My homie from Mars, Zimgid Zrvxow, came to visit tonight. Turns out, they are starting a professional basketball league on Mars. Zimgid’s assignment was to come to the USA to scout for the best players. Last week, he was on the West Coast hanging with Rico Hines. Rico put him onto Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.
Tonight, we had a few beers and blew a few trees while talking hoops. Maaaaan, y’all gotta try some of that Martian “LOUD”! Shit is ridiculous!!
Zimgid asked me: “Which kids from this area are playing the best in college basketball right now?” I started talking about ESPN and Rivals HS rankings… He stopped me… “FUCK that, that shit don’t matter… I wanna know who is playing the best in college basketball right now.”
“Ok… But, he was a McDonald’s All…” he cut me off again…
“I don’t care about none of that shit from HS… I don’t care about grassroots or shoe company circuit performances… Who is BALLIN in college right now?”
Apparently, the Martian Basketball League (MBL) will pay rookies 30 million uutiizs per year… Seems like that’s a lot of tax free Martian money…
I had to think long and hard and after a while I gave him the following list…
Stay tuned… When fans are allowed, you may see a 13 ft., 437 lb figure with three legs and 7 eyes carrying a clip board at Big East, Big 10 and A10 games. Don’t be alarmed… That’s just my man Zimgid.
You might wanna go out to the parking lot and get on the space ship with him… I’m telling you, that Martian LOUD is something special.
As I entered my forties, I really began to treasure my relationships with my older friends. At the top the list was my relationship with Claude Gross, Sr. We shared a love of the great game of basketball, we both appreciated the role that Philadelphia played in bringing the game to international prominence and we both never shut up.
Now…I’m opinionated and outspoken. But, I can’t begin to hold a candle to the legendary loquaciousness of Claude Gross.
More than just about anything else, he loved to talk hoops. His favorite topics were how good he was as a player and a coach. He was a living, breathing embodiment of the cartoon character Commander McBragg. Except, you always knew that Commander McBragg was embellishing his accomplishments.
Claude Gross never told me a single lie.
“I beat Wilt in High School, he wasn’t ready for me…” “We won the YMCA/AAU national championship in Jim Crow North Carolina in 1953…” “I played professional basketball under an assumed name while I was in high school…” “I averaged more than 40 in the industrial league…” “Me and Tee Parham were like 800 – 0…”
Upon initially meeting Claude and hearing all of this, one would naturally wonder if he was exaggerating… NEVER!
As his gait got slower, and his energy levels decreased, I realized that I would not have my friend forever.
Claude and his contemporaries were GIANTS in the game. As noted above, his was the only Public League team to defeat Wilt Chamberlain and Overbrook HS. He played with John Chaney in high school. He mentored Ray “Chink” Scott, Earl Monroe, Mo Howard, Andre McCarter, Gene Banks, Lionel Simmons, Nate Blackwell, Geoffrey Arnold, Donnie Carr, Bobby Johnson, BJ Johnson, Donnie Carr, Rashid Bey and hundreds of other young men the came through the Sonny Hill Community Involvement League.
Claude passed on so much knowledge about the history of the game. He was an endless font and an incredible inspiration.
It just wasn’t fair that the accomplishments of his generation weren’t memorialized.
I never really knew about the magnificent careers of Tarzan Cooper, Zach Clayton and Frank Washington until Claude explained in great detail what they had accomplished. With words, he could place you in a cramped church gym and you could actually “see” Tee Parham scoring 40, 50, 60 or even 90 points with ease.
After bouncing around the idea with Claude, Tee Parham, Dave Riddick and Ray Scott, I decided to establish the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I enlisted Mo Howard and Geoffrey Arnold and we were off and running. We literally had nothing but spirit, energy and commitment.
Somehow, someway we wanted to be able to recognize the GREAT Philadelphia players, coaches, journalists and contributors that would never be otherwise recognized.
If NOT us? Who?
There is no Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame. These guys were banned from competition in the Big 5 solely because they were Black. Who? Who was gonna recognize and memorialize their enormous contributions?
With a nice little contribution from Lionel Simmons, we were off and running. No glitz, no glamour… Just 100 hopheads gathered in a small North Philadelphia community center with plenty of food and top shelf liquor loving and respecting one another.
ESPN’s Undefeated, the Philadelphia Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer provided extensive regional and national media coverage of the inaugural class. Temple and La Salle Universities were very supportive. Philadelphia Youth Basketball and Mike Horsey gave generous donations.
The highlight… The headliner… The GRAND MASTER of the evening was my dear friend Claude Gross. He was a little weak, he wasn’t moving very well… But his mind was as sharp as ever! There were at least 20 South Philly guys in the house and they were drinking, carousing and fully supporting their leader.
Just a few weeks after his induction, Claude passed away. I can’t describe how good it felt knowing we were able to induct him into the Black Basketball Hall of Fame while he was able to fully participate and enjoy the ceremony.
I have come to treasure every interaction and conversation I have with guys like Tee Parham, Ray Scott and Sonny Hill. They have given the game of basketball and the city of Philadelphia so much. We were able to present the late, great Dave Riddick with his award acknowledging his induction before he passed away. These moments are invaluable. To be able to honor the legends from yesteryear as well as my contemporaries like Nate Blackwell, Mike Anderson and Lionel Simmons meant so much to me. To see and feel the extent to which they appreciated the honor was incredible.
I am extremely proud to have played a significant role in establishing a means of properly enshrining them and ensuring their legacies are shared with future generations.
The Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame, under the leadership of Mo Howard and Al Taylor has grown and taken on a much needed role of advocating for and providing assistance for members of the Philadelphia basketball community in need.
Again… If NOT us? Who?
I love the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame matters!
I remember it very clearly… Tommy Dempsey kept asking “why aren’t others recruiting him?”
Damn good question Demps… “I don’t have a fuckin’ clue.”
It was Fall of 2017 and Dempsey, the Head Coach at Binghamton University, could not believe what he was seeing. Here was an uber talented kid… A sure fire leader… A fierce competitor with highly refined offensive skills sitting there with no offers. What the fuck?
Dempsey wanted him… He really wanted Sessoms.
The Binghamton coach really couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a line of D1 coaches on the Sessoms family porch. Honestly, I really couldn’t help him figure that one out.
I was flummoxed my damn self.
Indeed, Black Cager Sports had just named Sam Sessoms the HS MVP of the Greater Philadelphia region. His competitors for that award were Cam Reddish (Duke), Isaiah Wong (Miami), Donta Scott (Maryland), Naheem McLeod (Florida State) and Eric Dixon (Villanova). Each and every one of those guys was a sure fire high major prospect with multiple offers.
Yet, somehow the Black Cager MVP had ZERO (0) D1 offers. That is, until Dempsey laid eyes on him. Now it is worth mentioning that Dempsey had some real advantages over a lot of other programs. He had developed a keen understanding of Philadelphia’s Scholastic Basketball scene. Perhaps, more importantly he had cultivated and maintained some strong relationships in the Phillt basketball community.
Dempsey always did his homework. As a result, Dempsey feasted on overlooked Philly ballers at both Rider and subsequently Binghamton. For example, he took a chance on an unheralded Public League Division D Conference Player of the Year in 2008. Paul Robeson’s Brandon Penn went on to have a solid career in the MAAC and play professionally overseas.
Some other guys like Mike Ringgold, Danny Stewart and Novar Gadson were more well known commodities, but they garnered little interest from Big 5 programs. These guys excelled under Dempsey at Rider. Ringgold pumped in 1,386 points and grabbed 789 rebounds. Stewart finished his career with 1,414 points and 872 rebounds. Gadson put up 1,475 points and corralled 726 points.
Sometimes Dempsey hit doubles, triples and homers. Other times the at-bats weren’t as fruitful. Philly schoolboy legend, Nurideen Lindsey played a solid, but unspectacular, season for Dempsey at Rider. Lindsey averaged 8.0 ppg and 1.6 apg in his lone year with the Broncs.
One of Dempsey’s last forays into Philly while at Rider was his recruitment of Roman Catholic PF Junior Fortunat. Fortunat would average 3.7 ppg and 2.5 rpg over a 112 game career at Rider. A Canadian national, Fortunat’s mother had entrusted Stephen Pina and I to help him find a program that would provide him with a quality education. We trusted Dempsey…
Why? Because Dempsey graduated ALL of his 4 year guys… Period. He also won more than his fair share of games at Rider and was rewarded with an opportunity to coach Binghamton University near is childhood home.
As he changed jobs, Dempsey remained committed to recruiting Philadelphia area kids.
Indeed, his first big recruit at Binghamton was Wissahickon’s Jordan Reed. In his first two years at Binghamton, Reed scored 913 points and pulled down 524 rebounds. Reed would transfer and complete his collegiate career at Tennessee State.
I say all that to say… Dempsey knows his way around Philly.
So when he was recruiting Sessoms he was perplexed… “How am I the only one that sees it?”
I had no real answers.
The most common explanation put forth for the lack of D1 interest in Sessoms as a PG prospect was the sub par season his grassroots club had during his 17U season. Playing alongside, not one, but two ball dominant top 20 national players he was overlooked. Cam Reddish and Louis King were at or near the top every national recruit ranking. Both would eventually be named to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team in 2018.
Sessoms a natural point guard, spent his summer, on the wing, watching Reddish and King do their thing on an immensely talented and underachieving Team Final squad that struggled to compete against the very best the EYBL had to offer.
Some say that experience really had a negative impact on his recruitment.
I’m not so sure… To come to that conclusion, one has to skip over the body of work he put in at the Shipley School. For four years, Sessoms literally terrorized the opposition. He went up against all the very best teams in the area and… quite fankly…
He BUSSED day ass!
I mean he truly was unstoppable. Some of the finest guards in the region were completely at his mercy, There was nothing they could do to slow him down, much less stop him.
Tommy Dempsey saw it… I saw it…
The other 350 or so D1 coaches just missed it.
A proud young man and a fierce competitor, Sessoms and his father refused to allow the slow pace of the recruitment process to get to them. They understood that he only needed one offer… Just one…
On a visit to Binghamton, Tommy Dempsey did something no other D1 coach in America would do that year. He offered Sam Sessoms a full basketball scholarship. A few days after returning from the visit, Sessoms would commit to Dempsey.
Over the next two seasons, Sessoms was the most productive player in the America East Conference. Dempsey was rewarded handsomely for his belief in Sessoms’ ability to compete at the D1 level. In just 2 seasons, he finished his tenure at Binghamton No. 2 on the Bearcats’ Division I-era career scoring list with 1,151 points. He eclipsed the 1,000 career point milestone in just 57 games. His 588 points as a freshman stands as the second-highest single-season total in program history. Sessoms finished in the top five in America East in both scoring and assists, he was one of only two of the league’s players to accomplish that feat as a freshman and sophomore.
In short, he tore they asses up…
Predictably, after his outstanding freshman campaign, many of the schools that completely disregarded him 12 months earlier expressed a profound appreciation for his game.
“If he transfers… we would be interested…” I heard that from at least 7 or 8 mid to high major programs.
However, by that time, Dempsey and Sessoms had developed a relationship that extended beyond the traditional player/coach bond. These guys were friends. They are both forthright grown men and treated one another with the respect one would accord to another grown man.
Recognizing that Dempsey gave him an opportunity fulfill his dream of playing at the D1 level when others had not, Sessoms decided to stay at Binghamton for his sophomore campaign.
After his second year, Dempsey fully understood that Sessoms faced an monumental decision. While he excelled individually, Binghamton continued to struggle as a team. Wins were hard to come by. He knew that Sessoms would have a boatload of options.
He knew the rest of the world could now see what only he saw 24 months earlier… Sam Sessoms is a BAD MUTHAFUCKA…
Dempsey humbly asked if he could recruit him again as Sessoms weighed his options to “move up” to a high major program. This is grown man shit! He didn’t try to manipulate him… He didn’t bad mouth the programs that expressed interest in his franchise player… He just asked for an opportunity to present his best case for Sessoms remaining the centerpiece of the Binghamton program.
I fuck with Tommy Dempsey!
In what was an emotionally charged conversation, Sessoms had to let his coach know he was moving on. Speaking to Dempsey around this time, he was conflicted. He knew that Sessoms would be successful wherever he landed, but he was losing his best player and his good friend. He fully supported Sessoms and still does.
A decisive young man, Sessoms quickly determined that he could be major contributor to the Penn State program Pat Chambers was building.
Not long after his commitment, the NCAA decided to make this year a “free” year for all student-athletes eligibility-wise. At that point, Sessoms sought and was granted a waiver to play immediately.
God is good… Penn State Basketball has Sam Sessoms at 20, with two seasons under his belt for the next three years.
Sessoms will help every player and coach in the Nittany Lion program get better. He will prod them… He will push them… If they are slow to respond, he will get it done himself…
It looks the same to me, he’s out there imposing his will on opposing teams. Going where he wants… Doing what he wants…
Only difference is the opposing teams are much bigger, stronger and more athletic. You know what though?
College basketball fans are enduring some trying times. Hopefully, we will be able to patch together something resembling a Division 1 college basketball season. Fans of small college basketball may very well hav to do without… D2 and D3 seasons don’t seem likely. There have been extensive cancellations at the D1 level. Scores of teams have shut down for 2-week periods following positive tests. All things equal… One would anticipate the cancellation of the season.
But… All things ain’t equal…
There is a big fuckin’ pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If most schools competing can get to 12, 13 or 14 regular season games played, the NCAA will find 68 of them and populate the field for the 2021 NCAA Men’s basketball Tournament.
At that point, they are printing cash…
When the tournament is held, over $1,000,000,000 will flow into the coffers of the NCAA.
The NCAA has an opportunity to make in excess of a billion dollars from the TV rights to its basketball tournament starring unpaid basketball players. Furthermore, these unpaid players are competing under stressful and medically challenging conditions. And… that billion doesn’t include the money the NCAA and member schools make from other media rights and ticket sales.
But I digress…
We are gonna have an NCAA tournament… The NCAA is gonna get that muthafuckin’ bag!
What will the journey to the bag look like? Who knows?
So far, the big boys have literally been parked outside the gym at Indian Casinos asking “who got next?”
I’m tellin’ y’all… The show must go on…
So… While we are bumbling, fumbling and stumbling our way into another season of college basketball, it seems like a perfect time to discuss the head coaching careers of two legendary local figures, Fran Dunphy and Phil Martelli. Their Big 5 head coaching careers are in the books. Both are over a year removed from their stints as Big 5 Head Coaches.
So… start to finish… Where would you rank their respective bodies of work amongst best in Philly’s illustrious college basketball history?
Full Disclosure: Both of these guys are friends of Black Cager Sports. Over the years, both gave Black Cager Sports unfettered access to their respective programs. Both have appeared multiple times on Black Cager Sports talk. These are my guys. I tried my best to control for the friendship factor and objectively assess their accomplishments and place them in the pantheon of great Philly coaches. Don’t know if others will agree.
Both would be extremely uncomfortable in discussions placing themselves alongside the great college coaches in Philadelphia. Well… Dunph would be uncomfortable… I think Phil would perhaps be a little more open for such conversation. Nonetheless, Black Cager Sports is committed to recognizing and honoring excellence and sparking interesting sports dialogue whenever possible. In that spirit, we set out to compare the the careers of Dunphy and Martelli against those of the very best college coaches to come through the City of Brotherly love.
All errors and omissions are my fault… Here we go…
#1 Jay Wright Over the course of his 20 year stint at Villanova, Wright has played in the post-season every year but one. He has reached the NCAA Sweet 16 six times, the Elite Eight 4 times and the Final Four 3 times. Wright’s Wildcats were crowned National Champions in 2016 and 2018. Wright entered the season with 471 wins at Villanova and 593 overall. He’s won 72.1% of his games at Villavona.
Jay Wright is the finest college basketball coach Philadelphia has produced… Period.
#2 John Chaney Tough to type that #2 next to Coach Chaney’s name. It’s really hard to place anyone over Coach Chaney for so many reasons. It almost feels like I’m betraying a fundamental truth… a core belief. Coach Chaney is the best. For so many reasons… Coach Chaney, the man, the social commentator had my full attention throughout his career. His perspective on collegiate athletics, the NCAA, student-athletes and race influenced my outlook. I first became aware of racial, social, economic and cultural aspects impacting collegiate athletics by paying attention to what Coach Chaney said publicly.
On January 13, 1989, William Rhoden wrote about what he described as a “contested piece of legislation that some feel could slow the influx of black athletes into predominantly white Division I universities.” I remember it like yesterday. I remember my visceral response when I read Rhoden’s recounting of the responses of John Chaney and John Thompson. Chaney, the basketball coach at Temple, referred to the N.C.A.A. as ”that racist organization.” He was deeply angered by NCAA action on scholarship eligibility that would limit opportunities for Black student-athletes.
The late, great John Thompson said, ”I think it’s sort of ironic when they began to integrate the South athletes were the ones used to pave the way, and they were used under the pious assertion that ‘we’re helping these poor kids… Now, apparently someone has said, ‘Enough,’ so they don’t need the kids anymore. They’re using the same rationale they used to get them in to begin to keep them out. I guess it’s a situation where we’re like shoes and clothes. We’re not in style anymore.”
It’s like Coach Chaney and Coach Thompson came into a dark room and turned the lights on for me. For that, Coach Chaney will always remain my personal number 1 college basketball coach. He literally helped create the intellectual space for me, decades later, to interject strong opinions on racial dynamics the manner in which they impact HS and college sports.
Coach Chaney was directly impacted by American Apartheid/Jim Crow social conditions when he graduated as the best player in Philadelphia’s Public League. He was not afforded an opportunity to play for one of the local college programs because he was Black. This is Coach Chaney… The man forced to play at a Black college, Bethune-Cookman, in the deep south.
In 24 years as Head Coach of the Owls, Coach Chaney led his team to post-season appearances every year except his first season at the helm. The Owls went to the post-season every year from 1984 through 2006. Every year… 23 straight seasons. Chaney’s Owls made 17 NCAA appearances. They made 5 Elite Eight appearances. The Owls won the Atlantic 10 regular season Championship 8 times and the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship 6 times.
#3 Fran Dunphy Dunphy won 310 games while coaching Penn for 17 seasons… Then… He won another 270 while coaching Temple for another 13 seasons. Overall, Dunphy won 580 games while coaching in the Big 5.
Fran Dunphy is the all-time winningest coach in Philadelphia Big 5 history.
Dunph has coached in seventeen NCAA tournaments. Some may feel that Dunph’s ranking is elevated. I don’t think he would place himself in the top 10.
He wouldn’t want me to do it… But, I’m doing it… I got Dunph 3rd all-time.
#4 Jack Ramsay Saint Joseph’s hired Jack Ramsay as coach for the 1955-56 basketball season for $3,500. It would prove to be a great decision. In his first season at St Joseph, the Hawks went 23-6 to win their first Big 5 crown. This season also marked the school’s first-ever postseason playoff berth, as St Joseph’s placed won in the NIT. Ramsay would remain at St. Joseph’s through 1966, leading the Hawks to six more Big 5 crowns, five straight seasons of first-place finishes in the Middle Atlantic Conference, ten postseason appearances, and a Final Four in 1961.
Is Ramsay ranking being dinged for leaving to pursue a World Championship in the NBA? Yup…
His ranking is a tough call… Do you give him credit here for the NBA championship? Naaaah…
Ranking Dr. Jack is like ranking Gayle Sayers… You didn’t see many do it better… Dr. Jack won 76.5% of his games at St. Joseph’s. He was 306-234 overall.
#5 Harry Litwack Litwack coached the Owls to 2 NCAA Final Four (1956, 1958) appearances. That’s right… Two Final Fours… He also led the Owls to the NIT Championship in 1969. Litwack compiled a record of 373–193. Recognized as one the very best coaches of his era, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973.
#6 Phil Martelli Martelli is my guy… I had a front row seat as Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to seven NCAA Tournaments and six NITs in 24 seasons as head coach. Phil had a damn good run at St. Joseph’s.
His highs were very, very high… At times, astronomical…
He was good out of the gate… In his very first season as head coach (1995–96) the Hawks reached the NIT Finals.
Now before we go further… Full disclosure… Martelli is my homie… My guy… Throughout his tenure with St. Joseph’s, Phil Martelli afforded Black Cager Sports and Delgreco Wilson unfettered access to the Men’s Basketball team. I attended/covered virtually every home game. I openly pulled for the St. Joseph’s Basketball program under Phil Martelli’s leadership.
Over the years, Phil delivered some big wins…
In his second year, led by junior Big 5 MVP Rashid Bey flanked by Arthur “Yah” Davis and Terrell Myers and Harold Rasul, Martelli’s Hawks captured the A10 title. This talented and entertaining crew made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997.
After a 3 year dry spell, Martelli embarked upon one of the best runs in the past 25 years. In 2001, his Hawks finished 26-7 losing in the second round. Marvin O’Connor dropped 37 in an epic performance in the 83-90 loss to Stanford.
St. Joe’s would go 23-7 in 2002-03. Nice… Very good team…
The following year, with Jameer Nelson as his senior point guard, Martelli led the Hawks to the greatest season in school history. They ran the table during the regular season, going 27-0. The Hawks lost to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and ultimately reached the Elite Eight to finish with a record of 30-2.
This is “officially” the deepest run that St. Joseph’s has ever made in the tournament.
But, the fact is the 1960-61 SJU team went all the way to the Final Four and won the third-place game. Do I give Dr. Jack full credit for this Final Four appearance? Yup…
Will I note that his Final Four run was erased from the books due to a gambling scandal? Yup…
In 2004-05, Martelli led the Hawks back to the final game of the NIT, where they lost to South Carolina.
In 2008, Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to its first NCAA Tournament since 2004 with a team led by Pat Calathes and Ahmad Nivins.
Martelli captured the A10 Tournament titles in 2014 and 2016.
#7 Rollie Massimino Massimino won a National Championship. He defeated John Thompson, Patrick Ewing and the mighty Georgetown Hoyas to get it done. Over the course of a 19 year run at Villanova, Massimino won 355 games. He made 11 NCAA appearances. Massimino Villanova teams made to the Elite Eight five times.
Massimino also insisted on playing Big Five City Series games on the Villanova campus. Under Massimino, Villanova decided no longer play a full slate of Big Five games. Massimino insisted on playing just two Big Five games a year.
It is what it is…
Massimino’s positions were clear… Philadelphia traditions did not matter… The Big Five was expendable. As far as Massimino was concerned, no Palestra, no round-robin, no Big Five.
Do I hold that against him? Yes
#8 Kenneth Loeffler Coached at La Salle from 1949 to 1955. His record at La Salle was 144 wins and only 28 losses. He won an NIT when it really mattered. He led La Salle to two Final Four appearances and a National championship.
What do you do with that record? How do you rank him? I don’t know… But, I feel strongly he is worthy of being mentioned. Coach Loeffler got shit done… in a big way.
#9 Speedy Morris Speedy Morris coached La Salle men’s basketball team for 15 years from 1986 to 2001. His first six years were outstanding. Morris led the Explorers to 4 NCAA appearances and 2 NITs over his first six seasons. He won 100 games in his four years.
#10 Herb Magee Herb Magee has spent more than 60 years as either a player or coach at what is now known as Jefferson University. His career record stands at 1096-440. Magee is one of only four college coaches to surpass the 1,000 win milestone. On August 12, 2011, Magee was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.