An actual live Big 5 basketball game was played today. The La Salle Explorers hosted the 7th ranked Villanova Wildcats at the fabled Palestra. This is as real as it gets for Big 5 basketball. I searched for over an hour, but I couldn’t find Channel 17 or Prism on my YouTube TV, so I had to settle for the ESPN2 broadcast.
I was geeked… I don’t know why… I should know better by now… Mike Brooks, Stevie Black, Truck Butts, Lionel Simmons, Randy Woods and Doug Overton don’t live in dorms at 20th and Olney these days.
This is 2021… And, Nova has absolutely ruined one of greatest traditions in all of sports. They are just too good and have been too good for far too long… So much so, they have fucked up the the Big 5. The fact of the matter is the Big 5 is not really a “thing” anymore. It doesn’t really exist in the minds of young ballers and college basketball fans. It only exists in the minds of 45+ year old Philadelphia hoops heads that can recall a time when truly anything could happen in a Big 5 game. Their frame of reference is a long ago and distant time when the games were actually competitive.
The youngins can’t even name the schools that make up the Big 5.
They do, however, know Villanova basketball… Nova is like Michael once he left the Jackson 5. Jermaine, Jackie, Tito and Marlon were fine musicians in their own right… But they couldn’t fuck with Michael.
They knew it, Michael knew it, the fans knew it, everybody knew it. Mike was on another level… The world just had to let him go and do his own thing.
So it is with Nova…
Once a year, we try to put the Jackson 5 together again. Mike tries to play 4 sets with his brothers. We try to take post-Off the Wall, post-Thriller Mike and put him on stage with the guys he made ABC with and it just doesn’t work anymore. They can’t keep up with Mike… Mike’s on a different and much higher level. Michael is just better in all aspects of musical production and performance than his brothers. As a result, the show is less than enjoyable when they try to make music together. Nonetheless, we watch…
Going back to the 2013-14 season, Villanova has lost exactly 1 Big 5 game.
Today, Mike had a set with Tito… Tito couldn’t keep up with the new music… Actually, looked like he forgot the words to some of the songs…
Nova jumped out to a 9-0 lead to begin the game. Then, things got worse… Much worse…
With 4:25 left in the first half, Villanova was up 39-9. For the first 16 minutes of the contest, La Salle Freshman PG Khalil Brantley was only Explorer able to score against the Villanova defense.
Brantley had all 9 Explorer points. Clearly up for the challenge of facing Nova’s All-American candidate, Collin Gillespie, Brantley was digging deep in his bag. Crossovers, step-backs, in and outs… He put it all on display in an effort to get a clean look at the rim. Once he got the space he was able to calmly drain some jumpshots, but his efforts were too few and too far between.
At the 4:09 mark, Brantley again broke down a defender and splashed another 3-pointer…. 39-12.
Finally, at the 3:27 mark, Jhamir Brickus tipped in an offensive rebound. Those were the first points scored by an Explorer not named Brantley.
On the other end of the court, it looked like Justin Moore, Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater were playing against their little brothers. The Nova players would dribble and back Explorer defenders straight down the driveway and into the garage door. If another Explorer decided to help his teammate, the ball would immediately find the Wildcat left alone. That player would then either ball fake the close out defender and blow by him to attack the middle of the Explorer defense or immediately pass the ball to a player in better position.
Real simple… Real effective…
If the Explorers chose to play straight up man to man, the Nova players took their chances in the post, even the guards. More often than not, they were able to come away with a field goal or a trip to the free throw line.
La Salle had absolutely no answers. Tito was offbeat all night, he looked bad, real bad, on stage next to Mike.
Of course, you always relish an opportunity to see Mike in his prime… The moonwalk was crisp, he hit all of his high notes just right and he played his biggest hits. But, damn Tito needs to get his shit together if he’s gonna keep getting on stage with Mike.
Tito and Jermaine are linking up for a low key set on Wednesday night at the Liacouris Center. They usually look better when Mike is not on the stage and the show must go on… I think I’m gonna go…
Camden-Jr. G 6-4 D.J. Wagner (ESPN #1 2023), Jr. C 7-0 Aaron Bradshaw (ESPN #20 2023), Sr. F 6-8 Rasheer Fleming (St. Joes), Jr. F 6-6 Boog Robinson, Jr .G 6-0 Cian Medley and Coach Rick Brunson!!! Enough said!!!
Imhotep-Defending Public League Champions. Coach Andre Noble brings back Jr. F 6-8 Justin Edwards (ESPN #18 2023), Jr. G 6-0 Ra Burno, Sr. F 6-6 Mo Abdullah (Rider), Sr. G 6-0 Ronny Raphael (Gannon), So. F 6-6 Jeremiah White and adds Super So. G 6-2 Ahmad Nowell (ESPN #24 2024) to an already loaded team.
Westtown-Coach Seth Berger brings back the Nation’s Top Returning Post Prospect in 7-0 Derick Lively (ESPN #2 2022, Duke) and adds Sharpshooting Sr. G 6-3 Jameel Brown (Penn St.) from The Haverford School to the mix.
Roman Catholic-Chris McNesby comes back to the team after a brief hiatus and inherits a team featuring Sr. G/F 6-6 Dan Skillings (Cincinnati), Sr. G 6-3 Khalil Farmer (Hofstra), Jr. Superb Floor General PG 6-3 Xzayvier Brown and a deep roster which includes 6-8 Fr. Sensation Shereef Jackson (son of Marc Jackson)
Reading– The Defending PA 6A Champions. The hardest playing team you will see. Coach Rick Perez brings back the outstanding core of the Defending State Champions with Athletic Jr. 6-2 G Ruben Rodriguez Jr, Versatile Sr. 6-5 F Daniel Alcantara, steady Sr. 6-0 Floor Leader Joey Chapman, Sr. G 6-0 Xavier Davis and 6-3 Jr. Amier Burdine. The loss of Moro Osumanu (West Chester) will sting but this group seems to thrive in the underdog position.
Neumann-Goretti – When a team as talented as this group ends up at the 6th position, that tells you how deep the area is in talent this year. Covid derailed the season for the Saints last year but Coach Arrigale has a team that can compete for the Catholic and State Title this year. Neumann added 6-7 Jr. F Sultan Adewale to an already deep roster of returnees led by 6-1 Sr. G Masud Stewart and So. Quartet of 6-0 G Robert Wright, 6-0 G Khafeeq Myers, 6-5 F Amir Williams and 6-10 C Luke Bevilacqua. This ranking may turn out to be too low for this group.
MCS– Coach Lonnie Diggs, a year removed from a Public League Championship, boosts another team that will compete for a title in the Pub and in the State. The leader is 6-0 Sr. Floor General Jaheim Bethea. Fresh off a Peach Jam Title, he definitely will not be scared of the moment. Plus there is a talented group right alongside of Bethea. The Sr. Trio of 6-3 G Trent Middleton, 6-8 F Khalif Crawley and 7-0 C Darryon Prescott will provide a lot of height and skill. Jr. 6-1 G Chauncey Pressley will also provide scoring and defense for this group.
The George School-Coach Ben Luber is building an Upstart program in the Bucks County. With the Combination of 6-9 Jr. F Kachi Nzeh and 6-4 So. PG Christian Bliss, this team has a combination of height, experience and youth to continue to challenge Westtown for supremacy in the Friends League.
Archbishop Wood– Defending Catholic League Champons. Lost a lot but also gained some new pieces to join a couple Sr. Contributors to the 6A Runners Up. Sr. 6-1 PG Justin Moore (Drexel) will lead this group that returns 6-5 Sr. F Mike Knouse and 6-3 Sr. Tyson Allen. 6-7 Jr. F Carson Howard, 6-4 So. G Jalil Bethea, 6-4 Jr. F Basil Lester are expected to play big roles for this team. Watch out for 6-4 Athletic Fr. Milan Dean Jr.
Lower Merion-Defending 6A District 1 Champions. Coach Gregg Downer returns 3 starters from the title team but they were probably the 3 best players from last year. 6-10 Sr. F Demetrius Lilley (Penn St.) is the featured star but 6-3 Jr. Shooter Sam Brown (Son of Brett Brown) and 6-1 Sr. steady PG Jaylen Shippen may be one of the underrated good backcourts in the region. 10B. Allentown Central Catholic-Defending 4A State Champion. Another team that doesn’t get as much respect from the area but returns the dynamic duo from their title team. One of the clutch players in region 6-1 Sr. PG Tyson Thomas returns after hitting the title clinching basket for ACC. 6-6 Sr. F Liam Joyce is also a returning All-State player. Coach Dennis Czensitis will be counting on 6-7 So. David Fridia to make a jump this year.
Best of the Rest Lincoln West Catholic Radnor SCH ANC Ryan Plymouth Whitemarsh Downingtown West Muhlenberg Executive Charter Devon Prep Lasalle Bensalem
The Terrific Twenty DJ Wagner-Camden (ESPN #1 2023) Derick Lively-Westtown (ESPN #2 2022) (Duke) Justin Edwards-Imhotep (ESPN #16 2023) Aaron Bradshaw- Camden (ESPN #22 2023) Jeremiah Bembry-Executive Charter (Florida St) 2022 Demetrius Lilley-Lower Merion (Penn St.) 2022 Daniel Skillings-Roman (Cincinnati) 2022 Christian Fermin-Pocono Mountain West (VCU) 2022 Derek Simpson-Lenape (Rutgers) 2022 Justin Moore-Wood (Drexel) 2022 Kaseem Watson-West Catholic (Cal St. Bakersfield) 2022 Jaheim Bethea-MCS 2022 Sultan Adewale- Neumann 2023 Elmarko Jackson-ANC 2023 Xyavier Brown-Roman 2023 Ruben Rodriguez-Reading 2023 Al Amadou-SCH 2023 Kachi Nzeh-George School 2023 Rahmir Burno-Imhotep 2023 Horace Simmons-Lasalle 2023
Just missed: Khalil Farmer (Roman-Hofstra), Rasheer Fleming (Camden-St. Joes), Kyle Jones (Father Judge), Michael Walz (Conestoga-Richmond), Nix Varano (Lasalle-Army), Mo Abdullah (Imhotep-Rider), Matty Williams (Lincoln), Kobe Magee (Executive Charter-Drexel), Daniel Alcantara (Reading)
Last week, billionaire Philanthropist, James Maguire sent a letter to the Presidents of St. Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania in which he, in effect, told them to “get down or lay down” with his desire to suppress peaceful non-violent protest by the Penn Men’s basketball team.
According to reporting by the Inquirer’sMike Jensen, Maguire’s letter stated, “I am serving notice to you that the Maguire Foundation and I personally will not be renewing any scholarship gifts or pledges (present or future) nor undertaking any future commitments to Penn.”
Let’s be clear here… Because Penn allows basketball players to silently protest the anthem, Maguire is cutting all financial contributions. That part is done… Penn is cut off from Maguire and his foundation…
Now… Penn will be just fine… St. Joe’s?
Jensen further reports that, Maguire has donated more money to St. Joseph’s University than any other individual in the school’s history. Indeed, the former Episcopal Academy campus on City Avenue is now the Maguire campus at St. Joseph’s. Maguire’s relationship with St. Joseph’s is far more intimate and consequential than his relationship with Penn. Maguire sent a copy of his letter to Penn President Amy Gutmann, to St. Joseph’s president Mark Reed and athletic director Jill Bodensteiner. He also provided a copy to the Inquirer.
In the letter, Maguire directly asked St. Joseph’s President Reed to suppress the protest that may occur on the St. Joseph’s campus.
“By copy of this letter I am asking Saint Joseph’s to uninvite [Penn’s] team to their campus on December 8th for that game… To openly support disrespect to our country and to our flag is wrong and I do not want to be part of this disrespect.”
Get down or lay down…
Again, Penn will be just fine… St. Joseph’s, however, is in very a tough spot. It has been and continues to be a primary beneficiary of Maguire’s incredible philanthropy. He has given away hundreds of millions of dollars to educational causes, with billions left to disperse.
A tough predicament for President Reed and Bodensteiner for sure… St. Joseph’s University and the St. Joseph’s Athletic Department need Maguire and the Maguire Foundation.
Does the St. Joseph’s administration accept his assertion that the protests are disrespectful to our country and the flag? If so, how does the administration respond. If not, how does St. Joseph’s manage to remain in the good graces of the most generous benefactor in the history of the school?
Seems almost quaint to be engaged in this conversation at this point. I thought peaceful non-violent protests of the anthem were officially categorized as acceptable behavior in American society – the Kaeperneck effect. I guess I miscalculated. I thought we were trying to figure out if the erection of gallows on the grounds of the nation’s capital was acceptable. I assumed we were more focused on armed insurrections aimed at overturning duly conducted elections. Those seem like more pressing and hot-button protest-related issues these days. Coming after protestors for kneeling/sitting during the anthem is so 2016.
Now, if the Penn kids were smearing shit on paintings and statues while rhythmically screaming “Hang Mike Pence” as they invaded the US the Capital to thwart the peaceful transfer of power, I’d understand the trepidation surrounding their activities.
Kneeling/sitting during the anthem? Really?
Seriously… I had no idea we were still campaigning to stop such “dangerous” activities.
The Quakers are not disrespecting our country and our flag… But, even if you feel they are over the line, is the level of disrespect so profound that it warrants calling for cancellation of a Big 5 basketball game?
It should be noted that St. Joseph’s “absolutely will be hosting Penn on December 8 as scheduled” according to Liz Kennedy Walsh, vice president for marketing and communications at St. Joseph’s.
Apparently, St. Joseph’s has decided not to get down in this instance… Looks like St. Joseph’s had denied Maguire’s request to uninvite the Quakers.
Will he make St. Joseph’s lay down?
Maguire is rather adamant in his position. The Penn players are disrespectful and their protest should be suppressed.
As reported by Jensen in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Maguire, said he “jumped out of planes, froze my ass off, saluted my American flag every day and loved my country with all its shortcomings.”
Maguire is openly leveraging his enormous financial resources in an attempt to force the University of Pennsylvania and St. Joseph’s University to stifle the protests.
St. Joe’s is in a tough predicament. Maguire is the “MAN” at St. Joseph’s by any reasonable way one could measure such a thing. He’s that guy… He has donated more money to St. Joseph’s than any other person… ever. He also also carried thousands of needy students through Philadelphia’s Catholic elementary, middle and high schools. Maguire walks the walk. His contributions to local educational organizations are of historic proportions. The man is committed to the idea of providing access to quality education.
Obviously an extremely intelligent man, Maguire, in what could be construed as tacit acknowledgement of the issues raised by the Penn players, recognizes that the United States of America has what he euphemistically refers to as “shortcomings.”
This is where cultural differences become pronounced. The “shortcomings” become something entirely different and more significant when viewed through Black eyes. A group of young Black Penn players have unpacked the “shortcomings” category and gave it a different moniker.
As reported by Mike Jensen, “A Penn captain, Jelani Williams, said after the Quakers home opener, in which all but three players sat during the anthem, joined by two assistant coaches, how “we’ve had a lot of internal conversations just about how guys have felt in their experience in this country as Black young men. There are still a lot of people in the prison-industrial complex. The wage gap is still growing every day. There’s a bunch of stuff.”
The issue is not whether the players are justified in protesting. The fight is for the space to conduct the protest. Maguire is explicitly seeking to take away Hagan Arena as a locale for non-violent, silent protest during the national anthem.
We’ve stepped into the Critical Race Theory realm… American history is so racist that when you tell it straight, a lot of white people accuse you of focusing too much on race. Take the anthem for example… Let’s explore the origin of the anthem, the explicitly white supremacist character of Francis Scott Key and the racist lyrics largely hidden from public view.
The Penn players are well within their 1st amendment rights to not sing the racist anthem written by a ardent racist/white supremacist. Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Key also enslaved African-American people. Key championed and heavily participated in the American system of chattel slavery. Key had a very specific servitude relationship with African-Americans whereby he enslaved and treated them as personal property. Key was free to sell, trade, or treat African-Americans as he would cattle, horses and other livestock. This is Francis Scott Key.
Black folk… I don’t know what to tell you about the white folk that do not understand why that alone is reason to protest the song.
It was written by a racist/white supremacist of the highest order.
In his 50s, Key was named by President Andrew Jackson as the U.S. district attorney for the nation’s capital, where he aggressively prosecuted race and slavery laws to the fullest extent, even seeking the death penalty. He also targeted abolitionists for prosecution.
Key pursuaded President Jackson to name his brother-in-law, Roger Taney, to the Cabinet and then chief justice of the United States. Taney and Key were close friends before Roger met and married Key’s sister. Taney authored the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court opinion.
Key’s brother-in-law wrote, “[African-Americans] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
Black folk… Francis Scott Key and his brother-in- law Chief Justice Roger Taney did not fuck with Black people. Yet for many whites, the reasons for black protests during the anthem are incomprehensible.
It is somehow considered “disrespectful” for Black people to protest the white supremacist Key and his racist anthem…
“The Star-Spangled Banner,” has more than one verse. The second half of the third verse is as follows:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Key’s lyrics are intended to taunt and threaten the African-Americans who took the British up on their promise of freedom and land in exchange for fighting American troops. It should be noted that the British kept their word, refusing the United States’ demand that formerly enslaved African-Americans be returned. Instead, the British provided them land in Trinidad and Tobago to resettle with their families. Their descendants, called “Merikins,” still live there today.
Maguire, like tens of millions of white Americans, is incapable of facing the reality that everything about “The Star-Spangled Banner” — its lyrics, its author, and the manner in which it became the national anthem — is inextricably bound up with America’s horrific history of racism.
The young men on the Penn basketball team have a constitutional right to protest and make statements. As a society, we have to protect everyone’s right to protest, even young Black Ivy league basketball players. We have come a long way since Key’s brother in law claimed otherwise as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
As reported by Jensen, Jordan Dingle, Lucas Monroe, Ed Holland, Jelani Williams and the rest of the Penn team discussed their experience in this country as Black young men. Through those conversations, Williams said they identified “a bunch of stuff” when asked about motivating factors for the anthem protest.
One suspects that there is significant overlap between Maguire’s conceptualization of American “shortcomings” and the “bunch of stuff” referred to by the players. Two hundred and forty six years of brutal chattel slavery on armed labor camps, another century or so of Apartheid-like Jim Crow, federally directed infiltration of Black organizations and elimination of Black leaders, decades of explicit discrimination in employment, housing, education, etc., overrepresentation in prisons, police brutality and murder of unarmed Blacks are just a few of the “shortcomings.” The Penn kids are transitioning to adulthood and trying to make sense of the world they confront and it’s complex history.
I know Jordan Dingle’s father Dana, a three-year starter on some of John Calipari’s best teams at UMass in the early 1990’s. At UMass, Dingle and the Minuteman won four Atlantic 10 championships, one NCAA sweet sixteen, one elite eight and one final four from 1992-1996. These days Dingle is one of the mainstays of the NYC Grassroots scene as a Director/Coach with the New York Lighting Basketball Club.
I know Lucas Monroe. I’ve followed his progress since early in his freshman year at Abington High School. I also know his father, Raymond Monroe. I’ve watched Lucas evolve from a bright and inquisitive young boy to a thoughtful and passionate young man. As a sophomore, he’s been named Co-Captain of the team and he has assumed a leadership role on the committee charged with the task of forming a Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame.
I know Ed Holland, III. I know the entire Holland family, his mother, father and older brother. These are intelligent, warm and caring people that place a very high priority on education. I have had an opportunity to talk extensively with Ed III and Ed Jr. about education related issues.
These young men are ideal college-student athletes. Supremely gifted athletically, they are also blessed with exceptional intellects. Their maturity is evidenced by their presence on the Penn basketball team. Each of these young men were offered full scholarships to “higher level” basketball programs. These scholarships included things like cost of attendance stipends that are unavailable to Ivy League student-athletes. Yet, they chose the long-term benefit of the Penn education over the immediate tangible offerings of the big time basketball schools.
These are good young men. These are smart young men. These are socially conscious young men navigating the undergraduate educational process at one of the most academically competitive institutions in the nation. These young men have strong moral and ethical values that have been instilled by their families. Those that disagree with them should engage and communicate with them, not seek to suppress their activities.
These young men have chosen to silently and respectfully protest racial injustice in the United States of America by refusing to stand during a racist anthem written by a profoundly racist/white supremacist that clearly felt that Blacks have no rights which whites are bound to respect.
Maguire, like the infamous Aaron Jones, is telling Penn and St. Joe’s to “get down or lay down.” If they don’t do what he says, he will withhold his considerable largesse from these institutions. While I’m sure the University of Pennsylvania would rather continue to work with Maguire and the Maguire Foundation to support much needed projects, Penn will be just fine if Maguire cuts them off.
The Penn endowment totaling $20.5 billion as of June 30, 2021, is comprised of over 8,000 individual endowment funds benefiting the University’s schools, centers, and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Penn can keep the lights on without Maguire.
St. Joseph’s, on the other hand, is very much beholden to Maguire. St. Joseph’s endowment is 70 times smaller than the Penn endowment. As of 2020, their endowment was valued at $293.8 million. Maguires’ donations and contributions are far more crucial to future plans of St. Joseph’s. After all, he has has donated more than anyone else in the history of the university.
Shit could get real tricky here for St. Joseph’s.
I realize the University has stated the game will be played as scheduled. But, I also know they are holding on relevance as a college basketball program by a thread. Since firing Phil Martelli and his staff, the Hawks have an overall record of 13-43 (.232) and 5-25 (.167) in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Maguire’s public stance could make the road to back to relevance much more difficult to navigate for St. Joseph’s coach Billy Lange. Rumors about a major practice facility construction project for St. Joseph’s have been swirling for a while. St. Joseph’s has always been able to count on Maguire to support projects of this ilk.
Seems like St. Joseph’s may be placing future Maguire Foundation support at risk if they allow the Black players at Penn to silently protest the racist song written by the white supremacist.
Maguire wants St. Joseph’s and Penn to suppress Ed Holland, III’s and the other Quakers’ right to protest racial injustice, police brutality and police murders. A year ago, Billy Lange was trying to convince Ed Holland to play basketball at St. Joseph’s.
Tricky… Tricky… Tricky…
St. Joseph’s is one of the few remaining Division 1 institutions in the Mid-Atlantic regions that has never had Black person serve as Head Men’s Basketball coach, Women’s Basketball coach or Athletic Director. The manner in which the St. Joseph’s administration deals with Maguire’s request is being closely watched.
Penn, on the other hand, put a Black man in charge of the athletic department 42 years ago. Charlie Harris, hired at the age of 29, was the youngest person to be named Athletic Director at an Ivy League School with his appointment. He was also the first ever African American to serve as an Ivy League Athletic Director (1979).
Thirty-Nine years ago, in 1982, Penn hired Craig Littlepage, a Black Man, to coach the Men’s basketball team. In 2009, Penn hired Jerome Allen to coach the men’s basketball team. Penn has zero (0) issues with their basketball players silently protesting the anthem.
Maguire has put St. Joseph’s and Penn on notice… Get down or lay down… Two very different schools, two very different histories of inclusion in the athletic departments…
Penn has long been at forefront of providing opportunities for Blacks. Penn gets it… As far back as 1896, the great Black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was appointed as an assistant instructor at Penn and began his investigation of the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia—research that he would turn into his groundbreaking work, “The Philadelphia Negro.” In 1979, Penn hired the a Black man to lead the Athletic Department. Subsequently, on two separate occasions, Penn has hired a Black men to lead the Men’s basketball program. Currently, Penn is providing its Black male basketball players with the institutional cover and intellectual space to necessary to conduct highly visible silent protests during the playing of the national anthem.
I can really see why talented young Black male basketball players want to attend the University of Pennsylvania.
St. Joseph’s may find out that “Shut up and Dribble” is not a very effective sales pitch to elite Division 1 basketball prospects. Maguire, the biggest Hawk, doesn’t want Penn’s protesting Black players on St. Joseph’s campus. Another question is sure to arise: Why would talented Black players with options want to attend St. Joseph’s and live and study on the Maguire campus?
It was December 9, 2018, I wanted to see some good high school basketball. Turned out 2 of my buddies were playing against each other. Charles Grasty was taking his Abington Ghosts to Washington, D.C. to face Nick Myles and his St. Frances Panthers. The game was at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C.
That’s about 2 hours… Gas up… I’m out…
I’m watching a strong Abington squad led by Eric Dixon (Villanova) and Lucas Monroe (Penn) take on Ace Baldwin (VCU) and Rajier Jones (Chicago State).
St. Frances was nationally ranked and Abington was a dominant Pennsylvania Suburban One program. St. Frances jumped out on Abington early and never looked back, but it was an entertaining game and I really like both coaches and their kids.
Right in the middle of the action, a young lady tapped my shoulder and matter of factly said, “You are always watching the boys, you should come watch us play… We are better.”
“Oh… Really… Who do you play for?”
“St. Frances girls…”
Displaying my ignorance regarding the girls side of the game, I pushed back on her assertion, “Y’all better than the boys? Those guys are nationally ranked.”
“So are we.”
Hmmmmmm… I take a second to think here… This young lady is very, very self-assured, confident and dead serious…
“What’s your name?”
“Angel… Angel Reese.”
“Can you play? Are you any good?”
Again… I found myself totally lost on the girls side of thing… I had no idea who Angel Reese was… Absolutely none…
“You wanna play in college?”
“Have any colleges reached out yet?”
“Do you have any offers?”
“My top 5 is Maryland, Tennessee, USC, Syracuse and South Carolina.”
Ok… Now… I’m starting to get it… SHE IS DAT GIRL!
“South Carolina is by far the best program in women’s college basketball… In fact, I’m gonna FaceTime Dawn Staley right now… Dawn, this young lady said you want her to come play for you?”
Coach Staley kept it very short and to the point, “Del… She’s the one!”
“Ok… I’ll hit you later.”
I spend a great deal of time visiting the Boys program at St. Frances. I would run into Angel quite frequently and each and every time I extolled the virtues of my homie and her program in Columbia, South Carolina
“How could you even think about playing for someone other than Dawn. You do know she is DAWN STALEY right?”
Angel was very deliberate throughout her recruiting process. She took all of her official visits. Her mother, also named Angel Reese, was an accomplished Division 1 basketball player at UMBC. Ultimately, after comparing and contrasting the the offerings of the various suitors, Angel decided to attend the University of Maryland.
Maryland got “the one.”
Now there remained the matter of Black Cager Sports covering one of the St. Frances girls games. Finally on January 25, 2020, I got to watch the St. Frances girls, then ranked #6 in the nation, go against Baltimore Poly before a packed crowd at the Talmadge Hill Field House on the campus of Morgan State University.
Within a few trips up and down the floor, it was clear why the top college programs chased Reese so intently. Reese is an athletic face-up 4 with outstanding post moves and counter moves. She is also capable of facing up and attacking off the bounce. When she is on the court she creates immediate mismatches. Reese has very good length, she drives, draws contact and makes her free throws. She is also a very quick leaper and relentless offensive rebounder.
In short, the young lady is a whole problem.
Reese ended her senior season ranked #2 by ESPN and virtually every other publication of note. She was a member of the McDonalds and Jordan Brand Classic All-American Teams in 2020. She was named USA Today Maryland Player-of-the-Year in 2019 & 2020, All-Metro Player-of-the-Year in 2019, USA Today 2nd-team Maryland in 2018 and 1st-team All-Metro in 2017, 2018.
Can you play? WTF? I was forced to face the fact that Black Cager Sports has shortchanged the girls and the young women. Truthfully, I would immediately recognize any male basketball player with those type of accolades. I was woefully ignorant about scholastic basketball on the girls side and it was painfully obvious. Thankfully, Reese never made the ol’ head feel foolish despite my obvious shortcomings regarding the girl’s side. I thank her for motivating me to work harder to become far more familiar with and knowledgeable about high school and college basketball on the girls side.
I couldn’t wait to see what Reesse would do in the Big 10. During her freshman campaign, Reese only saw action in 15 games, and missed 14 due to a foot injury. Despite missing nearly 50% of the contests, Reese was named to All-Big Ten Freshman Team (2021) after averaging 10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds as a rookie.
Truth be told… The country didn’t get the full Angel Reese experience until this season.
Fully healthy, with four years of eligibility remaining, Reese is determined to lead the Terps to the Big 10 and NCAA Championship. Through 6 games, she is averaging 19.4 ppg and 12.0 rpg. Perhaps most impressive are her 7 offensive rebounds per game and her shooting percentage (55.7%) from the field.
Earlier this week, after watching yet another Men’s game at Maryland, I told her I wanted to come to a good game… Again… my ignorance about the girls side came quickly to the fore.
“We got Baylor Sunday.”
Well… That’s a damn good game. And… I had no idea it was taking place.
“I’ll be there.”
Sunday afternoon, I was positioned directly behind the Maryland bench. After Reese picked up her second foul in the first half, Maryland Coach Brenda Frese kept her on the bench. Maryland was short handed and Coach Frese would manage Reese’s minutes carefully. Coach Frese and Maryland had to dig deep to pull this one out. Nothing came easy… In addition to Reese’s foul trouble, Diamond Miller was unable to complete the game due to a lower leg injury. Also, two other key Maryland players are sick and were unavailable.
Coach Frese had to play the hand she was dealt. Three Maryland starters, Collins, Bibby and Sellers played the full 40 minutes. Another, Owusu played 39 minutes. Foul trouble limited to Reese to 19 minutes.
It is worth noting that while she sat for 21 minutes, Reese was the most vocal member of the Maryland contingency. Clapping, yelling and trying to telepathically will her teammates to victory. She bolted up from her seat and onto the court during each and every timeout, walked briskly on the court and emotionally greeted and motivated each Terp in the game with words of encouragement. She was the consummate teammate, totally engaged with the team and the coaches.
When she was on the court, Reese was very productive. In her 19 minute run, Reese finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 offensive rebounds and 2 steals. Most importantly, Coach Frese deftly managed the foul trouble and was able to have Reese on the court when it mattered most.
After closing a double digit gap, Baylor was within 3 points of the Terps with 1:30 left in the game. After being called for offensive fouls earlier in the contest, Reese had the ball in the right corner. She was closely defended by the magnificent NaLyssa Smith (30 pts, 15 rebs).
On this possession there were no ball fakes, no interior footwork, no crossovers… The southpaw Reese bounced the ball in her right hand and initiated contact with Smith…Bump… Both women gathered themselves, Reese dribbled and again initiated contact… Bump again… By then, she was positioned under the right side of the basket. Reese played through the contact and through Smith. She muscled in a right-handed layup as Smith swung down in an attempt to block the shot.
Foul… and one…
78-73 with 1:08 left.
Reese made the free throw…
Baylor would make a 3 point shot with 0:38 left to close it to 79-76.
That would be the final score.
I gotta get back there to see Reese and the Terps a few more times. She’s one of the best college basketball players in the nation… male or female.
“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. ”
Bill Parcells, 1997
Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon has proven himself to an accomplished grocery shopper under the new NCAA transfer rules. However, the judges have yet to rule on his ability to cook the meal. A couple of the appetizers he’s served up have been far less than satisfying.
Turgeon and his top Assistant Matt Brady deserve credit for the Terps recruiting haul. Maryland has identified, recruited and landed some of the finest basketball players in that nation through the transfer portal. The implementation of new rules regarding transfers and the onset of immediate eligibility for transfers has forever changed the recruiting aspect of the job. The manner in which coaches obtain the “groceries” has been fundamentally altered. Some indicate they will no longer shop at high schools, they much prefer the transfer market. Turgeon and Brady successfully employed a multi-pronged approach to building his current roster.
College basketball, at the Division 1 level, has undergone a dramatic transformation in just a few short years. Today, D1 basketball players are “free agents” able to enter the transfer portal simply by texting or emailing their head coach, compliance officer or athletic director. In addition to being able to enter the portal at any time, college basketball student-athletes are now also immediately eligible upon transferring, just like those in non-revenue sports have been for years.
Keep in mind, that’s not the only big change…
The bulk of college basketball student-athletes have been receiving monthly cost of attendance stipends for several years. These stipends range from $300 to over $1,000 per month depending on the university. These stipends are in addition to the unlimited meals that came about after UConn’s Shabazz Napier told the media that “there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving” in April 2014.
But wait… There’s more…
College student-athletes are now able engage in activities that involve the use of their name, image and likeness for commercial or promotional purposes.
College basketball players can get money! The plot thickens…
In pursuit of said money, college basketball players can employ professional service providers such as, but not limited to, agents, tax advisors, marketing consultants, attorneys, brand management companies or anyone who is employed or associated with such persons.
The game is unrecognizable to those that have been around it for than a decade or so… It’s totally different… College basketball has been radically transformed.
Ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, the notion that kids could unilaterally initiate a transfer with a text or email to a compliance officer was unimaginable. Student-athletes were powerless. Walter Byers, Executive Director of the NCAA from 1951 to 1988 captured the essence of the power dynamic when he wrote that the NCAA is “firmly committed to the neoplantation belief that the enormous proceeds from games belong to the overseers (the administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may receive only those benefits authorized by the overseers.” The one sided power relationship was highly problematic and easily abused by vindictive coaches. I’ve watched first hand as coaches have totally controlled kids and denied them opportunities to play by refusing to sign off on transfer requests.
All that one-sided neoplantation bullshit is gone… Basketball student-athletes can freely choose to go wherever they please.
On top of that, student-athletes are immediately eligible when transferring for the first time. In effect, there is complete free agency in college basketball. And… The players can now get money… Some can get a lot of money…
The previous college basketball paradigm (pre-2021) is impossible to understand through the conceptual framework of the modern college basketball paradigm (post-2021).
Shit changed for real.
Recruiting is different now. With new rules in place, teams can become older and more experienced in one off season. Roster management is different. About one-third of scholarship players entered the portal last season. The financial relationships are different. The power dynamic between players and coaches has shifted considerably. The job description for those responsible for maintaining a competitive D1 college basketball program has changed radically.
Some college coaches have made extensive use of the newly emergent transfer portal “market” to shop for groceries. Turgeon, in particular, has done very well recruiting this market. He also managed to land Julian Reese, one of the top Big 10 freshman, from a Saint Frances a traditional Catholic high school.
Now… Turgeon is charged with the task of “cooking” a Final Four meal with the new ingredients.
Last season, the Terrapins finished in 8th place with a record of 17-14 overall and 9-11 in Big Ten play. Making it to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, the 2020-21 Terps, arguably, overachieved. Eric Ayala led the team in scoring with 15.1 ppg. He shot the ball at a respectable 43.7% overall and 33.7% from behind the 3-point line. Aaron Wiggins came in right behind Ayala at 14.5 ppg. Donta Scott averaged 11.0 ppg and led the team with 6.0 rpg. Darryl Morsell scored 9.0 ppg and grabbed 4.0 rpg while being named Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Hakim Hart provided steady point guard play while chipping in 7.1 ppg.
That team got by largely on grit and determination. Morsell and Scott were dogs on the defensive end. They just willed their way into competing on most nights. Maryland was team that just wouldn’t die. You had to kill them and kill them again like Jason Vorhees or Freddie Kruger… They kicked and screamed until the very end.
However, once that end came, the new realities of college basketball hit Turgeon and the Terps right away. The NBA and other college teams took some groceries from the Maryland pantry. Aaron Wiggins turned pro. He’s currently active with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Darryl Morsell transferred to Marquette, where he is averaging 22.5 ppg. Jairus Hamilton transferred to Western Kentucky, where he is averaging 15.3 ppg and grabbing 4.3 rpg. Also gone are seldom used big men Galin Smith to graduation and Chol Marial transferred to Oregon State.
Faced with a depleted roster, Turgeon creatively and agressively used the new rules to his advantage. In one momentous weekend in April, Turgeon got a contract extension and secured commitments from two of the top available college “free agents.” Former Georgetown center Qudus Wahab and former Rhode Island point guard Daron “Fatts” Russell committed to going the Terps.
Whoaaaaa… These are experienced and proven players from programs in highly competitive leagues. Both immediately eligible…
Such moves were impermissible under the pre-2021 college paradigm. Rapid reloading with veteran players from the rosters of other teams is some new era shit. Some coaches, like Turgeon, have proven to be far more nimble and adept than others.
Turgeon would dip into the transfer market a couple more times during the off-season. The Terps secured the services of Ian Martinez, a transfer from Utah and Xavier Green, a graduate student from Old Dominion.
Since these “free agent” commitments were announced, there has been a palpable buzz and sense of anticipation surrounding the Maryland program. On paper, the Terrapins appear to be poised for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Indeed, Turgeon got everything on his grocery shopping list. He has plugged in an All-Big East level performer at the center spot and an experienced All-A10 guy at point guard. Donta Scott, Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart are proven Big 10 performers.
On paper… Maryland is formidable…
However, meals are not prepared in the grocery store and actual games are not played on paper.
Thus far, the Terps have played five games, all of them in the friendly confines of the Xfinity Center. Maryland opened with a convincing 83-69 win over Quinnipiac. They beat a resilient George Washington squad 71-64. Next, Vermont was knocked off 68-57. Then came defeat…
George Mason came to Maryland and shot 50% (12-24) from behind the 3-point line on the way to upsetting the Terps 71-66. Tonight, Hofstra had 4 players in double figures as they extended the Terps to the wire.
The last 2 or 3 games beg the question: Why hasn’t the “on court” performance of the Terps been commensurate with the “on paper” assessment of this talented bunch? What’s missing?
Well… from where I sit… The missing ingredient is the “extra pass.”
It’s absence is very noticeable. All too often, the ball comes to an abrupt stop and a low percentage, well-defended shot is attempted. The absence of the extra pass makes the game much more difficult than it has to be. In order to meet the lofty goals attached to this team, the extra pass needs to be found and immediately integrated into the offensive strategy.
Somebody’s gotta find it… and, soon…
At it’s core, the extra pass represents the very essence of team sport. It says “I have a shot, a good shot… a shot no one will complain about… But if I pass, you have a better shot.”
The extra pass is selfless.
The extra pass is contagious.
The extra pass is a winning play.
Bear in mind, the extra pass has been very much present at the Xfinity Center in some of the recent games. Unfortunately, it’s been Maryland’s opponents making effective use of it to get clean looks at 3-point shots. To make matters worse, teams have been knocking them down with alarming regularity resulting in a loss and uncomfortably close wins at home.
Conversely, when Maryland has the ball, the extra pass is glaringly absent. As a result, it’s tougher to get buckets. Easy, open shots are few and far between. For some key Terps, it’s been a struggle to get going on the offensive end.
Eric Ayala is shooting 35.5% overall and 30.3% from the 3-point line, down from 43.7% and 33.7% last season. Donta Scott is shooting 43.2% overall and 31.3% from the 3-point line, down significantly from 49.8% and 43.8% from the 3-point line.
Ain’t gonna win Big 10 games like that… Ain’t gonna get drafted like that…
When they find the extra pass, this Maryland team has a chance to be special.
In addition to facilitating the team goal of winning games, the extra pass will help individual players get where they want to go. For Maryland alums, the goal is the NBA. Aaron Wiggins is in the NBA. Kevin Huerter is in the NBA. Bruno Fernando is in the NBA. Jalen Smith is in the NBA. Of course, Eric Ayala aspires to play in the NBA. Donta Scott wants to play in the NBA. Fatts Russell wants to play in the NBA. Qudus Wahab has NBA aspirations.
Winning Big 10 games, NCAA Tournament games and putting young men in the the professional ranks are not mutually exclusive goals. For this group, the key to accomplishing both is the extra pass. See, for example, Villanova basketball.
The question for Coach Turgeon is: How do you get a group of recently acquired, talented players to understand that the best way to achieve their individual goals is to help their teammates accomplish their goals? Dean Smith did it… John Thompson did it… John Chaney did… Bob Knight did it… Dawn Staley does it… It’s not easy. That’s why they pay those guys 1, 2, and even as much as 3 million per year to figure it out.
Turgeon is a strong recruiter. He has quickly adapted to the rapidly shifting college basketball landscape. He’s one of the best portal shoppers in the game. He knows where to find and how to come home with grade ingredients, no question. Now it’s time to prepare the meal… Can he cook?
Maryland alums and fans are really hungry!
The recruiting was excellent. Now, some good old-fashioned basketball coaching is required to create an unselfish and cohesive unit. The extra pass will definitely be needed to get Maryland through the gauntlet that is the Big 10 regular season and beyond the first weekend on the NCAA tournament.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, start Angel’s lil’ brother and let the extra pass bake in…
Exactly 20 years ago, Bruiser Flint was in his first year as Head Coach of the Drexel Dragons. Drexel had just made the jump from America East Conference (AEC) to the more competitive Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA). Flint’s first Drexel squad was led by Robert Battle and Tim Whitworth. Both from Philadelphia, Battle was a chiseled 6’8”, 230 low post defender extraordinarie. Whitworth was a smooth sharpshooting wing. Flint also brought some intriguing freshmen guards in with him. Jeremiah King from Paterson, NJ and Danny Hinds from Allentown were highly regarded Flint recruits and Phil Goss from Maryland decided to stick with Drexel even after Steve Seymour was let go and Flint was brought on board.
The Dragons got off to a rocky start Flint’s first year. They were 2-5 heading into a game against St. Joseph’s on December 10, 2001. The Hawks were in the midst of one of the greatest runs in school history. The previous year, led by Jameer Nelson, a freshman POINT GOD from Chester and, Marvin O’Connor, a high scoring wing from South Philly that played his HS ball at Gratz, the Hawks established themselves as a force on the national basketball scene.
The Hawks were 5-1 heading into the matchup with the Dragons. Hawk Head Coach, Phil Martelli and Flint were good friends. They had gone head to head for the previous decade while Flint was a top assistant and subsequently, Head Coach at UMass. The two decided to keep the friendly, but oh so intense, rivalry going once Flint returned to Philadelphia.
That Hawks squad was very talented. O’Connor, Nelson, Na’im Crenshaw, Bill Phillips, Delonte West, Tyrone Barley, Mike Farrelly and Phil Martelli, Jr. were all my youngins. So was Jamal Nichols who was redshirting that year. I spent a lot of time around those kids.
In an attempt to inject a little levity into a fiercely competitive situation, I was talking a tremendous amount of shit, as usual… I told Crenshaw, O’Connor and the St. Joseph’s assistants that Drexel was going to come into Hagan and beat the Hawks. I will never forget the response from the St. Joseph’s assistant Monte Ross.
Speaking very slowly and self-assuredly, Ross explained, “Del… there are levels to to this shit and Drexel is not on our level.”
He was right… St. Joseph’s proceeded to spank Drexel 85-54 at Hagan Arena. A middle of the pack CAA team was no match for a solid A10 squad.
They were, indeed, on different levels… That was then, this is now…
Fast forward 20 years, last night I attended a game between CAA preseason favorite Delaware and A10 contender La Salle. While at that game, my friend Howard Hudson had the Drexel vs St. Joseph’s game playing on his phone. We watched the clash of the local CAA/A10 teams in real time.
Plainly stated, there is no longer a measurable gap between the CAA and A10 programs in the Great Philadelphia area. Zack Spiker’s Dragons have defeated Billy Lange’s Hawks two years in row and they also played in the NCAA tournament last year. Since moving on from long-time Head Coach, Phil Martelli, St. Joseph’s is 13-42 (.236) overall and 5-25 (.167) in the A10. They are also struggling over at 20th and Olney. Over the course of the last 10 games La Salle has played, they are 2-8. Over that period, the Explorers have lost to Fordham, St. Joseph’s twice, Sacred Heart and Delaware.
What gives? What da fuck is going on?
The explanatory variable usually cited when explaining sustained periods of mediocracy in college basketball is head coaching job performance. The big seat inevitably starts warming up. At both St. Joseph’s and La Salle, that horse has already escaped the confines of the barn. Many alums and season ticket holders of the local A10 programs have given up on Lange and Howard. Unfortunately, the nascent calls for replacing the head coaches will occupy the attention and energies of die-hard supporters while obfuscating deeper more problematic issues impacting the ability of these programs to compete at a high level.
In a piece written in March of 2020, titled “The Big 10’s (Successful) Attack on Philly Mid-Majors!”, I argued:
The alums, season ticket holders and athletic directors of the Philly mid-majors remain entrenched in the outdated paradigm. They have yet to fully comprehend the extent of the paradigm shift. Hence, they are striving maintain a “mid-major” status when the existence of the category itself is tenuous at best.
Collectively, they have pinned their hopes on a “Messiah Model” of intervention.
From their perspective of the “Messiah Model”, status as competitive mid-major program hinges on finding the right head coach. Operating within this model, the competitive struggles of the Philly mid-major programs on the court and on the recruiting trails are attributable to the “poor performance” of head coaches. Hence, Billy Lange replaces Phil Martelli… Ashley Howard replaces John Gianinni, Aaron McKie replaces Fran Dunphy and Zach Spiker replaces Bruiser Flint…
Just gotta get the right guy in there and we’ll be alright… So they think…
In this way, the Philly basketball community has developed a collective messiah complex. There has emerged a state of mind in which the alums, fans and athletic directors hold a belief that the “new coaches” – Lange, Howard, McKie and Spiker – are destined to become a program savior today or in the near future.
There is widespread failure to recognize the “new normal” in college basketball. College basketball fans in Philly, for the most part, haven’t accepted the fact that things are very different now. These days, there are the High Major (Power 5) programs and the there’s everyone else. The Big East teams and programs like Memphis, Gonzaga and Wichita State that pay coaches $3 million+ per year are included in the high major category. The mid-major category is rapidly shrinking.
The gap that Coach Ross referred to twenty years ago will soon disappear altogether. Pay attention to the boxscores, Wagner defeated VCU… Lipscomb whooped Dayton… We shouldn’t be surprised…
All across the country, shrewd coaches are trying to find 2 or 3 hungry 22-24 year old transfers and/or graduate students with some eligibility left. They can come in and play right away… The hope is that you can assemble a crew with something to prove that is willing to put the blunts down and focus on winning for 5 months. If so, you can make a run.
Today, Drexel and Delaware are better basketball programs than La Salle and St. Joseph’s. Them levels that used to exist don’t really mean shit these days.
Philly Guard – /Filē gärd/ – Noun A young man or woman from the Greater Philadelphia Region that plays a backcourt position in the game of basketball. Typically focused on the defensive end of the game and takes extreme pride in playing a physical and tough brand of basketball.
In recent years grassroots and scholastic basketball fans have been blessed to witness the development of some exceptional Philly Guards. Over the past decade, some really tough customers have come through the 215. Ja’Quan Newton (Neumann-Goretti/Miami), Samir Doughty (MCS/VCU/ Auburn), Shizz Alston (Haverford School/Temple), Tony Carr (Roman Catholic/Penn St), Quade Green (Neumann-Goretti/Kentucky/Washington), Stevie Jordan (Conwell-Egan/Rider), Ryan Daly (Carroll/Delaware/St. Joseph’s), Josh Sharkey (Carroll/Samford), Zane Martin (Neumann-Goretti/Towson/New Mexico/Towson), Sam Sessoms (Shipley/Binghamton/Penn State) and Fatts Russell (Imhotep/Rhode Island/Maryland) are some of the more prominent names that are usually mentioned when discussing top Philly Guards.
Somehow, someway… perhaps, the most Philly of all the recent guards tends to get overlooked.
Antwaun “Booty” Butler is a quintessential Philly Guard. Standing just over 6 feet and built like and NFL strong safety, Butler is a measured and cerebral lead guard. He can get just about anywhere on the floor whenever he wants. His rebounding ability is an unusual attribute for a 6-0 guard. Butler takes pride in his performance on the defensive end of the court. He displays an ability to lock in and effective defend the top guards. While powerfully built, Butler has quick hands and feet and can be disruptive on the defensive end.
Butler has a well deserved reputation as a winner. As an underclassman, he was a captain at Del-Val Charter School and led his team to both a city championship and public league championship. In doing so, he handed National powerhouse Imhotep Charter their lone loss to a Public League opponent over a four year period. Butler was named All-City three times.
Del-Val closed following Butler’s junior year and he followed his coach Jason Harrigan to Cardinal O’Hara HS. Butler lead Cardinal O’Hara to the Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinals as a senior. He played two seasons at Austin Peay, starting 37 games over his freshman and sophomore season. The winning continued as Butler helped lead the Governors to 22 wins in 2018-19 and 21 victories in 2019-20.
In his second season at NJIT, Butler led his squad into Jersey Mike’s Arena on the campus of Rutgers University to face the Scarlet Knights. This represents a perfect opportunity to catch a glimpse of a mature Butler against a highly regarded Big 10 opponent. How would Butler do against Geo Baker, Ron Harper and Paul Mulcahy? The knock against Butler has always been his shooting, especially his 3-ball… Has it improved?
At the 19:14 mark of the 1st half, less than a minute into the game, Butler splashes a 3-pointer from the top of the key. He displays a confident smirk… He knows he can make this shot… At the 16:44 mark he escapes his man and makes a layup. With Butler in control of the flow of the game, NJIT takes a 33-32 lead into the locker room at halftime.
NJIT surrendered the lead early in the second half. Then at the 15:33 mark of the second half, Butler made another 3-point shot to bring them within 1, 41-42. As the second half wore on, the size, athleticism and depth of the Scarlet Knights proved too much for NJIT. Rutgers would outscore NJIT 43-28 in the second half on the way to a 75-61 win before an enthusiastic sold-out crowd.
Butler didn’t get the win tonight. But he turned in a very Philly stat line… While playing 30 minutes, Butler shot 5-9 FG and 3-6 3FG finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and ZERO (0) turnovers. He battled all night with Rutgers star guard Geo Baker.
If you get a chance, make your way to an NJIT game. They have a real Philly Guard running point. You won’t be disappointed.
Camden, NJ, November 16, 2021: For a long time, the Atlantic 10 (A10) has been viewed as something akin a 6th high major basketball conference… A sort of “high” mid-major league that was a few notches above true mid-major leagues. This perception has been reinforced by the ability, in most years, of the A10 to get multiple at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Dayton, VCU, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure have been holding the A10 down at the national level. The Philly schools have not.
Locally, the prestige of the A10 has been waning. The departure of the Temple Owls, eight years ago, was a significant blow that had to be absorbed. More recently and more importantly, La Salle and St. Joseph’s have not fielded very competitive teams.
The local CAA programs, on the other hand have done well. Zach Spiker’s Drexel Dragons won the CAA Championship last season and played in the NCAA tournament. This marked the Dragons first time in the dance in 25 years. Martin Ingelsby’s Delaware Blue Hens are the consensus pre-season favorite to win the CAA this year and make a return to the NCAA Tournament.
This is a perfect time for the Philly area CAA/A10 showdown.
Ashley Howard takes his Explorers into the Bob Carpenter Center for a 7:00 pm tip off Wednesday. At exactly the same time, Spiker’s Dragons will travel a couple of miles from 34th and Market to 54th and City Line to face Billy Lange’s Hawks. These CAA/A10 matchups are especially important this season. The CAA programs are no longer feeling the “little Bro” roles they have been relegated to for decades.
The A10 schools are looking to reinforce the notion that their programs are on a “higher level” than the CAA upstarts. I’m not so sure that is the case. Delaware and Drexel can definitely play with La Salle and St. Joseph’s.
These exciting matchups will let us know if the gap between the programs still exists. Or, if as I suspect, these guys are on an equal and level playing field.
I’m 56… That’s old enough to remember when the Big 5 mattered. I miss those days. I long for their return.
The Big 5 should still be a big “thing” in Philadelphia.
Right now, it’s Villanova and the other four programs. I don’t like that… I really don’t… Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Penn need to do a lot better in every aspect.
We need the Big 5… In a city experiencing record levels of gun violence and murder, traditions like the Big 5 are important because they impact our lives in such a positive way. Properly marketed, the Big 5 could reach thousands of Philadelphia youth. Through the Big 5, youth can learn about the historical and cultural significance basketball in the City of Philadelphia.
Through Big 5 partnerships with the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame, the proposed Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame, the Public League and the Catholic League the rituals, stories, beliefs, customs and routines that form the fabric of the Philadelphia basketball community can be shared and passed on. These basketball rituals, stories, are unique to Philadelphia. The interactions and rituals, both big and small create lasting memories. In today’s chaotic and rudderless society, such traditions become more important than the physical gifts that we give and receive.
Most importantly, the Big 5 is some really Philly shit.
There’s nothing like it anywhere else. Not in New York, not in Chicago, not in Los Angeles, not anywhere else. Only Philly has such a unique association of college basketball programs. Please note that the Big 5 is not a league or a conference, it’s a group of D1 programs who compete for a Philadelphia City D1 championship. From it’s founding in 1955 through the turn of the century, the Big 5 was a very big deal, especially among high school basketball players in the Greater Philadelphia region. Most area kids don’t realize or appreciate the fact that Big 5 schools represent some of most successful programs in the history of college basketball. Indeed, four of the five teams—Temple (5th), Penn (20th), Villanova (21st), and Saint Joseph’s (40th)—rank among the top 50 for all-time Division I basketball victories.
The kids don’t know any of this… The traditions and history of the Big 5 have not been effectively passed down to young hoopheads. The kids are in their phones. The Big 5 is not in their phones. The Big 5 is dead among the kids. This represents a lost opportunity for the Penn, Temple, La Salle and St. Joseph’s.
I remember Mike Brooks… I remember John Pinone… I remember Bryan Warrick… I remember Stevie Black… I remember Tony Price and Booney Salters…
The streamers after the first basket… The Palestra crowd split right down the middle…
The soft pretzels… The hot dogs… The popcorn…
Extremely sore asses from those HARD benches…
That was then… The Big 5 mattered…
Today, the Big 5 has lost it’s luster. It’s hard to make the case that the Big 5 remains relevant in the minds of young Philly ballers. For them, there is no Big 5… There’s Villanova and the other 4 programs.
I don’t like that… It’s infinitely better for everyone involved when there is more parity among the programs.
The gap between Nova and the other programs is simply too large and has been sustained for far too long.
Penn, Temple, La Salle and St. Joe’s have to step up, get better and help make the Big 5 matter again. Each has experienced a coaching change in the last 5 years or so.
So… How’s that process going? Are they making headway? Some are doing better than others.
Penn basketball appears to be well on its way… Steve Donahue’s Quakers are the only Big 5 team to defeat Villanova since 2013. Penn actually won the Big 5. Since taking over, Donahue has compiled an overall record of 84-66, while going 38-32 in the Ivy League.
It must be noted that the Quakers made the 2018 NCAA Tournament after winning the 2018 Ivy league Tournament. As a 16th seed, they played the number 1 seed Kansas. Donahue’s Philly tough Quakers jumped out to a 21–11 lead with 8:01 left in the 1st half. Things were looking good… real good.
Right then and there, Penn was Penn again. The Big 5 champs were in the national mix. They had won the Ivy and they were up 10 on Kansas deep in the first half as a 16-seed.
Good Shit Coach Donahue!
For that brief moment, the Big 5 mattered again. It wasn’t just Nova.
Shit… for a brief second or two, I thought about Tony Price leading Penn through the NCAA Tournament to face Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the 1979 Final Four.
However, there would be no Final Four and no fairy-tale ending this time… The mighty Jayhawks went on a 22–5 run to take a 33–26 lead into half-time. The Quakers would never lead again and were outscored 43–34 in the 2nd half, resulting in a 76-60 Kansas victory. But Penn was there… they were in the mix.
What should be expected of the Penn program?What’s a fair ask? The Quakers should compete for Ivy League championships every year and play in the post-season about 50% of the time. It is reasonable to expect the Quakers to make the NCAA tournament at least once every 3 or 4 years on average. In years, when the Ivy League title escapes them, the Quakers should play in the NIT.
For the most part, Coach Donahue and the Quakers are holding up their end of the Big 5 bargain. They are consistently challenging for supremacy in the Ivy League. Additionally, the Quakers have recruited local players extremely well. Sophomore guard, Lucas Monroe from Abington HS has been named team captain. Another talented local Quaker is Ed Holland, Jr. from Friends Central. The University of Pennsylvania has a very good basketball program in place.
Aaron McKie actually played in the Big 5 when the Big 5 truly mattered. A member of the Philadelphia Black Basketball HOF, the former Gratz standout was one of the greatest players in Temple Basketball history. McKie is in his third season as the head coach at his alma mater. Since assuming the helm, McKie has compiled an overall record of 20-29 (.408), while going 10-22 (.312) in the AAC. Temple finished the 2019-20 campaign with a 14-17 (6-12 in AAC) record with the season coming to a sudden halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Owls struggled during the 2020-21 campaign, finishing with an 5-11 record, 4-10 in conference play.
Now in his third season as Head Coach, McKie has a roster full of kids he identified and recruited. A distinct team identity is beginning to emerge. McKie’s Owls play very hard defensively all game. The guards and wings are expected to apply constant on ball pressure. With mobile and athletic bigs in place, Temple rebounds and makes a consistent effort to protect the rim well. Jake Forrester, Sage Tolbert and Nick Jourdain are all in the 6’8” – 6’9” range. Each is a quick leaper, willing and ready to meet opponents at the rim. Offensively, there continue to be extended periods where the Owls struggle to make shots. Khalif Battle, the focal point of the Owl’s offensive attack is capable of making shots in bunches and has scored at a decent clip thus far. Hopefully, Battle will remain as productive once conference games begin. Freshman Zack Hicks has fought his way into the rotation and appears to be a dependable 6’9” marksman.
What should be expected of the Temple program? What’s a fair ask? The Owls should compete for AAC championships every year and play in the NCAA Tournament 3 out of every 4 years. The Owls should play in the NIT in any year they do not make the NCAA tournament. Temple should aspire to play in the post-season every year.
Temple is, arguably, a top 25 basketball program. Fifteen years ago, this assertion would have been taken as a given. Temple was Temple. Post-season appearances were a given. Fans and alums became restless and complained when the Owls ONLY made the NIT.
Right now… Temple ain’t that Temple… They are working their way back… Nonetheless, the McKie foundation has been laid. The men’s basketball program is Temple Tuff. The aforementioned bigs do not back down. Freshman guard Jahlil White has all the tools to be an elite wing defender. Jeremiah Williams and Tai Strickland try to get after opposing guards. Eventually, we will see what freshman guard Hysier Miller brings to the table.
For Temple alums and fans, the time has come for McKie and Temple to post a winning record and compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
La Salle Explorers
Ashley Howard is in his fourth year as Head Coach of the proud La Salle men’s basketball program. Since taking control, Howard has an overall record of 35-53 (.391), while going 20-33 (.377) in the Atlantic 10. After going 10-21, (8-10 in A10) in his first year, the Explorers improved to 15-15 in the 2019-2020 season. Last year, they regressed and went 9-16 overall and 6-11 in the A10.
Howard has landed to some really good recruits. Jhamir “Jig” Brickus is one of the top young point guards in the A10. Last year he became the 10th Explorer to earn A-10 All-Rookie Team status. Brickus played in all 25 games, starting 22 while leading the team in assists (85), steals (45), and minutes played (27.3 per game). Brickus came to La Salle following a legendary scholastic career at Coatesville High School where he amassed 2,531 career points.
Louisville transfer Josh Nickelberry finished his high school career with 2,904 points, making him the second-leading all-time scorer in the history of North Carolina high school basketball. He averaged 26.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as a senior, leading his team to a 20-14 record and a runner-up position in the 1A NCISAA North Carolina state championship. Last season, Sherif Kenney was first player in La Salle history to be named A-10 Sixth Man of Year. Kenney saw action in 24 games, with 10 starts. He was second on the team in scoring (9.6 ppg), assists (41), and steals (25). A capable offensive player, he had 11 games in which he reached double figures.
Big 10 transfers Clifton Moore (Indiana) and Mamadou Doucoure (Rutgers) hold the middle for Howard and the Explorers. Christian Ray is a reliable glue guy. The key to La Salle making a jump to the top half of the A10 will be the play of Jack Clark. A 6’9” wing, Clark possesses a sweet shooting stroke extending well beyond the college 3-point line. His length gives him an advantage and allows him to shoot over most wing defenders. He is also much quicker than most college bigs. Clark has suffered multiple serious lower body injuries, but he appears to be full strength as we start the 2021-22 campaign.
What should be expected of the La Salle program? The Explorers should expect to finish in the top 4 of the A10 every year. They should play in the NCAA tournament 1 out of every 4 or 5 years. Howard’s predecessor, John Giannini led the Explorers to one NCAA and one NIT appearance in 14 years. If Jack Clark performs at an All-A10 level, La Salle will be competitive during the A10 regulars season and a tough out in the A10 tournament. A strong showing and a post-season appearance would be timely as some in the La Salle fanbase are getting restless.
St. Joseph’s Hawks
Billy Lange is beginning his 3rd season as the head coach at St. Joseph’s. Since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers to run the Hawk program, Lange has an overall record of 13-41 (.241), while going 5-25 (.167) in the Atlantic 10. From 2004 through 2011, Lange was Head coach of Navy mens basketball. His overall record at Navy was 93-114 (.449) and 42-56 (.429) in the Patriot League. Lange’s overall Division 1 coaching record is 106-155 (.406).
President Reed and Athletic Director Jill Bodensteiner determined the time had come to sever ties with long-time coach Phil Martelli. The ensuing breakup led to a mass exodus of players and a couple significant de-commitments. As a result, Lange walked into a battle with very few talented troops. He had to take his lumps while attempting to rebuild a roster decimated during the regime change. Working with limited tools, Lange installed an NBA influenced/derived/inspired offense that featured an inordinate amount of 3-point field goal attempts.
In Lange’s first year, 49.7% of St. Joseph’s field goal attempts were 3-pointers. In Lange’s 2nd year, he was nothing if not consistent in his approach. Again, 49.2% of Hawk field goal attempts were 3-pointers. When the Hawk players were hot, they were fun to watch and the strategy resulted in wins. Especially when Ryan Daly heated up… On Daly’s best days the Hawks were entertaining and very competitive.
However, after winning four of the last 5 games he played in a Hawk uniform, Daly is now in the NBA G-League. What approach will Lange take with this roster? How will these Hawks play? After 2 games, there’s a noticeable difference… I don’t know if it’s just an aberration or something the Hawks will sustain, but they are playing differently out of the gate. In these 2 early contests, a mere 39.5% of Hawk field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. That is way down from the past two years.
Moreover, the guys that can shoot have actually been doing the shooting for St. Joseph’s. No longer engaged in sumo wrestling matches under the boards, Taylor Funk is 14-22 FG and 10-18 3FG. Cam Brown is 4-10 3FG and Jack Forrest is 2-5 3FG. Each of these guys have proven they can knock down 3-pointers at a respectable rate. Lange’s Hawks appear to be more selective beyond the arc this year.
However, the stats that jump out two games in are Ejike Obinna’s 11-20 FG, 21 rebs and 12 FTA. Obinna provides an athletic and active presence in the post for St. Joseph’s. Looks like Lange is gonna trade a few 3-point attempts for some old fashioned high percentage low post jump hooks and ally oops.
What should be expected of the St. Joseph’s program? What is a fair ask? The Hawks should play in the NCAA at least 1 out of every 4 years. The Hawks should play in the post-season 2 out of every 4 years. The Hawks should compete to be in the top 4 in the A10 every year. If Funk and Obinna remain healthy, they should be able combine with Jordan Hall to keep the Hawks in contention most nights this year.
Whether or not the Hawks can finish in the top half of the league will depend on how quickly the two rookie starters Kacper Klaczek and Erik Reynolds II can adjust to college basketball. Lange has a deep and experienced bench led by Cam Brown and Dahmir Bishop. If Lange can steer this bunch to a .500 record, all will be well on Hawk Hill.
It’s November and every college basketball program has high hopes. Penn, Temple, St. Joseph’s and La Salle expect to compete for spots near the top of the conference or win conference championships. Each has legitimate aspirations within their respective leagues.
Unfortunately, they can’t fuck with Nova. You know it… I know it… They know it… It’s not good for the Big 5. It’s not good for Philadelphia.
Older players are definitely in style right now… So much so, that high school prospects with legitimate D1 offers should seriously consider taking them before older college or JUCO transfers snatch ’em up… Freshmen currently on college rosters need to work hard in practice, lift weights, study diligently and wait for some of the older players to graduate and move on.
Scarcity is impacting college athletics in a big way. It has affected how college coaches allocate precious scholarship resources, recruit prospects and determine playing time. There are only 13 scholarships per team. There are only 40 minutes in each game, with five positions there are a total of 200 minutes available per game. These basic resource limits have not changed. What has changed is the make-up of the pool of qualified persons seeking those scholarships and minutes or playing time. Rule changes and special pandemic-related circumstances that would have been unfathomable just 3 or 4 years ago have fundamentally altered the college basketball landscape. The concept of scarcity is very useful as one attempts to understand how these changes have impacted college basketball recruitment.
Generally speaking, scarcity refers to the limited availability of resources that are typically available for use. The specific resources I am currently focused on are Division 1 men’s basketball scholarships and minutes of playing time for college freshmen. Due to NCAA rule changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, there currently exists a paucity of these resources available to 18-19 year old prospects. This paucity stands in stark relief to the theoretically infinite demand for these resources among parents and high school basketball players.
Everybody wants a D1 scholarship and all kids want to play in college games.
The conditions of scarcity have significantly intensified over the past 12-18 months. The decision by the NCAA to allow what is tantamount to pure “free agency” in college basketball with immediate eligibility has resulted in a tremendous uptick in the number of players in the transfer portal. There were over 1,500 players in the college basketball transfer portal last year, more than twice the number of players the previous season.
Let’s think this through…
The total number of scholarships has not changed. Division 1 Basketball teams can only give 13 full-ride scholarships. In total, there are 5,522 men’s basketball athletes in the division, but only 4,589 have full scholarships. Thirty-three percent of the scholarship basketball players were in the portal last year. These players are experienced at the college level. On average, they are more mature and physically stronger than HS players. Keep in mind, the NCAA has made transfers immediately available. Plainly stated, they are more desirable than high school prospects for many college coaches.
Several coaches have openly stated, “I’m not recruiting high school kids… I strictly looking for transfers.”
Then there is the FREE year the NCAA awarded to participating student-athletes last year. Remember, last year doesn’t count against eligibility.
As a result, Eric Dixon, who took a redshirt as a true freshman and played last year, is at 20 years of age the starting center for Villanova with 4 years of eligibility left. Seth Lundy (Penn State), Donta Scott (Maryland) and Isaiah Wong (Miami) each have 3 years of eligibility left.
If you were a college coach would you prefer to allocate a scholarship to those 20 year olds with 3 or 4 years of eligibility or an untested HS prospect?
Scarcity is also impacting freshman playing time. A few local freshman appear to have broken through and established themselves as rotation players. Of course, Jalen Duren (Montverde) is off to a magnificent beginning as a starting forward for Penny Hardaway’s Memphis program. Taquan Woodley (Camden) is the first big off the bench for Frank Martin and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Stevie Mitchell (Wilson) is a key component in Shaka Smart’s first lineup. Zach Hicks (Camden Catholic) has emerged as a dependable sniper for Aaron Mckie and the Temple Owls. Julian Reese (St. Frances) backs up the PF and C positions for Mark Turgeon and Maryland. Finally, Rahdir Hicks (Malvern Prep) appears to have solidified the backup PG spot at Towson.
Far more rookies are struggling to find their way onto the court. Justice Williams (Montverde/LSU), Hysier Miller (Neumann-Goretti/Temple), Marcus Randolph (Wood/Richmond), Daeshon Shepherd (Wood/La Salle) and Christian Tomasco (Ryan/Hofstra) have not played in a game. Rahsool Diggins (Wood/UConn), Wooga Poplar (MCS/Miami), Jordan Longino (Germantown Academy/Villanova), Lynn Greer (IMG/Dayton), Bernie Blunt (Rocktop/Quinnipiac) and Jaylen Stinson (Wood/JMU) have played sparse and relatively meaningless minutes.
The current freshmen have run into a logjam while attempting get playing time.
There are a bunch of older, stronger, experienced and more mature players holding these youngins at bay. The abundance of transfers and 5th/6th year players on college rosters has resulted in a gap between available minutes of playing time and the theoretical needs freshman have for these resources.
What should the freshman do? Should they fight or flee? Of course each case is unique, but it will be very interesting to watch how this plays out.
Will we witness more fight responses? When they fight, players commit to improving their skills and conditioning to compete for increased playing time. Players choosing to fight work on weaknesses and deficiencies while building upon strengths. Basically, they dedicate themselves to forcing the coach to play them. Eric Dixon (Villanova), Hakim Hart (Maryland) and AJ Hoggard (Michigan State) are outstanding examples of fighters. Each is now a crucial part of the team after struggling early on. The fight-flight response is a natural reaction to perceived threats or danger. After years of performing at a very high level in grassroots and scholastic basketball, college freshmen are often faced with their first real challenge within a team. No longer the “man” on a grassroots or scholastic squad, a freshman is likely to be the 8th, 9th or 10th man on a college team or worse.
Statistics tell us that approximately one-third will flee. It’s an understandable reaction. Due to the recent rule changes, the flight response can be enacted quickly. All it takes is a text or call to the head coach or athletic director. Some area kids have transferred after just one semester. It seems that some act quickly in an attempt to protect their reputation and ranking. Flight, under such circumstances, is a survival tactic.
Hopefully, most of the young men will choose to put their flag in the ground and rumble for playing time. Every day these freshman have an opportunity challenge the upperclassmen in practice. Make them work… This will help their team get better in the short run and it will help them be prepared when their opportunity inevitably comes around.