Philly’s AAU/Grassroots Voice: An Interview with Kamal Yard

“Teams play game after game after game, sometimes winning or losing four times in one day. Very rarely do teams ever hold a practice. Some programs fly in top players from out of state for a single weekend to join their team. Certain players play for one team in the morning and another one in the afternoon. If mom and dad aren’t happy with their son’s playing time, they switch club teams and stick him on a different one the following week. The process of growing as a team basketball player — learning how to become part of a whole, how to fit into something bigger than oneself — becomes completely lost within the AAU fabric.”
Steve Kerr
Head Coach, 2015 Western Conference Champion Golden St. Warriors

“AAU basketball.. Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.”
Kobe Bryant
5 Time NBA Champion
17 time NBA All-Star

“If you’re playing defense in AAU, you don’t need to be playing… I’ve honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU.”
Michael Beasley
NCAA All-American 2007-08
2nd pick in 2008 NBA Draft

“AAU is the worst thing that ever happened to basketball…”
Charles Barkley
1992-93 NBA MVP
11 time NBA All-Star

“It’s a bad system for developing players… They aren’t learning to handle the ball, they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high-school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are. If I can win the 11-and-12 year old league and tell all my friends about it, that is a whole lot more important than if my kids actually get any better or learn anything about the game.”
Stan Van Gundy
Head Coach, Detroit Pistons

The consensus is clear… The experts, the people whose opinions are valued most by fans and observers of collegiate and professional basketball, have emphatically declared that AAU basketball ain’t worth shit… Is that a fair assessment? One rarely has an opportunity to hear the other side. What do AAU guys think about the role they play?

The Black Cager sat down with Philadelphia’s most renowned AAU/Grassroots basketball figure for an in depth discussion. Kamal Yard is the director of Philly Pride a grassroots basketball program sponsored by Under Armour. He is also a marketing consultant with Under Armour charged with developing strategies to increase brand awareness in the Greater Philadelphia region.

Kamal Yard

Kamal Yard, Philly Pride Basketball

Black Cager: How long have you been involved in AAU/Grassroots basketball and how did you first get involved?

Kamal Yard: It’s funny man… For me, it started with my early years at the John Chaney/Sonny Hill basketball camp in the mid 1980’s. The camps were held at Cheyney University and on the Ambler campus of Temple University. During the camps, they had something called “lecture time.” During and lecture time, Mr. Hill and Coach Chaney would always talk about the importance of giving back. That was their main thing “giving back.” And, then you look at the camaraderie of the Chaney/Hill camp and the Sonny Hill League it was all about service. So that kinda like planted a seed in me that never left. Since then, I always wanted to establish a program that provided young kids in Philadelphia with structured, supervised and well organized opportunities to play basketball.

SonnyHill

The legendary Sonny Hill

Black Cager: Most people are unfamiliar with the nuances and subtleties of AAU/Grassroots basketball in the Philadelphia area. Team Final, WE R 1, Team Philly and Philly Pride are the elite boys programs. Your partner program Philly Triple Threat, led by Eric Worley does a phenomenal job on the girls side. Team Final and WE R 1 are known as programs that feature elite Division 1 players, however, Philly Pride has developed a niche whereby you serve student-athletes that tend to come from less than ideal family, educational and social situations. How has that come about?

Kamal Yard: Honestly… I get motivated when people tell me a kid can’t make or won’t make it. When people say a kid is a “problem” or a “head case” I actually become more attracted to the kid. I’m from 25th and Diamond and I wanna help the kids that the other programs don’t want to deal with. Now, we’ve had some kids that were can’t miss in terms of their family and educational backgrounds. Garrett Williamson (St. Joseph’s), Ryan Brooks (Temple) and Darryl Reynolds (Villanova) all came from Lower Merion High School. These were kids that would have graduated from college without basketball, their families situations were straight. But for the most part, we tend to have kids from the “hood.” That’s just a commitment on my part. I’m the guy that will give kids a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th chance. Every situation is different, every case varies.

Black Cager: That’s a very interesting point. I can think of situations where the cases vary within single families. Let’s examine the White family. Older brother Desean, spent a season and a half at Providence, he transferred in the middle of the 2005-06 season to La Salle. After sitting out a year, he was dismissed from the team and never played a game for the Explorers. White then moved on to Delaware but was again dismissed from the team after being ruled academically ineligible. White ended up playing his final two years at Northwood, an NAIA school in Florida, where he was coached by former Villanova legend Rollie Massimino. There, he was a two-time NAIA First Team All-American. His younger brother, Devon had a much different experience.

Kamal Yard: Devon is a success story. Devon is a straight up success story. Absolutely! Look man, I don’t think of these kids as failures because sometimes they go and they try the school thing and it doesn’t work out. Most of the times it works out for the kids, but sometimes it doesn’t. What do you do? Do you throw him to the wolves because it doesn’t work out or do you try to pick him up? In my mind Desean and Devon are successes. Devon graduated from LaSalle and he even went on to pursue a Master’s degree at Niagara. He’s playing professionally overseas and taking care of himself and his family. That’s what this thing is all about.

devon white

Devon White, LaSalle University

Black Cager: When did you make the transition to a sponsored program and travel team? How did that come about?

Kamal Yard: First, when my cousin Cuttino Mobley was drafted into the NBA in 1998, he was with Nike so we were sponsored through a Nike “community deal.” How it worked was like this, we got the same amount of product that all the other Nike sponsored teams received. This arrangement was part of Cuttino’s contract with Nike. He simply diverted some of the compensation to our program through a “community deal” arrangement. We received sneakers, bags, T-shirts and uniforms. We had that arrangement for the duration of his career. That arrangement was good, it was really good for us. Then we switched over to Under Armour after he retired in 2010.  I also became a consultant for Under Armour. In 2011, our program became officially sponsored by Under Armour… I just took that and ran with it. We currently have 370 kids in our program from 3rd grade through 11th grade, girls and boys.

Black Cager: Before I became acquainted with you, my perception of Under Armour was that it was a football, work out gear focused company. I didn’t really view them as a force to be reckoned with in the basketball marketplace. I did not associate Under Armour with basketball.

Kamal Yard: Nobody did… So, the first thing I did when I started working with them was to make sure all the top kids in the rec centers became familiar with the brand. I put up banners in rec centers, sponsored leagues and gave away shoes to all the little kids. I made sure all the top kids had it on in North Philly, Southwest Philly, South Philly, West Philly. Then I went out and signed up some of the best high schools. I signed Imhotep to a contract with Under Armour. Then I went after Roman Catholic and Chester High and signed them to their contract. At that time MCS was emerging and Vaux had Rysheed Jordan so I signed them. That was an important step. You have to remember at that time Rysheed, Aquille Carr and the Harrison twins were among the most highly visible high school players in the country. By having the top guys in Philly, Baltimore and Houston they really helped drive brand awareness in the inner cities. Under Armour really didn’t have a lot of pros at the time. We had Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams, other than that we didn’t have anyone in the league. The young guys kinda fueled the shit for Under Armour. They kinda served the same role as professional endorsers. Aquille was hot as fish grease down there in Baltimore. They called him the “crime stopper.” He had like 50,000 twitter followers. Rysheed had 30,000 twitter followers and the Harrison twins had a huge following. It really helped that we had Rysheed in Philly and he was a pretty popular player. And, then you have the success of the high schools we sponsored. Rysheed and Vaux won a state championship. It just helped catapult it and now it’s all over Philly.

Rysheed Vaux

Rysheed Jordan, Vaux High School

Black Cager: That’s really interesting… What would you say to someone that looks at that strategy and feels that you are just branding them and trying to turn them into future Under Armour consumers?

Kamal Yard: The reality of the situation is that in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston the publicly funded opportunities are gradually disappearing. The taxpayers are walking away… When we were kids you could play in the league at the rec center, you could play in free summer leagues, you could play junior high basketball, you could play junior varsity basketball. All of these publicly funded opportunities are disappearing. I feel a duty to leverage my relationship with corporations like Under Armour to provide opportunities for kids to play, participate and be within structured and supervised organizations. As far as the players, I’m with my guys for life. For me it’s about the high I get when I pick up a poor inner-city kid and take him off to college in front of his young siblings and little kids in the neighborhood. For me seeing the looks on those kids faces builds my confidence and my self-esteem. Right then, right there, I feel like I have a million dollars in my pocket. Think about the Whites. Everything didn’t pan out for Desean, but Devon watched his mistakes. Devon did everything he was supposed to in school, never had any issues with anybody. That’s how that shit go. We’re not trying to brand kids. I guess that comes with the territory. But, I’m doing this to save lives. I’m trying to go to graduations. My man Scootie Randall ‘bout to get married.

Scootie Randall

Scootie Randall, Temple University

Black Cager: Run off some of the names of players that came through your program that went on to play in college.

Kamal Yard: Scootie Randall (Temple), Ramone Moore (Temple) Rahlir Jefferson (Temple), Garrett Williamson (St. Joseph’s), Tyrone Garland (LaSalle), Jesse Morgan (Temple)… I don’t normally include guys like Darryl Reynolds (Villanova), Miles Overton (Drexel) and Ryan Brooks (Temple) because they would have made it college without our program and without basketball. They just came from really stable educationally focused families, but they were an important part of our teams. They would have been good no matter what. I always like to cite guys like Jeremiah “Lump” Worthem (Indian Hills Junior College), Quadir Welton (St. Peter’s) and Malike Starkes (Cecil Community College). Those are the guys I go after, because I feel like I can fix all of ‘em. You can’t tell me I can’t. We also had guys like Vinnie Simpson (Hampton), he was tough. I think I got over 100 guys that received Division 1 scholarships. I would bet that I have the most in this area by far. For a while I was getting 8, 9 or 10 a year. On Scootie’s team we had Larry Lougherty (Penn), Russell Johnson (Robert Morris), big Dev White (LaSalle) and Charles White that went to Hartford University. Charles is from the projects, he got his degree and he just got a big job with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Black Cager: How do you respond to the criticism that AAU programs don’t work on skill development and focus almost exclusively on playing games?

Kamal Yard: Honestly, the top tier programs… They got those kids in the gym. I know we do. We do mandatory stuff every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But 5 days a week you can catch Sean Colson in the gym doing skill development for our program. We have 5 different coaches like that. Colson is coaching my 17u team and a Philly Public League product from FLC. He played at Charlotte University and in the NBA. With Colson, it’s really all about the “giveback” we talked about earlier. He’s an AAU coach and he’s also a high school coach. He understands the commitment, he understands the need to give back to the kids and sharing what he has learned. His whole thing is really making kids better. That’s all he talks about. If he could be in a gym 7 days a week making guys better that’s what he would be doing. I’m happy that he’s with us. I’m happy we got him. If you look at everything we do it’s really all about service to our kids, service to our community and service to our staff. I had to convince him to take the Martin L. King job. The principal at King came from Vaux and he told me he needed a coach. I told him I know just the guy and told Colson to take the job. We went back and forth for about 6 weeks because he still had offers to play overseas. Ultimately, I was able to convince him that this was a perfect opportunity to give back. For us, we take care of all of our people. You can’t be asking people to do all this volunteer shit and then not have a plan for them. I want all my coaches to be ambitious. They have to want to move on and be a college coach or high school coach. We want to see them progress. We take care of our guys.

colson

Sean Colson, Philly Pride and Martin L. King, Jr. head coach

Black Cager: I think the recruitment of one of your current players, Charles Brown, gives a clear indication of how AAU/grassroots basketball is more important that high school basketball.

Kamal Yard: It is… it’s not the AAU guys fault… It’s just changing times… The college coaches, especially the coaches from the bigger conference tell me they don’t wanna see a kid like Charles Brown playing in a high school game against guys that aren’t even Division 3 prospects. A lot of this ties in with the way scholastic hoops has become saturated. The explosive growth in the number of charter schools means there a lot more teams, but there hasn’t been an increase in the number of players. These teams have to field teams. It’s watered down the basketball… What, if you are a D1 coach… are you gonna come see Charles Brown play against Palumbo or Esperanza? You are not coming to see that stuff.. If you wanna get a good gauge on his ability you wanna see him against Division 1 prospects. If you come to an Under Armour session, there are 40 17u teams and about 40 16u teams. With one plane ride you can see at least 100 Division 1 prospects.

Charles Brown pic 2

Charles Brown, St. Joseph’s University commit

Black Cager: In Philadelphia, there’s a concentration of talent at say 6,7 or 8 high schools. These programs are so stacked up that some really talented players don’t an opportunity to play. Guys like Brown, DJ Newbill (Penn State)  and Jarrod Denard (Claflin) leave one high school because they don’t get any playing time and emerge as All-State players at another school.

Kamal Yard: Take a program like Imhotep. Brother Andre Noble is doing an excellent job. Brother Andre is just like us.. He is all about giving back and lifting up the kids. Once you’ve been around him you gain an appreciation for all the things he does to take care of his kids. Now… Brother Andre looks at and feels that he has one of the best programs here. He has the best structure. So.. he’s going in… he’s getting the best talent. His program is just like DeMatha. DeMatha has kids that don’t play. They have kids that don’t qualify. Here in Philly, Roman Catholic has kids that don’t play a lot and transfer. People just aren’t used to seeing public schools doing it. Calculate the number of kids that have left different Catholic League schools over the past 5 years.

Andre

Brother Andre Noble, Imhotep Head Coach

Black Cager: Let’s talk about Philly college hoops… Which programs make the most sense for Philly kids? If I sent you my son and he was a D1 player which school would you suggest?

Kamal Yard: Imma keep it real with you… I’m a pro-Philly guy. If I was King for a day, if I could make rules I would make a rule where all of the top guys have to stay in Philly. I think that would reverberate throughout the Philly basketball community. Everyone would be better off. More assistant coaches would get head jobs. There would be higher salaries for the coaches and better attendance at the games. The talent level is so high here that if Philly kids were able to really infiltrate the City 6 programs shit would be bananas!

Black Cager: Do you think we are moving toward that? Kids are starting to stay home after watching many of those that left transfer back to City 6 schools. It seems the younger guys are learning from the experiences of the guys that came before them.

Kamal Yard: I think throughout the history of college basketball in Philadelphia, the better prospects, the better players always left. Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas), Andre McCarter (UCLA), Gene Banks (Duke), Dallas Comegys (DePaul), Pooh Richardson (UCLA) and Rasheed Wallace (North Carolina) all left. You have some that stayed like Michael Brooks (LaSalle), Cliff Anderson (St. Joseph’s) and Lionel Simmons (LaSalle). But for the most part, the better guys have always left. I think one of the main reasons kids leave is because it’s so rough around this city… The parents really influence that… They wanna get their kids away from the violence and mayhem they have seen all their lives. A lot of times the coaches get real petty and blame it on the kid, but in reality it’s the parents. If I’m raising a kid here for 18 years and I’m going to funerals all the time, first thing I’m thinking is my son is getting the heck outta here. If you go see the campus at the University of Virginia or you go out UCLA that’s the first thing you are thinking. I’m getting my kid as far away as possible from Philly. Take a kid like Savon Goodman (Arizona St.) at the end of the day he could have stayed here. But he had a pretty rough upbringing and when it came down to it his people were like you getting outta here. Same thing with Rakeem Christmas who grew up in Southwest Philly, his Aunt Amira was like you are going away. I do think it goes in cycles. At different times a lot of kids go away and at other times a lot of kids stay home. For me, I remember going to Big 5 games and I remember the intensity and the level of competitiveness Randy Woods (LaSalle), Aaron McKie (Temple), Bernard Blunt (St. Joseph’s) and all those guys played with. I think a lot of that was because those guys really knew each other. I think you are going to see more of that. All it takes is for some of these local kids to blow up and make to the NBA. I’m good with all the coaches.. I think all of ‘em do a good job. One thing about all the coaches, they are real Philly guys. I’ll never forget about ten years ago we were in a war down in West Virginia. Phil Martelli was so caught up in watching the game that he started yelling at the refs on our behalf. He got really loud and might have said some strong words. The refs threw him out the game… He actually got kicked out the game. The refs told him to get out and he said F you! He wasn’t faking it… I honestly can say, the area coaches are Philly guys to the core.

wilt-chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas University

Black Cager: If you were an AD or if an AD asked you and he needed a coach which current Philadelphia assistants would you recommend?

Kamal Yard: Right now, Geoff Arnold and Ashley Howard are everyone’s favorites. I think Geoff in terms of the type of person he is has everybody pulling him. Geoff is special. You know there are some guys that Geoff helped get into coaching that are now head coaches and Geoff has no bitterness towards anybody. So, selfishly speaking I would like to see Geoff get his shot. But I think Ash might be next up because he’s at Nova and he’s done an unbelievable job everywhere he’s been. When you talk about Geoff and Ash, I believe you are talking about 2 of the best assistant coaches in the country. I really do. They can really recruit. Look at the class St. Joseph’s just got. St. Joe’s doesn’t get those guys if Geoff’s not there. Look at the players Villanova’s gotten since Ash has been there. It ain’t no secret that when Ash was at Drexel they were able to win 28-29 games. Damian Lee was his parting gift to Drexel. He goes to Xavier and they get Semaj Christon. He goes to Nova and the DC pipeline really starts to open up. So at the end of the day, I think either one of those guys will be phenomenal coaches and they will recruit the hell out of Philly.

Geoff  & galloway

Geoff Arnold, St. Joseph’s Assistant Coach and his nephew New York Knick’s guard, Langston Galloway

Black Cager: A program like Rider, led by Kevin Baggett gets a lot of Philly kids. What would it take for a program like Delaware to really make inroads in Philly? Outside of Temple, they have the best facilities in the area.

Kamal Yard: I think that visibility is really important. I know Monté is from here, but I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen him. When was the last time he was in a barbershop in Southwest? When is the last time he was in a barbershop in West Philly? You know what I mean… I know as coach, a lot of times you can’t go to games like that but I think visibility is really important. If they could have some games where they play at Temple, at LaSalle or at St. Joseph’s every other year that would increase their visibility. But all it really takes is for them to get one that has a solid career and graduates. They can go from there. Delaware is a sleeping giant.

Monte

Monté Ross, University of Delaware Head Coach

Black Cager: Penn has had 2 Black coaches, Princeton has had 2 Black coaches, Bruiser’s been at Drexel for 15 years. Coach Chaney was at Temple for 25 years. Rider has a Black coach. Delaware has had 2 Black coaches. Maryland has had a Black coach. Georgetown and St. John’s have had two Black coaches. Rutgers and Seton Hall have had Black coaches. The Philadelphia Catholic universities, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s and Villanova have never had Black coaches. Why are some schools more successful in attracting and hiring Black coaches and does it matter to guys like you that are advising elite prospects?

Kamal Yard: I think each situation is different. However, if it is overly and abundantly clear that a school doesn’t have Blacks in senior positions then that should be a problem. Because when I’m trying to tell a kid to go to a particular school or advise him on his decision one of the things I tell him is that  you have to open your eyes up and open your ears up. Who’s gonna be role models for the kid? Hypothetically, say they go to the University of Virginia and Craig Littlepage is the AD. That’s telling you that job is an attainable goal for you. You are seeing more African-American ADs. Temple has one. There’s a little progress being made and I think it comes from us complaining. But it’s still not enough. Blacks make up 70-80 percent of the players. It’s not just a problem at the college level. Look at the high school level. Catholic schools in Philly may have had, maybe 4-5 Black coaches in the history of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Two of them were from West Catholic. That is an issue. Where is our network? Shit is important.

craig-littlepage

Craig Littlepage, University of Virginia Athletic Director

Black Cager: Thirty years ago, John Thompson, John Chaney and Nolan Richardson spoke out against what they perceived as attempts to limit or reduce the Black presence through increasingly restrictive academic requirements based on standardized test scores. Who is gonna speak out today? Where are our Chaneys, Thompsons and Richardsons?

Kamal Yard: We don’t have any… We are in an era where there is an overall lack of support for those fighting these measures. At one time, we had some power. When Thompson, Chaney and Richardson were in there battling they were very secure in their jobs. Now guys have to worry about job security. There is no security now. I think we need to start real small and build the opposition to some of the things the NCAA is implementing. I want to bring guys together… I think dialogue like this is real important.

Black Cager: Thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts on these important issues. The Black Cager is very pleased to provide you with a platform to counter the very negative narrative usually associated with AAU/grassroots basketball. We wish you the very best in July. Philly Pride is the 3rd seed in the Under Armour Association and will be expected to vie for the national championship this summer. Let’s hope Phil doesn’t get kicked out of the gym rooting for you guys.

May 28, 2015

2:00 pm

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Darby Twp. Rewards Program for Boys

For Darby Township boys:

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Black Cager is sponsoring a rewards program for Darby Township Boys. The following college coaches have agreed to support the Darby Township Rewards Program:

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James “Bruiser” Flint, Drexel University

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Dr. John Giannini, LaSalle University

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Fran Dunphy, Temple University

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Kevin Baggot, Rider University

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Monte Ross, University of Delaware

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Phil Martelli, St. Joseph’s University

The Black Cager is also partnering with Küdzoo to provide incentives and rewards for good grades.

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To register your child please email his name, grade and school name to blackcager@gmail.com

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Mainstream Sports Media Misdirection: The Art of Bamboozlin’ Black Folk

The process of creating and entrenching highly selective, reshaped and even wholly fabricated stories is considered “indoctrination” or “propaganda” when done by people we don’t like. When it is done by members of the media it is called “journalism.” It is a valuable means of shaping the public’s perception of individuals or groups of people. One of the main objectives of contemporary mainstream journalism is to highlight the purported failures and shortcomings of Black males, especially athletes.

This explains is how HBO’s Jim Lampley can be arrested and charged with domestic abuse in 2007 and just a few years later call Floyd Mayweather “an often aggressively distasteful human being whose behaviors are a blight on the boxing landscape.” No one from the mainstream media called him on his blatant hypocrisy.

Talking head after talking head vocalized their disdain for Mayweather in the moments leading up to the most lucrative fight in the history of boxing. However, these talking heads are noticeably silent when Marv Albert plugs in his microphone and announces NBA games. This silence exists despite Albert being accused by a longtime lover of throwing her on a bed, repeatedly biting her on the back and forcing her to perform oral sex in an Arlington, VA hotel room. The woman said Albert became enraged because she failed to procure another man and bring him to bed with them. None of the talking heads object to Albert calling the games.

Why does the mainstream media vilify Floyd while giving the white guys passes? Ben Roethlisberger was twice accused of rape and I never hear any of the talking heads stating that they will not be watching the Steelers…  What gives?

Here’s the point I want to make: The mainstream media is full of shit…

Over the past couple of days, the national media has focused intently on Rysheed Jordan’s academic status at St. John’s University. The New York Post, Sporting News, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Philadelphia Daily News, New York Daily News and other national media outlets have highlighted problems the enormously talented Philly point guard has had on the Jamaica, Queens campus.

If one relies solely on the stories about Rysheed’s trials and tribulations at St. John’s a very skewed image of Philly ballers emerges. This is not an accident…. And, it’s working…

Many in Philly are taking the bait… Social media outlets like twitter and Facebook have exploded with conversations centered on “what’s wrong with Philly college players?”

The propaganda has managed to shape the parameters of the dialogue. If we truly want to gain insight, we are asking the wrong questions…

Why not ask… “How did Biggie make it?”

Biggie Graduation-page-0

As a junior at South Philadelphia High School, Biggie wasn’t in a good place academically. He wasn’t on track to be NCAA eligible. His mother, Chandra, had been down this road before. Biggie’s older brother, Kechan, played D1 ball at the University of New Orleans. His father, Shon, a former star himself at South Philadelphia High School had been recently released for prison. Things looked bleak. Several college coaches had written Biggie off. “No way he’ll qualify,” they said.

Shon and Chandra worked closely together to understand exactly what Biggie needed to do to gain eligibility. They held their son accountable. They placed him in a better academic environment by transferring him to a private school. They never let Biggie think for even one moment that he wouldn’t make it. So, it comes as no surprise that with one year of eligibility remaining, Biggie is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island.

Why not ask… “How did Junior make it?”

Junior graduation-page-0

Junior Fortunat came to the United States just as he was entering the 11th grade. He spent his formative years living in a public housing development in Montreal, Canada. The transition to Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School was challenging for many reasons. He was away from his loving mother, Mamina, for the first time in his life. He was required to perform school work in the English language for the first time in his life. French is Junior’s first language.

Like Biggie, many college coaches wrote Junior off. Again, I heard the rumors. “He can’t do college level work… He won’t qualify.” Truth be told, Junior wasn’t on track. Many of the courses he took as a 9th and 10th grader in Montreal were rejected by the NCAA. As a result, he was short several core courses. Also, because of his limited language skills the SAT proved to be especially challenging. Things didn’t look good for Junior.

But the prognosticators failed to consider the size of his heart. Once Junior understood the gravity of his situation, he was determined to make to college. His mother offered consistent and unqualified support. Chris McNesby and the staff at Roman Catholic did everything possible to give Junior a chance at qualifying. For the better part of six months, Junior attended two schools on a full-time basis. After his day was done at Roman, he headed off to a private High School in Center City to make up several core courses that had been denied by the NCAA. The schedule was brutal and he frequently complained, but he never gave up and he never missed a day. As you can see in the picture above Mamina and Junior enjoyed his graduation from Rider University four years later.

Why not ask… “How did DJ make it?”

DJ Newbill Cap and Gown-page-0

Devonte “DJ” Newbill attended the school Diane Sawyer labeled one of the “most dangerous in America” in her widely viewed ABC documentary. Strawberry Mansion High School is located in the heart of hard scrabble North Central Philadelphia. It is consistently one of the poorest performing schools in the state of Pennsylvania in terms of standardized test scores. Vicious brawls are a daily occurrence in the hallways, as documented by Sawyer’s camera crews.

What the camera crews did not and could not capture was the humanity and love that also permeates the building. For all of it’s shortcomings. Strawberry Mansion produced three D1 college graduates – Newbill (Penn State, Bachelor’s), Dwayne Davis (Southern Mississippi, Bachelor’s) and Devon White (LaSalle, Bachelor’s) – over a very short 2-3 year span. At least within the basketball program, they were preparing young men for college. Clearly, coach Gerald Hendricks and his successor Stan Laws were doing a LOT of things right.

Newbill had to deal with a lot of adversity. He lost his mentor when John Hardnett died suddenly during his senior year at Strawberry Mansion. He was FUCKED OVER when Marquette University Head Coach Buzz Williams took away his scholarship at the last minute. After a year at Southern Mississippi, he transferred to Penn State to be closer to his family. After moving to Happy Valley, he suffered through the loss of his mother to a battle with cancer.

Through it all, he somehow remained focused and emerged as one of the best players in the nation his last two season at Penn State. As a senior he led the Big 10 in scoring and finished his career as one of the greatest players in the history of Nittany Lion basketball. The self-described “King of North Philly” is now a Penn State graduate.

Why not ask… “How did Jabril make it?”

Jabril Graduation-page-0

Despite it’s 30 plus year run as one of the elite basketball programs in the nation, Georgetown had never successfully recruited a Philly kid. Many felt that Jabril Trawick was not an ideal candidate for success at the Ivy League level institution. There were doubts about his basketball ability and his intellect.

Many felt that he was best suited to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) or one of the other mid-major conferences. Many college coaches said, “he can’t play in the Big East.” Well… he silenced all those critics while starting for three years. The Hoyas made the NCAA tournament in three of his four years and made the NIT once. A defensive stalwart his first two seasons, Jabril emerged as one of the better all-around player in the Big East by the time his collegiate career closed.

Always an very good student, people still doubted his ability to compete in the classroom at Georgetown. Alma mater of President Bill Clinton, Georgetown is one of the most prestigious and competitive universities in America. Jabril was fortunate to have Brother Leon Shamsid’Deen (pictured above, right) in his life. Unlike most of those influencing Philly scholastic ballers, Brother Leon had Ivy League experience himself. He studied at Management and Economics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Jabril, followed the plan laid out by Brother Leon and now he is a Georgetown graduate pursuing his dream of playing professional basketball. That Georgetown degree and the network of highly influential Georgetown alums throughout the world provide Jabril with a helluva safety net.

The importance of blocking appreciation and understanding of these stories is well understood by those controlling mainstream media outlets in this country. The widespread focus on Jordan’s academic issues reinforce the indoctrination. It fits squarely in the narrative that is most commonly told.

The academic standards need to tightened. These kids from urban schools in Philadelphia do not belong in college. They are not prepared to do the work. They won’t graduate. They are taking up spots that should be awarded to more deserving (white) student-athletes.

Be careful… The propaganda techniques have been well-honed. They are very effective. As you can see, they have us ignoring Biggie, Junior, DJ and Jabril. Instead, they have focus on the problems Mr. Jordan is having and asking “what’s wrong with Philly ballers?”

Wouldn’t we learn more by asking: “How did these guys make it?”

Philly’s Phinest: Brandon Austin

Brandon trophies

Brandon Austin with Three PIAA State Championship Trophies

He’s the best Philly has to offer… The talent and skill level are undeniable… He’s the man… After winning three straight state championships and being named Class AAA Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, Brandon Austin was a consensus top 50 player in the class of 2013. He had it all… The future seemed secure… He would make a splash in the Big East with Providence and then embark on a long career in the National Basketball Association.

Maybe $100,000,000 or more…

Then came the detours… First an incident at Providence… transfer to Oregon… then another incident at Oregon…

Dream deferred…

Time to pick up the pieces… Forget basketball… It was time to rebuild trust and salvage his reputation…

After considering his dwindling options, Brandon decided to place his fate in the hands of Steve DeMeo, coach at Northwest Florida State College. DeMeo recognized that despite the allegations, Brandon was never convicted of anything… After meeting with Brandon, he felt the young man deserved an opportunity to continue his education and reestablish his basketball career. He gave him a scholarship.

Brandon reported to the campus in the sleepy town of Niceville, Florida ready to demonstrate that he was not the “predator” portrayed in national media outlets. For the past year, he kept his head down, stayed humble and accumulated academic credits. DeMeo says, “Brandon has been great with us. He’s a very respectful young man. He’s done everything we have asked of him off the court and more.”

On the court, Brandon flourished… Finally able to play after a year of allegations, investigations and suspensions, he led Northwest Florida to the Florida State Junior College Championship and the National Junior College Championship. The Raiders finished with a record of 33-2 and Brandon was named Most Valuable Player of the National Playoffs.

NWF Champs

Northwest Florida State after winning Florida State JUCO Championship

While he has been cleared of all criminal charges, Brandon acknowledges that he made some questionable decisions that cost him dearly. “I have been focused on improving my decision-making. I have learned to better assess situations. In the past, I kinda went along with the crowd, no more of that for me.”

The basketball world has taken notice of the fact that he still one of the best players in the nation. Brandon is a long athletic combo guard with tremendous ball skills. He can play the 1, 2 and 3 position. He is an intelligent and smooth playmaker who never seems to get rattled or rushed into making mistakes. In his first year of competition at the collegiate level he showed great poise and maturity. In the semi-finals of the National JUCO Championship playoffs, with 0.6 seconds left, Austin stepped to the line and buried two free throws to send the second-seeded Raiders into the NJCAA Division I title game with a 105-103 overtime win over 19th-seeded Georgia Highlands. He ended the night with a game high 29 points and 13 rebounds.

Brandon_Austin_NW FS

Brandon Austin in National JUCO Playoffs

Offensively, he makes everything look easy. Austin has great imagination and creativity. He has exceptional vision and passing ability. He is an excellent decision maker and appears to have the ability to develop into an NBA point guard. His drive and kick is an effective element to his offensive arsenal. His length and long wingspan gives him the ability to disrupt passing lanes and shots, as well as giving him extra length to get to loose balls and get shots off.

Austin has good form on his shot and a quick release. He is very good at running the pick-and-roll, well ahead of most college guards. Brandon is capable of creating and hitting midrange shots with a nasty handle, using crossovers and fakes to rock defenders off balance. He has dedicated himself to improving his conditioning. He has worked on his body and is showing better upper body strength.

Most importantly, Brandon Austin is a winner. After winning 3 straight High School State Championships, he led his JUCO squad to the Florida State and the National Championships in his first year of collegiate competition.

Big 10, AAC, Big West, ACC, MEAC and SWAC teams have shown interest in Brandon. Some want to see him have another incident free year at Northwest Florida State. Others are willing to have him come on board immediately. Brandon can graduate with an Associate’s Degree this summer.

“I just wanna focus on finishing strong academically. I’ve never had any problems with my books in college. But, I have made some questionable decisions off the court and away from the classroom. My Mom, Lonnie Lowry (Team Philly), Warren Green (mentor) and my counselor Dr. Abby Baker have helped me make better decisions. I am grateful for the opportunity Coach DeMeo and Northwest Florida State gave me. When we won the Championship, I was happier for the school and my coaches than I was for myself.”

Brandon FT

Whatever path Austin chooses to follow, it seems like a safe bet that team will win a lot of games and he will stay out of trouble.

Perhaps, one of the City 6 will step up and give Mr. Austin a chance to finish his education at home… After all, he is Philly’s Phinest!

Bruiser, Dunph, Dr. G, Phil, Jay… give him a call…