As I sit here writing at 11:28 pm on Thursday, December 16, 2021 the basketball season has ALMOST fully commenced. Everyone has been playing games… except the best team in the region. The Sixers are 15-15 and currently sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. Joel Embid and the boys are a far cry from the squad that finished last year’s regular season as the number 1 seed in the east. Philly hoopheads and sports talk show hosts are searching far and wide for reasons to explain the rapid decline. Tobias is soft… Maxey’s not ready… Doc can’t coach…
The main problem, however, is readily identifiable. The best “sorry ass” player in the history of Philadelphia basketball is holding the entire Sixers organization and fanbase hostage.
Ben Simmons has discovered that Philadelphia basketball aficionados have, what he considers, unrealistic expectations. For example, these folk actually believe that 6’10 supremely gifted and highly skilled athletes on the books for $385,244 per game should attempt and complete dunks in the playoffs when positioned directly under the rim with no defenders in sight.
Yup… Philly fans really be trippin’…
They want a point guard the does shit like make at least half of his free throw attempts… Fuck is wrong with these people?
Simmons has grown tired of these outsized expectations, taken his ball and gone to one of his several area homes… “Fuck that” he said… Just pay me not to play.
“Fuck Philly… I ain’t playin.”
The Sixers brass and Philly fans have come to realization that Simmons is the pettiest man this side of Kountry Wayne… He is really shittin’ on everybody in the 215 and there’s apparently nothing Sixers president Daryl Morey can do except keep cutting heavy checks to the best “sorry ass” player ever to grace Philly hardwoods.
At the college level, Villanova is good… In fact, they are very good. The Wildcats are currently ranked 9th in the AP Top 25 and 10th in the Coaches Poll. Out of 350 or so D1 programs, Nova is ranked ahead of 340 of them. Yet, somehow it doesn’t feel like they are “Nova” good. Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright has actually set the bar so high with 2 recent National Championships that a 7-3 record – with losses to then #2 UCLA, then #6 Purdue and then #2 Baylor – has people asking “what’s up with Nova.”
On North Broad Street, Temple is struggling… As my friend Sam Rines always says, the “object of the game is to put the ball in the hole.” Aaron McKie has the Owls playing very aggressive and tough defense for 40 minutes every night. They also rebound well and share the ball. What they don’t do is put the ball in the hole. For instance, in their recent lost to UCF, the Owls shot 15-56 from the field and 3-30 from the 3-point line.
Da Fuck you gonna do with that?
The one player that did put the ball in the hole on a regular basis for Temple is out for the remainder of the season. Khalif Battle was averaging 21.4 ppg while shooting 53.9% from the field and 50% from the 3-point line. He’s gone ’til next season. McKie and his staff are searching for answers. As the Owls head into Conference play it’s not clear if a solution to this problem is on the horizon.
St. Joseph’s (6-4) and La Salle (5-4) have put together winning records. But… the combined records of the teams The Hawks and Explorers defeated are 26-38 and 14-39 respectively. Thus, it difficult to gauge how much of the winning record is attributable to actual improved play and how much is a result of shrewd scheduling.
Drexel stands at an even .500 (5-5). Zach Spiker’s Dragons are a feisty bunch. Their game at Temple on Saturday will tell us a lot of the state of the Drexel program. Road wins against St. Joseph’s and Temple would confirm what some are already suspecting, the Dragons have closed the gap on these Big 5 programs.
After taking an entire season off, Steve Donahue’s Penn Quakers (3-10) are struggling to gain stable footing. While Jordan Dingle is off to a magnificent start, the team has yet to play consistently well as a unit. We’ll see how they do in the Ivy League.
At the high school level, Imhotep (3-1) lost on opening night to the tough defending BIG BOY state champion Reading HS Red Knights in Reading. Since then, they’ve reeled off 3 straight wins including two over Salesianum (DE) and Roman Catholic.
Neumann-Goretti (3-0) has jumped out of the gate with three solid victories over Bishop O’Connell (VA), Howard (DE) and Salesianum (DE). Archbishop Ryan (3-0) defeated also defeated 3 solid opponents with a 15 year man-child, 6’8″ PF/C Thomas Sorber leading the way. West Catholic (1-0) knocked off a strong Lincoln HS squad. Perennial Public League power Math, Civics and Sciences (4-0) is off to a strong start.
All of this has served as an excellent precursor to the main event.. Indeed, it has been a very good undercard… Now it’s time for the main event…
As Michael Buffer would say… “Lets get ready to rumble”.
The mighty Camden HS Panthers (0-0) get underway on Friday against North Jersey power Roselle Catholic. Featuring, DJ Wagner, the consensus #1 player in the Class of 2023, Camden is carrying the weight of expectations that exceeds all of the aforementioned teams combined. Anything short of a State Championship would be considered a failure for this bunch.
Shit is different over in Camden.
The Panthers have an exceptional coach, Rick Brunson, that has lost exactly one (1) game since taking the reins of the storied program two seasons ago. Two of Brunson’s former players, Lance Ware (Kentucky) and Taquan Woodley (South Carolina) are in the SEC and competing at the very highest level of college basketball. Another, Jerome Brewer (Sunrise Christian Academy) is excelling at one the premier prep programs in the nation. Brunson has graduated a high major frontcourt.
And… still they rise… Brunson discusses his unique approach to coaching in this provocative interview with Antoine Miller.
Despite the loss of exceptionally talented players, Brunson and the Panthers have not skipped a beat. Indeed, most believe that this year’s team is an improvement on teams with a combined record of 42-1 over the past two seasons.
They got dudes…
The current Camden roster features, Wagner (ESPN #1, 2023) and Aaron Bradshaw (ESPN #22, 2023). Wagner is 3rd generation Camden basketball royalty. His quickness and near elite athleticism, match his playing style perfectly. Wagner has great body control and knows how to use his body to his benefit when it comes to attacking the basket. He finished very well through contact at the high school level as a 14 and 15 year old. His body is now beginning to mature.
At 16, he’s gonna be a major fuckin problem for high school opposition.
He likes to get downhill in transition and can finish at the rim with either hand confidently. He is able to get defenders off-balance and create space with extremely tight crossovers, in-and out dibbles and step back jumpers. He’s a solid rebounder for his position and one of the most fierce backcourt defenders in the nation. Against elite competition on the Nike EYBL circuit, his jumper wasn’t very consistent. This can be largely attributed to shot selection and being the primary scoring option on his team. Wagner drew a ton of attention from opposing defenses. There are no issues when it comes to his jump shot mechanics and his ability to knock down tough shots helps solidify his case as the number 1 prospect in his class.
Protecting the rim for the Panthers will be Aaron Bradshaw a 7’0” 210 lb lithe PF/C with tremendous athleticism and explosion. He is incredibly fluid and coordinated for a player his size. Bradshaw is able to run the floor and play like a wing at times, but still defend and rebound like a 7-footer. He has nice touch on his mid-range jumper, complete with a high release point that makes it impossible to block. Bradshaw has range all the way out the high school 3-point line. Outside of Duke commit Dereck Lively, Bradshaw is, perhaps, the best defensive big man on the eastern seaboard. He possesses amazing physical tools to get the job done. His size and length give him an incredible advantage contesting shots inside the post and on the perimeter, and agility and quickness allow him to maneuver around the floor with ease.
Then there are the other five Division 1 prospects on the Panther roster…
Senior PF Rasheer Fleming (St. Joseph’s commit) stands 6’8” and is an agile, athletic defender with a rapidly evolving set of offensive skills. Junior point guard Cian Medley is a pure playmaker. He does an excellent job of orchestrating the high powered Camden offense and is a terror on the defensive end of the floor.
Junior wing Cornelius “Boog” Robinson has a great combination of strength and athleticism. He is an intense competitor that seems to come up with every 50/50 ball in his area. Robinson scores a lot of baskets by overpowering defenders with his tremendous body strength. He plays with a lot of toughness. Robinson is extremely aggressive, and often intimidates opponents with his nasty demeanor. He has very good quickness, leaping ability and has the strength to go inside and finish through contact. Robinson make effective use of jab steps and looks to drive to the basket. His ability to create shots for himself off the dribble has improved over the past couple of seasons. He is a strong defender and tremendous rebounder for a 6-5 player.
Senior Elijah Perkins is an athletic wing holding offers from Georgetown, Nebraska, La Salle, Radford and Hampton among others. Another long junior wing, Dasear Haskins holds an offer from Monmouth.
Nothing short of a state championship and maintaining a high top 5-10 national ranking will be acceptable for this team. In some ways, they are not playing against the opposition.
The Panthers are playing against the ghosts of past Camden teams. Their leader, DJ Wagner is on a mission to establish himself firmly as an all-time Camden great alongside players like the recently deceased Ron “Itchy” Smith, Bill Culbertson, Billy Thompson, Kevin Walls, Mayor Vic Carstarphen, Arthur Barclay and Louis Banks.
Perhaps, most importantly, he wants to hold his head high at family dinners when his legendary father, Dejuan Wagner, and Grandfather, Milt Wagner, are at the table. A state championship (or two) gets that done.
The best team in the region finally laces ’em up tonight… I, for one, am ecstatic that I get to watch Wagner and the Panthers chase history. The quest begins today.
P.S. Fuck Ben Simmons