, NJ and DE College Hoops Power Rankings

As of 12/23/2014 at 4:43 pm…PA, NJ, DE College Hoops Power Rankings-page-0

Three things I know for sure…

1. Villanova is the best team;

2. DJay Newbill is the best player;

3. Shep Garner is the best rookie….

Let’s get the league games started!!

 

 

 

 

spengine.com Mid-Season Philly College Hoops Awards

DJ NewbillDJ Newbill, Penn State University

DJ Newbill, Mid-Season MVP
In the Spring of 2010, DJ Newbill committed to play for Buzz Williams at Marquette. While he flew under the radar as far as national recruit rankings were concerned, those who followed Philly hoops knew exactly how good he was. The “King of North Philly” while leading Strawberry Mansion HS to state prominence, Newbill couldn’t have been happier. Marquette was his dream school and he eagerly anticipated competing in the Big East. The confident young man knew he would make a big impact at the high major level.

Then, at the last minute, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Buzz shitted on Newbill and gave his scholarship to Jamal Wilson who was transferring home from Oregon. Left scrambling, Newbill settled down at Southern Mississippi where he was an All-Freshman performer for the Golden Eagles. However, after one season he yearned to test his mettle at the highest level and reduce the distance between himself and his family in North Philly.

Newbill transferred to Penn State and suited up for the Nitanny Lions in the Big 10 Conference. After two very solid All-Big 10 level seasons, he the leading scorer in the Big 10 at 21.8 ppg, while grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing 3.1 apg. Penn State is at the top of the standings (11-1) in the Big 10 as Conference play is about to begin.

“This is better than I could have ever imagined,” said Newbill. “I am Penn State… I love everything this university represents. I just want to lead the team to a strong season in the Big 10 and a return to the NCAA tournament. Penn State has given me an opportunity to become a leader on and off the court. I am extremely proud to know that I can live the rest of my life as a Penn State alum. Hopefully, we can continue winning and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.”

 

Rondae-Hollis-JeffersonRondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona University

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
One of the best players in America does not start for his team. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leads the 3rd ranked Arizona Wildcats in rebounds (6.5) and blocks (1.0), while ranking second in scoring (11.9), in an average of 25.9 minutes per game off the bench.

In an era of selfish guys that try to “get numbers” every time out, Rondae is a throwback. Hollis-Jefferson does so many things that help his team win basketball games. This tendency was highly regarded in high school and has continued at the high major level. Arizona has continuously resided in the top5 since Rondae’s arrival.

Rondae consistently provides tremendous levels of energy on both ends of the floor, hustling non-stop for loose balls and shutting down the opponents best player in position 1-4.

 

North Carolina State v SyracuseRakeem Christmas, Syracuse University

Rakeem Christmas
The expectations were huge. Rakeem Christmas was a Mcdonald’s All-American four years ago. Many thought he had the potential to go to the NBA after one or two college seasons. His career at Syracuse hasn’t played out the way many prognosticators predicted. Christmas barely played as a freshman. While others may have contemplated transferring, Christmas decided to stay and find a niche within the Syracuse program. His sophomore and junior seasons were Ok but nothing like the superstar projections many made prior to his Carrier Dome arrival.

This year, the 6’ 9” senior is Syracuse’s leading scorer (16.4). “I knew it was my time. We lost a lot of players last year, and coach needed me to step up,” said Christmas. He has stepped in other areas as well. He leads the Orange in rebounding (8.9) and blocked shots (2.44). “I figured this would be a big year for me, so I put in the work this summer to become a better all-around player.” Always a high percentage shooter, Christmas, shooting 60.4 percent from the field,

012112stjohns16nmJayvaugn Pinkston, Villanova University

Jayvaugn Pinkston
A key performer on the best program in the region, Jayvaughn Pinkston is a very strong athlete with well rounded post skills that allow him to prosper on the interior. A former McDonald’s All-American, Pinkston just makes winning plays for the Wildcats time after time.

His scoring is down (10.5 ppg) compared to last year, when he averaged 14.1 ppg. But he remains the go to guy when Villanova need a bucket in crunch time. More often that not he delivers. Pinkston gets it done with b guts, determination and extra-helpings of heart. He has a keen ability to sense when he teammates need him to deliver difference making plays. When he is overmatched by his opponents size and athleticism, he simply goes right through them.

Photographer: Zack Lane, Hofstra University PhotographerAmeen Tanksley, Hofstra University

Ameen Tanksley
Quietly, Ameen Tanksley has emerged as one of the better college players from the Greater Philadelphia Region. He is leading Hofstra is scoring (18.3 ppg) while also snaring 6.0 rpg. After sitting out a year Against a North Carolina State team that had 14,264 in attendance at PNC Arena, Tanksley notched 13 points and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes.

Tanksley has been in double figures every game this season. He has exceeded 20 points in 4 of the last six outings, including 30 points in a win against Norfolk State. He is shooting 55% from the field and an incredible 56% from the 3 point line. At 7-3, Hofstra is at the top of the Colonial Athletic Association standings.

aaron-walton-moss
Aaron Walton-Moss, 6th Man
Those who understand and appreciate basketball in the region know that Aaron Walton-Moss is a really, really good player. Last season’s national Division III Player of the Year, Walton-Moss is off to another great start. He is averaging 20.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 7.9 apg.

He creates his own shots, and shots for others and rebounds the ball. He is one of the best college basketball players in the region at any level.

Spenginelogo

The Best of the Rest rysheedjordanRysheed Jordan, St. John’s University, 14.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.1 apg

 

JabrilTrawickJabril Trawick, Georgetown University, 7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 apg

BembryDeAndre Bembery, St. Joseph’s University, 14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 3.0 apg

DamianLee

Damion Lee, Drexel University, 19.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg

Ky Howard

Ky Howard, NJIT, 13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 3.8 apg

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Last Vestige of Explicit Racism in Collegiate Sports: Message Board Bigots

Villanova Fan: These idiots would loot and burn sh!t up every day of the week if they could get away with it.  Acting out of revenge for the shooting lets them do it for now…. 
11/25/2014

Villanova Fan: they have no pride in their neighborhoods.  that is why inner cities look like they do.  if they cared about Ferguson they would have protested peacefully and tried to honor the life of the dead.   NAH lets burn our own city to the ground, that will solve everything.
11/25/2014

Villanova Fan: [Officer Darren] Wilson should get a medal. Who knows how many future murders he prevented.
11/27/2014

Temple Fan: North Philly should drop down on their knees and thank God every day for temple. without temple, North Philly would look like it does now west of 18th to 30th and east of 10th to the EL.”
10/27/2014

Temple Fan: [Temple University] should have moved out of the city years ago. Can’t educate a bunch of dumbasses.
10/27/2014

Temple Fan: I am originally from South Philly. Over the last 15 years the blacks forced me out. Guess we are even.
10/27/2014

Alabama Fan: I notice they name Pittsburgh as a prospective team” he wrote. “Pittsburgh has FOUR fine negro players. Other eastern teams have negro players. SO if anything did come-in the way of an invitation we want to be sure to insist that no negroes be allowed in the game. 11/17/1952

From the moment Europeans landed on the the North American continent in the early 1600’s, a majority of them expressed profound and deep-seated hatred of Black people.  Over the next 350 years, it was socially acceptable, politically expedient and financially beneficial to express, and act upon, white supremacist and racist sentiments in virtually every area of American life.  However, since the late 1960s and early 1970s overt racism has been steadily displaced by more subtly racialized narratives. This process is clearly observable in realm of collegiate and professional sports. In Philadelphia, college sports message boards have emerged as the last refuge for openly racist scoundrels.

Things have gotten better over the past 6o years or so… That fact is undeniable… White supremacist racists used to stand on front porches, in center square, on the steps of City Hall and courtyards of State Houses with megaphones in hand and, from the top of their lungs, call for the exclusion and repression of Black student-athletes.

Marvin_Griffin_Photo

Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin

On December 1, 1955 Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin threw down the gauntlet when he declared,  “The South stands at Armageddon. The battle is joined. We cannot make the slightest concession to the enemy in this dark and lamentable hour of struggle. … One break in the dike and the relentless seas will rush in and destroy us.”  Georgia’s governor, a self-avowed white supremacist, proposed to “forbid the athletic teams of the university system of Georgia from participating in games against any teams with Negro players or even playing in any stadium where unsegregated audiences breathe the same air.”   Overt, explicitly racist sentiments and formal exclusion of Blacks from competition were rooted in prevailing notions of white supremacy and commonplace within collegiate sports from the turn of the century through the 1960s.

Of course, the north did not escape the scourge of race-based segregation on the courts and fields across college campuses.  Philadelphia is a college hoops town. You are literally born into it. Just as the sons of the Confederacy are born into lifelong SEC football allegiances. In the City of Brotherly Love, college football, despite the valiant and long-standing efforts of Temple, Villanova and Penn, just doesn’t resonate. We just don’t care if these programs qualify for the Pat’s Cheesesteak or the Dwight’s Southern Barbecue Bowl games. Those with a passion for college football tend to adopt Penn State, Notre Dame or some other BCS proxy.  For the most part, Philly prefers it’s football on Sundays, after several rounds of libations and we’d much rather watch guys that are paid millions collide headfirst into one another on the gridiron.

Philadelphia_Big_5_logoBig 5 Hoops, on the other hand, is always a major focal point for Philly sports fans. Indeed, many local hoop heads have begrudgingly accepted Drexel, led by Southwest Philly’s Bruiser Flint, as a member of what is now referred to the City 6.  Over the past 60 years, Philadelphia’s Big 5, featuring LaSalle, Penn, Temple, Villanova and St. Joseph’s, has evolved into a highly competitive tradition unique to Philadelphia. Every year, for the past sixty years these schools have laced ‘em up and went toe to toe in hotly contested battles for pride and local bragging rights.

Officially introduced to the world on November 23, 1954, the Big 5 was, from the outset, deeply immersed in prevailing notions of white supremacy and the resulting racial discrimination was a prominent stain on Philadelphia’s college basketball culture. Nonetheless, it could have been much, much worse.  It wasn’t like Alabama, Mississippi or Johannesburg.

At the dawn of the Big 5, Apartheid-like Jim Crow segregation reigned supreme across the American South. However, in the Northern and Western parts of the country there were a few limited opportunities for Blacks at some major predominantly white colleges and universities. At the professional level, African-American athletes were just beginning to gain access in the major sports. Overall, 167 years after the Founding Fathers set out “to form a more perfect union” White supremacy based racial discrimination was very real.

LaSalle 1954 Champs-page-0LaSalle University, 1954 NCAA Champions

The Philadelphia Big 5, like most U.S. institutions and organizations privileged white people over African-Americans, peoples from the Americas, Asia and the Arab world. Under the prevailing white supremacist system, white privilege and racial oppression were two sides of the same coin. This, unfortunately, was the American way.

For some, college basketball resides in realm of recreational activities and is generally considered to be far removed from real world issues and their often ugly consequences.  Nonetheless, Big 5 basketball programs grew in popularity across racial and ethic boundaries in last half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. In some important ways, racial developments within Big 5 programs mirrored the altered rhythms of everyday life as Philadelphia grappled with vexing issues of racial inclusion and pronounced demographic shifts.

LaSalle 1955 NCAA Finalists-page-0LaSalle University, 1955 National Finalist, 1st year of the Big 5

As Philadelphia’s social, racial and political order shifted and changed over time, explicit racism within Big 5 basketball waned.  I have been privileged to gain insight into the racial dynamics of the Philadelphia basketball community from those who stood on the front line.  Every November through March from 1979 til 1983, I spent at least 2-2.5 hours, six days a week, in the gym with Big 5 Hall of Fame member Alonzo Lewis.  Pictured above, Alonzo was the only Black man on some of great LaSalle teams of the mid to late 1950s.  He was one of the first Blacks to play in the Big 5.  Mr. Lewis was my teacher, my coach and, became after graduation, my friend.

Unlike Philadelphia schoolboy legends, John Chaney and Claude Gross, who came along 3 and 4 years prior to him, Lewis was given an opportunity attend and play at one of the local white colleges.  Chaney and Gross, despite the fact that both were named MVP of the Public league in 1951 and 1952, respectively, didn’t get a sniff from the Philly schools.  They were victims of Affirmative Action and rigidly enforced racial quotas.  Philadelphia college programs were either all-white or had maybe one Black player.  Talented players like Chaney and Gross were routinely passed over in favor of lesser white players.  Like the old American Express tagline, “Membership has its privileges.”   Gross, along with the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, was an important part of the first all-Black YMCA national championship team in 1953 (pictured below).

Wilt Claude  The 1953 National YMCA Championship Team from Philadelphia

Years of listening, listening, listening and a little discussion with Lewis and Gross, has helped shape my understanding of the role of sport in Philadelphia’s racial relations.  They provided two distinct perspectives, one “made it” to college and the other a victim of staunchly enforced racial quotas (90-100% white males).  Form them, I learned that athletic achievement has very real social consequences.  For a Black man, status as a star athlete provides a certain level of respect to which most Blacks, and other suppressed minority groups, aspired.  Black athletes are considered, more or less, full citizens.  This understanding of citizenship helps explain why so many Black parents continue to have faith in the transformative possibilities of athletics, despite numerous setbacks over the years.  Through basketball, Black boys can become somebody.

For the past three or four decades watching increasingly integrated Philadelphia college basketball… in reading the accounts of Dick Weiss, Bill Lyon, Dick Jerardi and the under-appreciated Donald Hunt about the games… and in discussing the performances of Gola, Rodgers, Kennedy, Anderson, Goukas, Durrett, Brooks, Simmons, Macon, Nelson, Lowry, Galloway and Wyatt afterward, Philly sports fan drew tremendous entertainment value from Big 5 competition.

Of even more significance is the fact that Philly sports fans of all races and ethnic backgrounds have also used local college basketball as a shared cultural language to help them understand their world.

This was not always the case.

Temple 1938 NIT Champs-page-0Temple University, 1938 NIT Champions

Over time, Philadelphia’s Big 5 has been an agent for positive social change.  Over time,  playing field has become fairer. . . the Big 5 has helped break down social divisions and boundaries.

Over the past six decades things have changed considerably.  As you can see on the above picture, Temple has gone from an all-white basketball program to virtually all-black.

Temple Elite 8 Teams-page-0Over the past half century, while the rosters of college football and basketball programs experienced profound demographic shifts, the frequency and intensity of overt racism in most public spaces has decreased significantly.

Some shit you just can’t say publicly anymore.  Despite the hue and cry from critics of political correctness, that’s a good thing.  White supremacy needed to be reigned in.

In 1958, defeated Alabama gubernatorial candidate said, “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”  Four years later, Wallace was sworn into office while standing on a gold star marking the spot where, a century earlier, Jefferson Davis took his oath as  president of the pro-slavery Confederate States of America.  During his inaugural address, Wallace proclaimed the following:

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Governor Wallace proved to be an extremely astute observer of white American voters during this period.  Keeping his promise to “never be outniggered again”, he swept into office with 96% of the vote in the 1962 general election.

Since then, things have changed considerably. Retribution for openly racist public statement is swift and harsh.  This is especially the case in the world of college and professional football and basketball where the overwhelming majority of participants are Black men.

A litany of cases have established a very clear precedent.  Keep that white supremacist racist shit to yourself.  The general public doesn’t want to hear or read it.

Howard-CosellHoward Cosell

In 1983, legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell was dismissed from Monday Night Football for  referring to Black players as “monkeys”.  Referring to Redskins receiver, Alvin Garrett, Cossell said “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?” He used also used the same monkey allusion when he said “Look at that monkey go,” with respect to the Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk.

al-campanisAl Campanis

In April 1987, Dodgers executive Al Campanis was fired for telling Ted Koppel that he thought blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager” in baseball and articulating doubts as to whether blacks even desired management positions in the sport.

jimmy-the-greek

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder

Eight months later on January 16, 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired by CBS for publicly stating that Blacks were naturally superior athletes, at least in part, because they had been bred to produce strong children during slavery:

“The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade… the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid …”

Marge SchottMarge Schott

In November 1992, Charles “Cal” Levy, a former marketing director for the Reds, stated under oath that he’d heard then Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott refer to then-Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker as “million-dollar niggers.”  Schott scknowledged  the “million dollar niggers” comment and said she was joking.  Around the same time she stated that she felt that Adolf Hitler was initially good for Germany and indicated that she did not understand how the slur “Jap” could be offensive.

During the same season, a former executive assistant with the Oakland A’s, Sharon Jones, said she heard Schott state: “I would never hire another nigger. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger,” before the start of an owners’ conference call.  On February 3, 1993, she was fined $250,000 and banned from day-to-day operations of the Reds for the 1993 season. Donald SterlingDonald Sterling

More recently, in April 2014, then Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after private recordings of him making racist comments were made public.  Sterling was forced to sell the franchise after recording were made public in which he stated to his girlfriend,  “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games”.

danny-ferry1Danny Ferry

In September 2014, it came to light that Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry described Luol Deng in the following manner: “He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry  implied that all persons of African decent are two-faced liars and cheats. He was placed on an indefinite leave of absence by the Hawk organization.

Clearly, social norms have emerged whereby it is inappropriate to make explicitly racist statements within sports centered contexts.  The aforementioned racist statements and the swift severe  consequences are indicative of informal understandings that have emerged to govern individuals’ behavior within the world of sports.

These postings of these “fans” run counter to the progress Philadelphia’s colleges and universities have made in the area of inclusion and diversity, especially in athletics.  Jay Wright, Fran Dunphy, Phil Martelli, John Giannini, Jerome Allen and Bruiser Flint run programs that are beyond reproach in this regard.  Each program prominently features Black players on a regular basis.  These young men are often touted as the face of the Athletic programs and in some cases become representatives of the institution as a whole.

The overwhelming majority of fans support and embrace the players as Owls, Explorers, Hawks, Quakers, Wildcats and Dragons. Nonetheless, there remain a few holdovers from a much darker earlier time in American history.  For the pointed white hood is no longer needed to preserve anonymity.  The most vile posters use pseudonyms to  protect their anonymity.

 So what can be done?

The prominence of racist discourse on Temple and Villanova fan message boards suggests that this is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the athletic departments need to engage with football and basketball supporters and work with them to reduce an anachronistic anti-other that retains a  place in the everyday discourse for some of the alums and supporters. Cultivating a respectful and tolerant attitude toward Blacks and Black communities will likely present a challenge when confronted by subgroups of racist white male sports fans that continue to find outlets to express racist discourse overtly and covertly.

Some might feel that such an approach is an encroachment upon the free speech of racists.  So what, let them continue their mean spirited divisive rants against Black athletes and Black communities.  What’s the worse thing that could happen?

Well… we don’t have to imagine. We can just take a quick stroll through the not-to-distant past….

patrick-ewingPatrick Ewing, Georgetown

In January 1983 at the Palestra, Villanova fans held up several similar signs.  One bedsheet read “[Patrick] Ewing Is An Ape.”  One Villanova fan wore a t-shirt that read, “Ewing Kant Read Dis.”  While Ewing jogged on the court for pregame introductions, another Villanova fan threw a banana peel on the court.  That’s where this kinda shit ends up.  It needs to cease.

How should Black collegiate and professional athletes respond to racial taunts and epithets?

I’m not saying they should go all Ron Artest on ’em… But, I would understand. 

artest

So, when did you fall in love with the Big 5? Alton McCoullough to Temple, 1978!!

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Guy Rodgers (center), Naismith Hall of Famer

For me it was 1978.  College wasn’t the norm around my way.  I grew up in the southern section of Darby Township, PA a small rigidly segregated town bordering Southwest Philadelphia, about 2 miles from the Philadelphia Airport.  In the mid to to late 1970s, the southern end of Darby Township consisted of a cemetery, three traffic lights, Eddie’s Hot Dog stand, about 7 or 8 churches, 2 bars and a populations  of around 3,000 sports crazed Black people. Demographically similar to nearby Philadelphia and Chester, PA with an Apartheid-like political and social structure straight out 1960‘s small-town Mississippi, Darby Township was a wonderful place to grow up if you enjoyed sports. For most, however, the athletic journey ended with high school.

Looking back, it seems we punished opponents on fields and courts, at least in part, because we exercised very little political, economic and social power in Delaware County.  The Northern, predominantly white, section of Darby Township held, and continues to hold, political power through a permanent 3 (white) -2 (Black) representative structure on the Township Commission.  The political deck was and is stacked against Blacks in the southern end of Darby Township.  However, within the athletic realm, more or less, the playing field was fair.

In September 1977, I was 12 and like virtually every one of the other 200-225 boys in Darby Township Junior-Senior High School, I wanted to play for one of the Darby Township Eagles varsity squads. That was the long-term goal.  There wasn’t much else to do other than march with drill teams or go to bible study.  Being rhythmically challenged and a certified sinner, I chose basketball.  This was before the advent of personal computers and home video games. There was no cable television. Cell phones were something on the Jetson’s cartoon. Crack cocaine had yet to be invented and disseminated within poor and working class Black communities. There was no AAU circuit.  No programs sponsored by sneaker companies.  It was truly a different and far less complicated time.

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Jim Williams, Led Temple in scoring and rebounding from 1963-66

For most boys, there was but one outlet.  In Darby Township you went to school and after school you went to practice. Then, when you came home, you played some more.  Finally… when the games came around, you tried to punish the opposition. That’s all I knew.  I didn’t realize that Darby Township, along with Chester and Darby-Colwyn were considered to be on the lower-end of the county’s socio-economic scale.  I just knew when the horn blew, Darby Township came to play.  Expectations were high and justifiably so.

In 1975, when I was 10 Darby Township won the State Class A Basketball title. Two years later in 1977, an undefeated Darby Township squad was knocked out of the PIAA playoffs by eventual state champion Elk Lake. That spring, DTHS finished second in the PIAA small-school track championship.

In the fall of 1977, I entered the Darby Township Jr-Sr High School. I was truly blessed.  This was the Golden Age of Darby Township Athletics. A period when Darby Township produced some of the greatest scholastic teams and individual performances in Delaware County history.  This was time when the dream of college became a reality for me and so many of my teammates and classmates.

CHANEY ALLEN ROBINSON

John Chaney

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the building was Cardall Baskerville. While the rest of the nation beyond Darby Township focused on Walter Payton, Franco Harris and Tony Dorsett, Baskerville was my football hero. In my mind, he was the greatest running back on the planet. He averaged 6.9 yards every time he toted the rock. You had to see it in person… He would run through a lineman and linebackers like they made of goose feathers and popsicle sticks. Once beyond the line of scrimmage, he would cut sharply, start running upright, change gears and leave defenders smelling fumes for huge chunks of yardage.  Damn… He was good!

How good was Cardall? Darby Township’s coach, Alonzo Covert, said at the time, “He has everything a coach could ask for in a running back.” Covert coached the Eagles to the school’s first undefeated, untied season that year.  Baskerville’s exploits were recognized throughout the area.  The Philadelphia Eagles Alumni Association named Baskerville Delaware County’s Player of the Year. On December 18, 1977 during halftime of the Eagles vs. Jets game at Veterans’ Stadium Baskerville was introduced to 56,000 fans.  In my 12 year old mind, this was huge… I thought the whole world knew about Cardall.

Every day, I would be in awe just watching him walk through the halls.  The future seemed so secure.  Surely he would go to college and then off to the NFL. Shit… I knew he would win the Heisman like Bonner’s John Cappelletti and go on to NFL glory. He was the best in Darby Township, that meant he had to be better than a guy from Bonner.  There were no naysayers… There was no doubt that he was good enough… “This is just the beginning of what Delaware County is going to hear about Cardall Baskerville,” said Covert. “I have received many inquiries about him from colleges that play major college football. They always ask if he can be a Class A college player. I tell them he can be a Class A-plus player. I believe that he could play for Nebraska or Oklahoma or Southern Cal and I’m talking about next year.” You would hear whispers that Syracuse and Penn State were in the school to see him… Man, I was impressed.

Unfortunately, his football career ended at Darby Township High School. Like so many extremely gifted, record setting, young Black Darby Township athletes, Baskerville did not qualify academically to play collegiate sports. He never played beyond scholastic level.  To this day everyone that saw him play remains convinced that the nation was cheated because Cardall didn’t get to keep toting that rock at the collegiate level.  His life would end tragically when he committed suicide a few years later.  It didn’t make sense… How could he be that good and NOT go to college?

Marck Macon

Mark Macon

That really shook me up. How could the best player on the best team in the area not go to college. I tried unsuccessfully to make sense of this situation… I was young, impressionable and did not possess adequate analytical tools… All I knew was… Nobody could stop him. They never lost a game. This didn’t make any sense. Was the system rigged?  I had no understanding of SAT exams and the college admissions process.  It just didn’t seem fair… He was better than everybody.  I felt doomed.  If Cardall couldn’t make it, I had absolutely no shot!

Could anyone actually make it out and play in college out of Darby Township?  At 13, I knew a couple of DTHS alums like Leroy Eldridge (Cheyney St.) and Chris Arnold (Virginia St.) had went on to star at historically Black colleges, but even they were very few and far between.  Moreover those guys graduated in the 60s and were pretty far removed from me… What about the guys I went to school with?  Was college a possibility?

Alton McCoullough and Vince Clark, Baskerville’s extremely talented running mate, would answer those questions for me when they enrolled in Temple University in 78 and 79 respectively.

A key player on the undefeated 1977 Darby Township basketball that lost to Elk Lake in the Final Four, McCoullough led Darby Township to the State Championship game in 1978 where they lost to Father Geibel.

But most importantly, Alton went onto Temple University. At that point in Darby Township, this was a gigantic accomplishment. A kid from Darby Township was playing basketball at the highest collegiate level. While we were all from the “wrong side of the tracks”, “Big Al” was from the “Center.” The Center is a Delaware County Public Housing Development… It’s what some call “the projects.”  At the time, my family was living in another subsidized housing development a few blocks from the Center.

aaron-mckie

Aaron McKie and John Chaney

If “Big Al” could go from the Center to Temple, we all could go to college.  Immediately, I loved Temple.  I spent the next four years buying newspapers just to see the box scores. There was no ESPN, no Comcast Sports, if you wanted to follow college sports you had to exert a little effort.  Big Al went on to have a very solid career at Temple. Over four years (1978-192) he would score 1,051 points and grab 673 rebounds while playing on one NCAA tournament team.

However, his biggest accomplishments, his most important feats did not take place in McGonigle Hall. They took place down the Center court.

In a way, I’m sure he never fully understood, Alton brought Temple University to Darby Township and influenced a generation of young Black boys.  He didn’t bring the bricks and mortar.  He didn’t bring the books.  He brought the “idea” of Temple to Darby Township. Al and his teammates were real live Temple ambassadors in Darby Township.

Every summer, Al would bring Rick Reed, Kevin Broadnax and Neil Robinson to play in the Darby Township Summer League. While Lynn Greer, Sr., Leroy Eldridge and other highly regarded players competed as well, the buzz was most intense when Big Al and the boys from Temple were up next.  I was never disappointed.  It during those moments that I began to grasp the difference between high school and NCAA Division 1 athletics.  Broadnax was the first person I ever saw extend his arm parallel to the court while dunking with enormous force.  He jumped that high.  Robinson was one of the tallest players in the league and one of the better ball-handlers.  This did not make sense to my 13 year old mind.  Rick Reed was just the man.  I remember it like it was last week.  Temple Basketball was part of Darby Township, Darby Township basketball was Temple basketball as long as Al was on the team.

The games were played at the “Center” court.  This court was a “bottle throw” away from the projects. I know this because  my man “Peep-Sight” proved it when he hurled 4 or 5 beer bottles from the projects into the jump circle from the projects during one hot summer night when they wouldn’t let him play.

They simply swept up the glass and kept it moving… Darby Township had it’s share of “issues.”

The college boys from Temple, for me, represented what was possible.  They let me believe I could overcome the whatever issues presented themselves.  They gave me hope.  Al and the other Temple players were incredibly accessible. They spent hours hanging and talking with the younger guys and, of course, made time for the young ladies that gathered on the fringes of the court every night.  Temple, from 1978 to 1982, became Darby Township’s team. One of my friends and teammates, Robert Carter, became so enamored with Rick Reed’s game that he literally adopted the moniker “Rick Dunk” which stuck throughout his own illustrious playing career.

Temple University gave young Black boys in this small community hope.  By adopting Alton and Vince, Temple let us know that we were good enough. Temple wanted us. Temple respected us.

eddie_jones_1994_02_20Eddie Jones

In 1979, Baskerville’s running mate, Vince Clark, would set a state single game rushing record by piling up 438 yards against Yeadon. Clark, like McCoullough the year before, would accept a scholarship to play at Temple. He would go on play two years seasons for the Owls carrying the ball 35 times and gaining 167 yards. That same year Jim McGloughlin from neighboring Collingdale also agreed to play at Temple. St. James’ Donny Dodds would also join the Owls shortly after.

For young kids, Black and White, from the “wrong side of the tracks” Temple University seemed like the only place that would welcome us. In retrospect, once Alton and Vince “made it” to Temple, one could sense a change among young poor Black boys in Darby Township. College was now a very real option. The question was no longer if, but where, would you go.

I fell in love with the Big 5 basketball and Temple University in 1978 when Alton McCoullough enrolled at Temple University. That love was reinforced in 1979 when Vincent Clark moved to North Broad Street.  Until then, I really didn’t know anyone other than my teachers that had attended college. By embracing Alton and then Vince, Temple broadened my horizons.  By bringing Temple basketball to Darby Township every summer, Alton provided a lot of guys with role models, inspiration and a a clear example of what was possible.

Doug Ambler and Rick Pergolini were young guidance counselors at Darby Township during this period. They often cite the period of 78-82 as the Golden Age of Darby Township Athletics. According to them more Black boys from Darby Township went on to college during that era than at any other time in the history of Darby Township. It all started with Big Al going to Temple.

I know that idea of college wasn’t “real” for me until I saw Big Al, Reed, Broadnax and Robinson playing ball down the “Center.” If those guys could make it to Temple, I knew I was smart enough to go to college.

Ten years later, I had fellowship offers from schools like Michigan, Ohio State, California-Davis, Delaware, and Maryland-College Park. They wanted to pay my tuition and pay me to attend their respective graduate programs. Not bad for a kid raised by a single Mom on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Not gifted enough to be a Division 1 athlete, these schools were recruiting me to “study and perform research.”

The idea, the notion, the thought that I could really attend college grew from seeing Alton McCoullough and Vince Clark, my DTHS heroes go on to attend Temple University.

Tyndale_400

Mark Tyndale

Since then, I have followed Temple basketball closely.  I appreciate how Temple continues to provide young poor students and student-athletes an opportunity to improve their life opportunities.

For a quarter century, I watched John Chaney carve out a Hall of Fame coaching career at Temple’s, all the while loudly proclaiming that he was giving opportunity to the less fortunate among us. I bore witness to the example Coach Chaney set by confronting racial discrimination in a most direct and forceful manner. For instance, in January 1989, Coach Chaney emphatically declared, “The NCAA is a racist organization of the highest order… On this day, it instituted a new punishment on black kids who have already been punished because they are poor. Any time the NCAA, which is 90 percent white, considers the youngsters in Division I basketball and football, it discriminates, because 89 percent of the kids are black… I wonder what message they are sending. It’s another hardship for black kids made by white folk.”

That, for me, is Temple University.

Throughout my lifetime, Temple has represented the vanguard for racial equality and opportunity for advancement for Blacks in college sports.

Temple hired an African-American football coach when people were still wondering if we could play the quarterback position. Temple gave Dawn Staley, a product of the Raymond Rosen Housing Development in North Philly and her first opportunity to coach at the collegiate level. Right now, Temple has one of a few major college athletic programs headed by an African-American.

More than any other University in the region, Temple has provided opportunities for young poor and working class Black students and student-athletes.

xmas

Dionte Christmas

It’s hard to understand how Temple alums that came of age during the aforementioned eras allow a handful of alums and Temple sports fans to publicly spew bitter and racist vitriol aimed at the community surrounding Temple and it’s residents.  That’s NOT the Temple way.

Temple featured a Black back court of Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear in the mid-1950s. Jim Williams led Temple in scoring and rebounding in 1963-64, 1964-65, and 1965-66.  John Baum did the same in 1967-68 and 1968-69.  Ollie Johnson starred for the Owls throughout the early 1970s.

In 1978, Temple reached out grabbed a poor Black boy from Darby Township and gave him a chance to perform on the big stage.  As a result, the rest of the town embraced Temple and scores of young Black boys would go on to play sports and graduate from college.  At 13, I old took notice and embraced the dream of attending college and beyond.  Throughout my twenties and thirties, I wholeheartedly embraced everything John Chaney and the Temple basketball program represented.

As I approach 50, it pains me to see some Temple alums adopting perspectives that would have absolutely killed the spirit of that impressionable 13 year old boy.

But what hurts even more is the apparent unwillingness of the majority of Temple alums to confront racist, bigoted and homophobic statements in a way that affects change.  It needs to cease.

Hopefully, good will prevail and those articulating negative ideas will be made to feel uncomfortable.

One can only imagine what would have been written on a Temple message board when Rodgers and Lear played in the 1950’s.  Would Temple fans support the aforementioned position and statements of Coach Chaney?  I prefer to believe that the Temple community, as a whole, would have embraced their Black students and student-athletes.  After all, that’s the image Temple has cultivated over the course of it’s distinguished history.  It’s a legacy that is both admirable and valuable.

To a large extent, the impressions of contemporary high school students and student-athletes have of colleges and universities are driven by television and social media.  Thirty-seven years ago, my understanding of what Temple University represents was forged by extensive direct contact with and first hand observation of young men from the University’s athletic department.  I wanted to be like those guys.  I wanted to play college basketball.  As I got older, I wanted to follow the example set by Coach Chaney and confront bigotry, racism and discrimination head on.  I remain committed to that task.

To me… that’s the Temple way of doing things.  Maybe things have changed more than I thought on North Broad Street.