by James Nelson-Stewart
Bring It, What?
We right Here.
We’re not going anywhere
We right Here.
Those words from the late, great DMX best describe what we are witnessing with this 2022 Norristown Eagles Boys Basketball Team. A team that was forced to sit the entire 2020-2021 by no choice of their own is now battling Lower Merion, the 2021 Defending District Champion, for the chance to be called the 2021-2022 District 1 Boys Basketball Champions on Saturday at Temple University 6PM.
Normally when I enter journalist mode, I make any stories devoid of emotions to really convey the “FACTS” of the event that is happening, going to happen or happened. This one is very different for me. This is not James Nelson Stewart writing this piece, it’s the “Chief Justice” that is giving you this version. For many that will read this, they understand the difference between the distinction between the 2 names involved.
One of the things I love about sports is it results driven. A win is a win, a loss is a loss, and a tie is a tie. We can say and think whatever we want but the result is still going to be the result and 99.9% of the time there is nothing we can do to change it. But there are those occasions when the Story is more important than the result of the game. There are those times when the human element, better called the emotional side of sports is bigger than the overall picture. This Norristown Team represents that for me on many levels.
I will start with the history of Norristown Basketball in a synopsis. One of the area’s powerhouses for years, Norristown also went through the changes that are sweeping or swept a lot of our more ethnic suburban schools such as Chester, Cheltenham, Coatesville, Darby Twp and others. The schools have either been raided for their talent, changed for “academic reasons” or closed altogether. A lot of the Norristown talent was being showcased at other schools in the Delaware Valley. Even with that Norristown’s basketball history included players like the late Great Henry Williams (Jacksonville & ABA), Daren Queenan (25th all time leading scorer in NCAA history 2,703 points at Lehigh), Harry Allen (Memphis), Derrick Perry (Rider & Overseas), Tai Crutchfield (Philly U & Overseas), Marques Green (St. Bonnies & Overseas), Willis Gardner (Colorado St & Overseas), Khalif Wyatt (pictured above) (Temple & Overseas) and Michael Starling, who is known today as “Big Star” from Raw Sports plus so many more that I could list.
The tradition for Norristown is great and the pride that TOWN takes in its basketball is even greater. Another name that could be put on that list is the current coach of this Norristown Team is Dana “Binky” Johnson. Coach Johnson was one of the stars of the 1990 4A District Champions that went to have a Hall of Fame career at Canisius under Coach John Beilein, who eventually moved up the ranks to become the Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The history between me and Coach Johnson goes back many years. As a young man in my early 20s, we teamed together and won a championship in the famed Norristown Oak Street Summer League, where many of today’s coaches and father of players laced them up and battled for street bragging rights. My hard charging style was a great fit for the cerebral player that Coach Johnson was.
Our team had balance all of the floor. Norristown Assistant coaches Coach Julius “Whip” Mack (my roommate for a semester in college and longtime friend from Wissahickon) and Coach Rowan “Roe” Watson was also on that team that beat current Lower Merion Superintendent Dr. Khalid Mumin in the playoffs that year (like I said there were some heavy hitters). Another Norristown Assistant Coach Joedy Johnson goes back even further than that with me. My “Brother” Joedy and I go back to when we were kids running around on the back streets of Penllyn as toddlers. We learned how to play sports together amongst other things. Relationships like those are rare in these times, so I cherish it very much. My emotions is pulling for that coaching staff.
Then you got the current players like Sr PG DJ Johnson (Coach’s son), Sr PG Righteous Mitchell, SR SG Zaki Gomez and Sr F/C Johnny Dinolfi that I followed as young kids when they were developing into basketball players and So G Myon “Mister” Kirlew, that I personally coached on a MadeHoops 8th grade team. That feeling of excitement is running through my body as they have a chance to accomplish history, that NO ONE outside of that locker room expected them to achieve.
This piece isn’t in anyway against Lower Merion, a team that I really, really appreciate. Dr. Mumin is a man that I support, respect and admire. Head Coach Gregg Downer may be the Dean of District 1 coaches at this exact moment and is the epitome of what a Hall of Fame Coach’s resume should look like. Respect is due. Sr 6-1 PG Jaylen Shippen is the son of John Timms, another friend of mine in this crazy basketball world. Sr 6-9 C Demetrius Lilley (Penn St Commit) is the most dominant player in District 1 PERIOD. Jr 6-3 G Sam Brown is very good now and improving daily especially with his father being former Sixers Head Coach Brett Brown. I fully respect them and will cheer them on as they pursuit another State Championship for the Aces. This is a formidable team that has already beaten Reigning state Champion Reading High and just took the undefeated record of Cheltenham in their last game. Norristown has an extremely HUGE task ahead of them but just this one time I’m putting away my logical James Nelson Stewart side and I’m using my more emotional Chief Justice side in hoping someway that Norristown can pull this victory off.
One thing I can guarantee is that Norristown will be filling the Liacouras Center in droves tomorrow.
GO TOWN BALL!!!