September 24, 2021 – Camden, New Jersey – In March of 2020, in a piece titled “The Big 10’s (Successful) Attack on Philly Mid-Majors!” I shared former Big 10 Commissionser Jim Delany’s thoughts about the Big 10 annexing Rutgers, Penn State and Maryland. Delany stated how significant the mid-Atlantic presence is to the Big 10’s long-term plans. “I don’t think people should evaluate this in the short term. But in a 25-year or 50-year period, I think they’re going to be very competitive. They are added value. “If you don’t venture out,” Delany said, “you never gain anything.
Newly installed Penn State basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry has demonstrated that he plans to venture out to Philly. Under Shrewsberry’s predecessor, Penn State established a solid recruting foothold in Philadelphia. Former Head Coach Pat Chambers and his top assistant Keith Urgo repeatedly come into Philly and landed some of the best players. Newbill (Public League), Carr (Catholic League), Stevens (Catholic League), Garner (Catholic League), Watkins (Public League) and Brockington (Catholic League) played very well for the Nittany Lions.
The Chambers regime left Seth Lundy (Catholic League), Sam Sessoms (Friends League) and John Harrar (Central League) on the Nittany Lion roster.
One had to wonder if Coach Shrewsberry and Penn State would continue to aggressively recruit Philadelphia. Moreover, assuming they wanted to, it was fair to ask if they would be able to continue grabbing top shelf Philly prospects.
Well… The answer is yes and yes.
With the commitment of Demetrius Lilley (Lower Merion/Philly Pride) to Penn State, joining Jameel Brown (Westtown/Team Final) Penn State has effectively demonstrated a commitment to recruiting Philly.
Jameel Brown is ranked #148 by Rivals. According to Rivals, Lilley is the #31 center.
The past 10 years or so have witnessed nothing less than the collapse of the social contract between the “street dudes” and ball players. This collapse is characterized by proliferation of gun violence involving college bound student-athletes, by the normalization of death among 16-22 year old student-athletes, by the high levels of drug use among student-athletes, by the emergence of a parasitic cadre of “handlers” and by an increasingly frequent failure to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Elite student-athletes in cities like Philadelphia, Chester, Coatesville and Camden are especially vulnerable.
Elite basketball and football players were once considered off limits. Those of us of a certain age can certainly recall numerous occasions where the “ol’ heads” would emphatically declare “this ain’t for you youngbul… take yo ass home.” Later on, you would learn there was a fight, a robbery or some other illicit activity that the ol’ head protected you from.
It was an unwritten, but rigidly adhered to “code.”
Ball players and good students were off limits. The drug dealers and the gun toters were always prevalent in urban communities. They were there… you encountered them on a daily basis. They may have given the ball players some new sneakers… They may have had the ball players on their summer league teams… They may have shared some of their winnings from wagers on the games with the ball players… They may have even helped the ball players enter into “entanglements” with some of the fly young females in the community.
But when it was time to “strap up” or “put in work,” real ol’ heads ALWAYS declared “this ain’t for you youngbul… take yo ass home.”
Those days are gone. No case illustrates this point more than that of Sam Sessoms, Jr.
A magnificent basketball player, Sessoms hails from the hard-scrabble Mantua section of Philadelphia. The “Black Bottom” as it colloquially known in Philly is one of the most violent neighborhoods in America. Violence and mayhem have long characterized the Bottom. As far back as 1987, during the throes of the crack epidemic, the Mantua community saw twelve murders.
An excellent student, Sessom, Jr. leveraged his considerable basketball talents to gain entry in the highly competitive Shipley School. Sessoms would go on to have a legendary school boy career. He was a four-year standout for coach Philip D’Ambrosio, leading the Gators to 68 wins during his career and berth in league championship game in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018. Sessoms was named all-league and All-Mainline accolades all four years and all-state twice with first-team honors as a senior. He poured in 28.8 points per game as senior and 23.0 ppg for his junior season, finishing his scholastic career with a school-record 2,091 career points.
Sessoms accepted a scholarship to Binghamton University where he continued to excel. He was named to the CollegeInsider.com Freshman All-America Team and named the America East Rookie of the Year after earning America East Rookie of the Week honors seven times. His sophomore campaign was even better. Sessoms started in all 29 games and finished season with a conference leading 19.8 points per game.
Sessoms decided he wanted the challenge of playing at the high major level and transferred to Penn State after his sophomore season. In his first Big 10 season, he played in 24 games in with the Nittany Lions as a key sixth-man player. He had nine double-digit scoring efforts and was the only Nittany Lion to score in double figures in first seven games, all off the bench.
Fully acclimated to the Big 10, Sessoms was looking forward to summer of hard work in preparation for a new era in Penn State basketball under first year Head Coach Micah Shrewsberry.
Those that know Sessoms fully anticipated a break out season in the Big 10.
But… Real life down the Bottom is getting in the way. The absence of the code has never been more obvious.
On May 17, 2021 at approximately 3:30 pm, Sessoms’ 6 year sister was shot in the leg while playing with friends outside the family home on the 3800 block of Wyalusing Avenue. This was a high profile shooting of an innocent child in broad daylight. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw noted that the girl’s parents were inside a vehicle when the shots rang out. Some of those bullets did hit the windshield but no other victims were struck. According to Outlaw, a group of men were running toward the children around the time of the shooting. “We do know that there was information that there was a vehicle, a dark-colored sedan, that was following the group of males that was running prior to the shooting,” said Outlaw.
What “code”? They are shooting 6 year-old girls jumping rope on the sidewalk in front of their home.
Sessoms’ father, Samuel Sessoms, Sr. is friend of mine and at the time, he told me was trying to move his family away from his beloved Bottom. His daughter fully recovered and, shortly thereafter, Sessoms, Sr. moved his family across town to the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia away from daily violence permeating the Mantua streets.
At least, that’s what he thought.
On September 16, 2021, exactly 4 months after his little sister was shot in front of the family home, two shooters walked up onto the porch of the new family home and fired at least eight shots into the home, striking Sessoms’ 19-year-old brother, Sidney and his father Sam, Sr.
His brother, Sidney, later died at the hospital. His father is listed in critical but stable condition.
As reported by 6ABC.com, “Minutes after the gunfire rang out, police responded and a witness was able to alert police to an area where the shooters fled. Soon after, officers found a male suspect running. That’s when the suspect started to shoot at officers, according to investigators.”
“We believe that our suspect fired at least six shots at two or three uniform police officers. They are very, very lucky, they didn’t get hit. They didn’t return fire because there was a lot of people out on the streets, but they did chase this individual who was firing shots at them,” said Chief Inspector Scott Small with the Philadelphia Police Department.
Police were able to apprehend the assailant and he is now behind bars.
In a 4 month span, Sessoms’ sister, brother and father have been shot. His sister and father were seriously injured but expected to fully recover, his brother did not make it.
So now, when he should be focused on his studies and preparing to lead the Nittany Lions through the Big 10 gauntlet, Sessoms has to muster up the intestinal fortitude to lead his family through these very trying times. Facing yet another move just a few months after the last move and unexpected funeral expenses, Sessoms has launched a GoFundMe campaign:
“Hey, my name is Sam Sessoms and I am launching this fundraiser to help cover my little brother’s funeral expenses and also help move my family to a different location. My little brother and father was recently shot multiple times inside of our home. My father has been in surgery all morning but he is making progress. Unfortunately, my little brother did not make it. We have to cover the expenses to that and also find a new home. Our house is completely damaged and we are being forced to move. Life is hard right now, and I truly need all of you guys support for me and the family. Please donate so we can lay my baby brother to rest and also have a roof over our heads. We do not care if it is 1$, please help us.”
This brief video from an interview I conducted in March 2020, gives you a look inside the dynamics of the relationship between Sam, Jr. and Sam, Jr. Both are my friends. Both are real men. Both live their lives by a code that no longer exists.
These are real men. Sam is a Nittany Lion and, I am sure, Happy Valley will wrap their arms around him and lift his family in their time of need.
Seven years ago, I was watching the coaching staff of the nationally prominent St. Joseph’s Prep (PA) football team conduct clinic for the Darby Township Eagles Youth Football Club on a hot August day. One of my good friends approached me with a lanky teen in tow. Howard Hudson, a longtime grassroots basketball coach, had a strong track record of identifying and developing really talented basketball prospects very early.
“He’s next… I’m telling you, he is the next one.”
Howard was pointing toward a 6’4” 13 year old rising 8th grader named Donta Scott. Over the years, hundreds of coaches and parents have introduced me to kids and made similar predictions. My response is always the same, I urge caution. All too often, anointed middle school prodigies are passed by their late blooming peers.
“Ok.. Ok… Howard… I’ll catch him when he’s playing varsity high school basketball.”
I just don’t find middle school basketball very appealing, same with freshman and junior varsity competition. Generally speaking, I start paying attention when the kids put on the varsity HS uniform. But, I knew Howard was dead serious about Donta and I figured I would hear about Donta down the line.
Almost a year later, Howard reached out again as Donta and his parents were narrowing down their high school options. As Howard had predicted, Donta had emerged as one of the top 8th grade prospects in the mid-Atlantic region. He had a lot of options including some of the top private, public and Catholic high schools in the region.
A loyal coach with old school values and sensibilities, Howard wanted to help Donta make a high school choice and then see him graduate from that school four years later. We both disdain the school-hopping that prevails among elite HS student-athletes these days. Howard wanted him to have a complete and fulfilling high school experience. I agreed completely with Howard’s approach and felt that far too many of the top student-athletes end up attending 2, 3 or even 4 schools over the course of their scholastic career.
During the course of the school selection process, Donta’s mother, Sandra Campbell, shared his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with Howard. Sandra wanted to make sure that Donta’s educational needs were fully understood, considered and that an adequate plan would be in place to meet these needs. Howard, Donta and I discussed the importance of the next four years of Donta’s educational developments.
We made sure that Donta understood that he “learned differently” and that he was entitled to certain accommodations and supports to ensure that he could succeed in HS and beyond. Donta, while reticent about his feelings, was extremely attentive to everything that was said about him during these meetings. As a 14 year old, he was reluctant to speak up. But he would make comments and ask questions after the meetings were concluded making it very clear that he fully understood his academic situation. Moreover and more importantly, he grasped what he needed to accomplish to meet his goals of qualifying for and accepting a basketball scholarship.
After considering several private and catholic options, Donta and his parents chose to attend Imhotep Charter High School. While Imhotep is one of the most prominent and successful high school basketball programs in the country, the decision to attend was based primarily on the strength of the special education program and the commitment of coach Andre Noble to holding Donta accountable in the classroom.
With the support of the Imhotep teaching staff and the steadfast encouragement of Coach Noble and his staff, Donta easily exceeded NCAA eligibility requirements.
His four year run, as a starter, at Imhotep on the court will go down as one of the greatest in the history of Philadelphia Scholastic basketball. Donta never lost a regular season Public League game. His teams were routinely ranked in the top 10 nationally and he led the Panthers to 3 state championships as well as wins over programs like Camden, Montverde and Oak Hill.
The University of South Carolina offered Donta a scholarship when he was a sophomore. Over the next couple of years he would receive offers from La Salle, Saint Jospeh’s, Temple, Seton Hall, Penn State, Auburn, Florida and Maryland among others.
Just as we had during Donta’s HS selection process, Howard and I held his hand during the college recruitment process. I told Donta we were like “training wheels”. During the first couple of college visits Howard and I would take the lead during discussions about Donta’s academic background and goals.
We would document academic accommodations, advocate for needed accommodations & services, identify his interests, abilities, talents, needs, learning style preferences and goals. Donta would always listen intently. Then one day, while we were visiting Penn State and entering a meeting with the academic support staff for student-athletes, Donta took the “training wheels” off.
“I got it.”
With those words, he let us know that he was taking control of this process. He proceeded to eloquently discuss his learning “style” and probe the academic counseling staff regarding their approach and the supports they had in place.
From that moment forward, Howard and I took a back seat and Donta assumed full control of his academic development. Ultimately, he chose to attend the University of Maryland. Truth be told, his decision was based in large part on the level of comfort he felt with the Maryland academic support staff. Donta felt comfortable on and off the court during his visits to Maryland.
After a brief period of adjustment and a very minor hiccup during his first summer session, Donta has done very well academically. His GPA has hovered around the 3.0 range and he is ahead of pace to graduate on time. Howard and I have repeatedly told Donta that he is a role model for young middle and high school students that learn differently and struggle academically. He has gradually accepted this role.
Armed with academic confidence built up over two years in College Park, Donta has written a children’s book, WIRED DIFFERENTLY: My School Journey, that will be published by Black Cager Press next month. His book is intended to help parents and students with learning disabilities navigate the high school selection and matriculation processes. Everything was proceeding as planned.
On August 15, 2021, Howard and I met at Donta’s family home in Norristown to spend a few moments with him and his family. It was a beautiful summer day. We laughed, we joked with Donta… under a bright summer sun. We talked cars with his stepfather and then we went on our way.
And then mother nature intervened…
Two weeks later, on September 1, 2021 Hurricane Ida finally made her way from the Gulf Coast to the Philadelphia region. She brought along torrential rainfall. So much so that the banks of the Schuylkill River quickly gave way and the dark, nasty, coffee colored floodwater spread across Norristown and quickly enveloped Donta’s entire neighborhood. The murky, smelly water invaded their home and spared none of their belongings. In a matter of hours, everything was lost…
Fortunately, the fire company rescued the family by boat and carried them to safety. For the past two weeks, Donta’s mother and the rest of his family have resided in hotel rooms as they struggled to regain their bearings. Donta has tried mightily to balance his responsibilities as a college student, leader of one of the nation’s top college basketball programs and a loving son, brother and uncle.
Ultimately, he decided to do what he could within NCAA rules…
“I got it.”
Earlier today (September 14, 2021) he organized a GoFundMe fundraiser and shared this message:
On September 1, 2021, my family and I were displaced from our home in Philadelphia due to the effects of Hurricane Ida. It caused extreme flooding throughout our home and my family was forced to evacuate. We aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to return. In a matter of hours we lost just about everything we owned. Water levels reached four feet high in our house. We lost TVs, laptops, dining room furniture, our entire family room set, kitchenware, clothing, bedding and countless other items. My family is currently forced to live out of a hotel and expenses are rising rapidly. My mother Sandra has always been the rock of our family. I would not be where I am today without her. She has always worked so hard for our family to make ends meet.
I’m asking you to please consider helping my family get back on our feet. Any little bit will help during these difficult times. I know with your help and our faith we will manage to get through this. Thank you all for anything you can do to help.
Donta Scott #24
As of 10:38 pm, the fundraiser had been active for 11 hours and Donta had accumulated $32,659 out of his $50,000 goal. His extended family has truly been embraced and lifted by his Terrapin family. Donta’s GoFundMe campaign will likely exceed his goal within 24 to 48 hours.
I was there when Donta first visited Maryland. I was there when he took his official visit. I was there when he made the decision to commit to Maryland. I was there when he moved into his apartment.
There were some prominent naysayers that questioned his decision to join the Terps. Never once, not for a millisecond has Donta wavered in his commitment to the University of Maryland. He is truly a Terp for life. In the face of tremendous adversity, he has discovered that the larger Maryland community loves and values him and his family.
September 3, 2021 (Camden, NJ) –Black Cager Sports is proud to announce the return of the Fall Classic Pre-Season Basketball Tournament. Some of the nation’s finest scholastic squads will hit the courts at Charger Nation for the two day event from Saturday, September 18 to Sunday, September 19.
“We feel this year may be the best version of the Fall Classic since we started in 2016. The quality and the depth of the basketball talent is exceptional and will lead to exciting games as some of the best high school players on the eastern seaboard have the chance to showcase their abilities. Many of the players have offers from BIG 10, SEC, ACC, AAC, A10 and Big East programs,” said Delgreco Wilson, Founder of Black Cager Sports.
Most importantly, this years Fall Classic is sponsored by Black Cager Academic Advising. As a result, every participating school will receive 2 free NCAA Eligibility/Transcript Evaluations. The academic evaluation reports helps student-athletes, parents, AAU coaches and college coaches make more informed decisions during the recruitment process.
An academic evaluation report from Black Cager Academic Advising will: • Identify the academic documents being evaluated • Include our statement of progress toward NCAA eligibility • Include your Core Course Grade Point Average and total Core Credits • Describe our evaluation methodology • Be certified by the evaluator (with certification stamp and signature) • Be emailed and/or mailed in an ‘evaluation sealed & stamped envelope’
The iconic Fall Classic pre-season tournament has hosted many future high major college superstars over the years. Since it’s establishment in 2016, the Black Cager Fall Classic has welcomed in the next generation of top East Coast ballers. The most recent wave of talent has included Kentucky sophomore forward, Lance Ware, Villanova freshman forward, Nnanna Njoku and Temple freshman point guard Hysier Miller. Other Fall Classic Alums include Collin Gillspie (Villanova), Rahsool Diggins (UConn), Jaylen Stinson (JMU), Jahmir Brickus (La Salle), Lynn Greer III (Dayton), Seth Lundy (Penn State), Ace Baldwin (VCU) and Bernard Lightsey (Lincoln).
There are remaining slots for this year’s event. We also hope to have a few of the top girls teams participate.
Some of the the top players include: Jahnathan Lamothe (#44 Rivals c/o 2023, St. Frances Academy, Undecided) Javon Adams (c/o 2022, Olympus Prep, Undecided) Anthony Finkley (c/o 2023 West Catholic, Undecided) Kaseem Watson (c/o 2022 West Catholic, Undecided) Kareem Watson (c/o 2022 West Catholic, Undecided) Zion Stanford (c/o 2023 West Catholic, Undecided) Bryce Lindsay (c/o 2022, Bishop Walsh, Undecided) Derek Simpson (c/o 2022 Lenape, Rutgers Commit) TJ Robinson (c/o 2024 Bishop Walsh, Undecided) Kobe Magee (c/o 2022 Executive Education, Drexel Commit) Michael “Deuce” Jones (c/o 2024 Trenton Catholic Academy, Uncommitted) Jeremiah Bembry (c/o 2022 Executive Education, Undecided) Cortez Johnson (c/o 2022 St. Frances Academy, Undecided) Daniel Alcantara (c/o 2022 Reading, Undecided) Ruben Rodriguez (c/o 2024 Reading, Undecided) Justin Moore (c/o 2022 Archbishop Wood, Undecided) Jacob Beccles (c/o 2022 Constitution, Undecided) Jahiem Bethea (c/o 2022 MCS, Undecided) Robert Wright III (c/o 2024 Neumann-Goretti, Undecided) Kaafiq Myers (c/o 2024 Neumann-Goretti, Undecided) Niame Scott (c/o 2023 Conwell-Egan, Undecided)
The Fall Classic welcomes several new teams to tournament: • Bishop Walsh HS (MD) • Players from Gwynn Park HS (MD) • Lenape HS (NJ) • Muhlenberg HS (PA) • Conwell-Egan HS (PA)
Locally, this season’s event welcomes three of the top teams in the state of Pennsylvania, including 6A State Champion Reading HS, Philadelphia Catholic League Champion Archbishop Wood, District 1 power Plymouth-Whitemarsh as all perennial state title contenders Neumann-Goretti and Constitution.
The 2021 Fall Classic will run four sessions – with morning and afternoon sessions featuring four games each on both days of the event.
“We are very excited to have our basketball program to participate in a tournament that has become an East Coast tradition,” said St. Frances Academy Head Coach, Nick Myles. “The opportunity to play against some of the top talents in the Mid-Atlantic region will prepare us for the long season ahead.”
Black Cager Sports has partnered with Charger Nation, a regional sports management company, to manage all event operations. Charger Nation has worked with many of the regions leading basketball organizations and teams including Catholic, Private and Public school programs. Charger Nation has managed hundreds of grassroots and AAU events.
For more information on the tournament, follow @BlackCagerFallClassic on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
About Black Cager Sports Black Cager Sports aims to raise academic outcomes through athletics for high school participants throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region. Black Cager sports has touched the lives of more than 200 young people, over the last decade, boosting the graduation and college acceptance rates of its members to about 95%. Many program participants credit the program’s encouragement, tutoring, and guidance with setting them up for success in college admissions and beyond. “They were the first people to actually sit me down and say, ‘Hey, you can do it. This is exactly how you can achieve your goals. You can go to college,’” says Taquan Woodley, a class of 2021 alumnus. “They really believed in me before I even believed in myself.”