PHILADELPHIA, PA – Stevie Mitchell (Philly Pride/Wilson West Lawn) has committed to play college basketball at Marquette University. Mitchell has emerged as a Pennsylvania Scholastic legend in Berks County. He enters his senior as the all-time leading scorer for Wilson West Lawn.
An incredibly unassuming, humble and God fearing young man, Mitchell has handled his rise to basketball prominence with an unusual amount of grace. His recruitment process was intriguing. Because he is a consensus top 100 player, he was offered scholarships from some of the finest high major basketball programs in the nation. Miami, Georgia Tech and VCU made pushes to land Mitchell.
His very strong academic profile led some of the most competitive and prestigious academic institutions to try to add him to their respective learning communities. Stanford, Penn and Lehigh tried to land this scholar that happens to play a lil’ basketball.
Locally, in addition to the Quakers, Villanova St. Joseph’s and Temple recruited Mitchell hard. It’s easy understand why. The young man is loved by adults, peers and young kids alike. On the court, he is a relentless competitor with a well-rounded offensive game that will allow him to contribute immediately to the Marquette program.
Marquette Assistant Coach Dwayne Killings made Mitchell a priority. Killings and Marquette Head Coach, Michael Wojciechowski, stalked Mitchell like hungry lions on the Serengeti for more than a year. Their efforts were rewarded. They have landed the 2019 Under Armour Association 16U MVP. They landed the leader of the #1 ranked and National Champion 16U Philly Pride squad. They landed a stellar student with exceptional grades and test scores. They landed a true gentlemen with genuine love for young basketball fans. And, perhaps most importantly, once the buzzer sounds and the games begin, they will learn they landed a BAD MUTHAFUCKA!
In 2016, America reacted to the close of the first presidential administration led by a Black man by placing a reality TV star, Donald Trump, in the White House. By any reasonable measure, the host of “The Apprentice” has failed to adequately deal with the public health crisis caused by coronavirus pandemic that overwhelmed the mid-Atlantic region in the first half of 2020 and continues to advance through the South and mid-West with relentless verve.
Coronavirus is kicking our American asses! It reminds me of the Dream Team’s blowout of Somalia. Just like the African nation on the court, the USA led by “Coach” Trump is offering very little resistance.
Coronavirus has grabbed America by the pussy…
This situation could conceivably create pockets of athletic “refugees.” Recently, Maryland joined six other states with the District of Columbia, to move its fall season to the New Year. Unless, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. follow suit, scholarship level HS student-athletes have a tough choice to make.
If a football or basketball player in Maryland or Washington, D.C. has received “interest” from NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 programs but no offers, they feel immense pressure to perform in scholastic contests to prove themselves worthy of a scholarship. If they have offers from low major D1 programs or D2 programs, they feel pressure to prove themselves worthy of mid to high major offers.
The horrendous handling of the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration resulted has resulted in tremendous uncertainty in all facets of American life, including scholastic sports.
On February 26, President Trump boasted that the coronavirus was about to disappear altogether from the United States. “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
As of August 15, there have been 4,793,950 confirmed cases and 157,416 deaths.
People are justifiably shook… State governors and state sanctioning bodies have been forced to develop strategies and policies to deal with a NATIONAL crisis. They are performing admirably in their attempts to fill the void resulting from the breathtaking absence of Presidential leadership as the United States limps through the largest public health crisis in a century.
However, it should be noted that the absence of federal leadership has resulted in 50 different intervention strategies. The variation among the responses is significant. Some states have postponed Fall and Winter sports until 2021. Others are committed to fielding teams and having them play as if the coronavirus crisis has subsided.
District of Columbia — Per July 16 announcement, the District of Columbia State Athletic Association has postponed interscholastic activities until January 2021. Under this plan, winter season practices would begin Dec. 14 with games coming Jan. 4. Postponed fall sports would begin practicing Feb. 1 with games getting underway Feb. 22.
Maryland — The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) announced Aug. 3 that football along with all its fall and winter sports will be moved to a hybrid two-semester plan starting in 2021. The exact plan for how it will fit into the two semesters is still being worked on, but Maryland joined six other states with the District of Columbia, to move its fall season to the New Year. According to a MPSSAA news release, the new plan will be made available in the next couple of weeks.
Now… the parents of D.C. or Maryland student-athletes face a choice. Let’s assume their child has been contacted by college coaches interested in following him/her and perhaps offering an athletic scholarship. Thanks to the inept response of the occupant at 1600 Black Lives Matter Blvd., spring and summer organized sports activities have been abrogated.
No basketball playoffs… No grassroots/AAU events… No 7 on 7 football… No combines…
The NCAA implemented a “dead period” in March. It looks as if it will extend through the fall… No face to face recruiting… No live evaluation of players…
Athletic scholarships are worth anywhere from $200,000 to $320,000 depending on the school. That’s a nice chunk of change… These kids have invested years of training, practice and conditioning for this moment and it’s suddenly taken away.
What if the pandemic deepens? The schedule set for January 2021 may not come to fruition. What if they just cancel sports altogether?
Do D.C. and Maryland parents send their kids to play in Pennsylvania where games are scheduled to take place? Even if there are no fans, the video can be shared with college coaches looking to fill out rosters.
If Drexel told the kid they want to evaluate him in high school games, does he move to another state to make it happen. Drexel costs north of $80,000 per year. A Maryland kid could come play in the Philadelphia Catholic League or Division A of the Public League and prove himself worthy of the $320K schollie… Or, he could wait, hope and take the chance that the pandemic will subside and their current schools will have sports in the spring.
While driving on I-95 last weekend, I saw a “caravan” of a couple hundred fit, lean and athletic 17-18 year olds walking on the side of the road. They were headed north towards Philadelphia.
Elections have consequences… The next one is November 3, 2020.
Usually, by August 1st, college coaches have dropped the cost of a nice off-lease family car on the “books” at various grassroots/AAU events scattered across the country. In March, they would have made it out to the playoffs in the big states for sure. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida would have attracted hundreds of guys wearing golf shirts with University logos embroidered on their chests.
The last two weekends in April would have seen a full-out stampede as Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and the independent circuits would have gotten underway. The very best 15U, 16U and 17U basketball players would have competed in front of hundreds of NCAA Division 1 coaches looking for prospects that help them participate in March Madness over the next few years.
Venues would have been filled beyond capacity as parents, hoop heads, media members and college coaches shoe horn themselves into small gyms to watch VERY big high school athletes demonstrate their athletic prowess. Shoe company sponsored grassroots events may be the most NON-socially distant activities in all of sports. They are like basketball Mardi Gras. You find yourself saying “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” all day as you attempt to move about the facility.
You can tell what several thousand people had for lunch as you stand/sit hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder trying to catch a glimpse of the next Durant, Harden or Embid.
Shoe company sponsored Grassroots/AAU basketball would have inevitably led to thousands of cases of coronavirus being spread among players, parents, fans, media members, coaches, trainers, security guards, workers, etc.
There was literally no option other than to shut down completely…
The last two weeks in June would been a preview to next year’s high school season. Hundreds, maybe thousands of high school teams, would have gotten together to compete in from of hundreds of Division 1 coaches in NCAA sanctioned high school “live period” events.
Unlike grassroots/AAU events, these events give kids an opportunity to play in front of the college coaches with their high school teammates. Kids that may be the 7th or 8th man on shoe company teams are stars on their high school teams. It’s an entirely different look for the kids. Kids deemed not good enough to make elite grassroots/AAU teams also get to play in front of the guys known for making “STRONG ASS OFFERS.” More importantly, they get to play in front of scores of D2, D3 and NAIA coaches looking for hidden gems that can move their program forward.
Coronavirus killed those opportunities this year…
The second weekend in July would have witnessed a shortage of jet fuel as every college coach in America would have made his way to North Augusta, South Carolina and Baltimore, Maryland for the Nike Peach Jam and the UAA Finals, respectively.
Nope… Not this year…
The weeks of July 20-23 (Monday-Thursday) and July 23-26 (Thursday-Sunday) would have seen two sessions of the 2020 NCAA College Basketball Academy take place at four regional sites.
University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah, WEST). University of Winthrop (Rock Hill, South Carolina, SOUTH). Wichita State University (Wichita, Kansas, MIDWEST). University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut, EAST).
Naaaah… Also cancelled…
Everything was cancelled… Coaches have been relegated to their homes and forced to hone up in their technological skills as they try to recruit virtually.
It’s just not the same… Coronavirus has robbed the kids of the opportunity to prove themselves and earn scholarship offers worth $200,000 to $320,000 over four years.
Kids in the Philly area have been playing nonetheless. It’s what they do. Outside… In semi-structured open runs… In sweaty Church gyms… wherever there’s an available basket, kids have gotten together and played…
Just not in front of college coaches and not with their grassroots/AAU teammates…
In a tightly controlled setting, Kamal Yard, Founder/Director of the Philly Pride Basketball Club put together an intimate day of hoops. Highly respectful of the easily transmissible virus that is raging throughout much of the nation, Yard and his associates checked the temperature of every person that entered the facility. The tightly controlled crowd of about 50 spectators was situated behind a net and located approximately 20-30 feet from the playing surface. Social distancing was practiced and masks were in abundance.
While the event began at 9:00 am, I arrived for the marquee matchup between Yard’s 16U squad and the K-Low 16U team sponsored by Adidas. The game got underway around 3:45 pm. Once could clearly see the kids were excited to be playing. They were happy to be in uniform and under the lights. Of course, both team looked the part… The gear, as usual, was on point.
The basketball, on the other hand, was a little uneven. One could tell the kids hadn’t played together that much. The timing was just a little off.
Individually though, Philly Pride is loaded on both the 16U and 17U teams. Every kid fortunate enough to wear the Philly Pride uniform on their national teams this summer is a bona fide Division 1 prospect. Philly Pride has a little something for programs at every level from the high majors down through the low majors.
Looking for poised, controlled, cerebral point guards? The Philly Pride 16 crew has two, Mark Butler and Dylan Blair. These guys play a controlled floor game that belies their youth. Need a big, strong, bruising big man, Mike Walz is your guy. Want some athletic wings and stretch 4’s? Al Amaoudu, Gabe Moss and Dan Skillings fit the bill. In the market for a smooth, athletic shooting guard with a silky stroke from deep? Take a hard look at Khalil Farmer.
If you have more immediate pressing needs and want to focus on the Class of 2021, the Philly Pride 17U crew is one of the finest grassroots/AAU clubs in the nation. Indeed, this team won the UUA 16U National Championship last summer after being ranked number 1 in the nation for most of that season. They are led by the UUA 16U MVP from last year, Stevie Mitchell. A high major point guard, Mitchell will formally make his commitment announcement next Wednesday. It has been widely speculated in various media outlets that he is headed to Marquette to play in the Big East Conference.
Playing alongside Mitchell, is Ed Holland. Holland is a 6’6 wing with range that extends well beyond the college three-point line. Like Mitchell, Holland is also a highly intelligent young man with multiple Ivy League programs vying for his services. Yale, Penn, Columbia and Princeton are prominent among the 20 or D1 offers Holland has received thus far.
If Mitchell is the engine that makes this club run, Rahdir Hicks is the transmission. Yet another in a seemingly endless line of Coatesville guards, Hicks has an incredible feel for the game. His childhood friends and teammates include AJ Hoggard (Michigan State), Jhamir Brickus (La Salle), Duece Turner (Bucknell) and Dapree Bryant (Villanova Football). Hicks is carrying the tradition this year and it’s in good hands. He effortlessly changes paces. Hicks is able to probe and penetrate at will. He makes ball handlers extremely uncomfortable on the defensive end. He will likely end up at a mid-major program and be given the keys shortly after unpacking his bags.
Zach Hicks is a long 6’8 slender shooter. He has drawn attention from SEC, American and A10 programs and it’s say to understand why. He’s capable of creating space for his shot using 2-3 dribble pull-ups, step-backs and in and out dribbles.
One of the most intriguing prospects in the region is Christian Tomasco. Coming in at 6’9, he has excellent length. His dexterity and athleticism are surprising for a kid his size. Tomasco consistently outruns opposing bigs. His teammates look for him on the wing and he able to catch the ball take a few dribbles and aggressively attack the rim. In a half court setting, he displays a nice touch that extends beyond the three point line. While his frame is slight, he’s a willing post defender with very good instincts. He will team with Aaron Lemon-Warren to give Archbishop Ryan a very formidable front court. Ivy, Patriot and CAA league schools will be taking a hard look at Tomasco once the NCAA allows them off campus.
With very few fans, temperature checks and only one court in play, today’s event was unlike the typical grassroots/AAU get together.
That’s a good thing… This is far from a typical summer…
I respect Kamal Yard for giving the kids a chance to put on uniforms and run up and down the court.
Coaches… If you want to see exclusive video of today’s action, hit up Kamal. I pretty sure y’all can work something out.
At first glance basketball is just a game, but for those who live it and love it is much more. It is a place and journey all at once. “It is my place of refuge,” states Ashley Howard, former Drexel guard and current Head Men’s Coach at LaSalle University. This “game” provides life lessons beyond classrooms and lecture halls, provides light in darkness and reveals the inner makings of people like open wounds.
Anyone who has ever been transfixed by the bouncing of the ball on the asphalt, mesmerized by the rhythm of ball pounding against the concrete with a tenacity and consistency born of an innate attraction to an activity that can transform, transmit and transport you to places beyond your imagination.
The game speaks to players with a melody that, like any other music, is understood and heeded no matter the circumstance or locale. “Basketball is the universal language,” says Khalif Wyatt, a former Temple University standout and successful international player. Wyatt, a “chubby” Norristown native, followed the music from “Oak Street Park” to Champagne, France, with stops in China, Israel, and the Philippines in between.
Basketball is a connector, it brings people together in ways that help them form lifelong bonds that endure past players’ physical ability to play the sport. Darnell Alford, a Trentonian, was a relative unknown when he was tabbed to play in the minor professional league United States Basketball League. “Played for free just to get on,” he said. Alford, a standout guard at Monmouth University, credits his relationship with Trenton natives Bryan Caver, formerly of Seton Hall, and Greg Grant, a diminutive speedster that spent 9-years in the NBA, playing for 6 different teams, with making him aware of professional international opportunities in the sport. Caver in particular took a liking to the athletic Alford, encouraging him to play in summer leagues around Trenton and prove his mettle in the sport. “He told me to just go do what I do. Just play hard to the end and don’t quit.” He did just that using the lessons learned playing in those summer leagues to hone his skills that landed him a professional gig in a top Australian Pro League for 4 years, before returning home to Trenton to take care of his young son, Darnell Alford Jr, who is now playing professionally internationally.
Alford Sr., now works in education, teaching and coaching, imparting the lessons he learned in life to the young people he works with. “I didn’t even know playing (internationally) was a thing until I (learned it) from them”, he mused, recounting how it was the relationships that he built that helped him grow in the sport and in life.
Basketball is a counselor and a teacher. “I felt like a fish out of water when I first got to St. Joe’s Prep,” says Howard, who was first introduced to the game as a preschooler as a ballboy at the Chaney/Sonny Hill Basketball camp when he would tag along behind his grandfather who was the camp chef. “I used ball to get me through.”
In 1997, Howard lost his beloved grandfather and had to lean on the game and his family to cope. That experience gave him a determination to succeed, and not just in basketball. “I determined then that I was not going to be denied success in life.” Later when he “wasn’t in a good place” after transferring to Bonner, it was again his old friend basketball that helped him maintain and flourish, finishing second in Catholic League scoring to legend Rasual Butler.
For many, basketball is merciful and presents a path to redemption, granting some second and, sometimes, third chances at success. Nafis Ricks, former Lamberton High bucket-getter, lost his bearings and it was the game that guided him back and showed him the way. “I didn’t know about the (NCAA) Clearing House,” laments Ricks, who despite being a prolific scorer his senior year (35 ppg), he was unable to overcome academic shortcomings and a lack of exposure to garner a scholarship. He attempted to shore up his academic resume at MCI, a prep school in Maine. The situation proved untenable and he ended up leaving that January.
Disheartened and disillusioned, he put basketball down and started lifting boxes at UPS. It didn’t take long for the game to beckon him back, with his little brother providing the motivation to heed the call. He was led to JUCO standout Johnson County Community College in Kansas, where Ricks rediscovered his love for the sport and learned how to be a better leader, he landed at Missouri State University. There he decided he’d seek a livelihood in the game.
Wyatt, who credits his mother, Gail Clinkscales, with teaching him his values and brother, Aziz, and father, Vincent with providing the motivation and support he needed, didn’t even give a professional career even that much forethought. “I never really thought about it,” recalls the 2-time Isreali League Player of the Year, reflecting on how he felt during his stellar senior season on North Broad Street. “I was pretty much just focused on the game at hand, focused on the moment.”
Wyatt says no one considered him a pro prospect in middle school. He had a “great” training camp experience with the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers before being waived after the last preseason game. He spent very little time languishing over being cut by the hometown team. He would soon board a plane to go to the other side of the world after signing a six figure contract with the Guandong Southern Tigers within hours of being let go. He would play just one season in China before finding great success in the top league in Israel, where he won both individual and team awards, winning a championship while earning MVP honors.
Basketball can also be humbling, forcing players to put their pride aside and re-evaluate their place in the game and in life. Howard, who was dealt a devastating career ending diagnosis after his sophomore at Drexel, shared an experience that showed the importance of being humble and flexible as you go along your journey.
After his playing career was snatched from him, denying him the one thing that had been a constant in his world since he was a toddler, his college coach, Bruiser Flint, offered him a way to stay involved as a student coach. Howard excelled in his new role, his natural desire to teach and lead drove him to clutch the opportunity to his bosom and nurture it with the same determination and passion that made him a standout guard in high school.
Upon graduation from Drexel, he accepted a position as a camp coach at Hoop Group’s Invitational Camp. His confidence was high going into the experience. He was ready to show his talent and acumen in coaching and training players. However, before that he needed to be humble.
“The first thing Mike Rice (camp organizer) says to me is ‘Look, we just finished up the other camp and those kids left the dorms a mess. I need you to grab a mop and a bucket and get those rooms cleaned.” Howard was surprised and confused, but he set his feelings aside and accepted the task. Within two months he went from holding a mop and bucket to the title of “Camp Director”.
Basketball can also expose us to harsh realities and how we respond in the face of such ugliness may determine where our journey may end or begin. Howard’s tireless work ethic and team first attitude won him supporters within the Hoop Group. One such person was Robert Kennedy, an organization official. At dinner one evening Kennedy suggested a candidate for the La Salle head coaching vacancy who was attending the camp hire Howard immediately if he did get the job. The coach then looked at Howard, who was the only African American at the table, and said plainly “I’m not going to have any coloreds on my staff.” Howard brushed off the shockingly racist response. A month later he was invited to join the La Salle staff by the man the university actually hired instead of the bigot. In 2004, Dr. Gianni made Howard an assistant coach and his coaching career began in earnest. His resiliency helped to earn him a professional home in his “place of refuge”.
The importance of resiliency was also imparted to Wyatt as he traveled his own road in the sport. He was playing the “best basketball of his life” in February of 2017 when he tore his ACL playing in Israel. This would begin a two year span of personal exploration and growth for him as he searched for things to help him in his recovery and also cultivate his other interests. He would launch his Marathon Sport endeavor which would channel his desire to help youth and give back through sports and other enrichment programs. (For more information visit www.msport.big.cartel.com). He also adopted a new nutritional regimen which includes mostly vegetables and fish. Wyatt, 29, hopes to play five or six more years before he turns his attention to his other interests full time.
Ricks, who had seen his fair share of struggles, going through 6 agents in 3 years, achieved his goal of providing for himself and his family as a professional basketball player. He also learned a lot about himself and his problems with mental health that hastened his eventual decision to quit playing professionally and return to the States. He is open about his challenges with PTSD, depression and anxiety. Missing his young daughter, the rigors of acclimating to a different culture, while living out of hotel rooms and from pillar to post with the constant travel that goes along with playing internationally, he was left “mentally burnt out.” After returning home he became involved in education and eventually joined the staff at The University of Missouri, reuniting with his Missouri State coach, Cuonzo Martin. Today he is spearheading programs to raise awareness of mental illness and give players tools to cope with these issues.
Although Alford, Ricks, Howard and Wyatt have had very different journeys through the game they all showed some common traits as they went along the way. The humility and resiliency they displayed as they dealt with ebb and flow of their basketball lives is noteworthy and informative. The game is many things to those who choose to embrace it. Basketball can take you places, introduce you to people and teach you about yourself and those around you with a surety unexpected in a mere game.