James Nelson-Stewart: The “Final” Frontier

By James Nelson Stewart

Philadelphia, PA: Today we will look at one of the longest running Elite AAU programs in the Philadelphia region Team Final, who have had at least numerous NBA players bless the program throughout the years starting with Tyreke Evans. Team Final has long been one of the standard programs in the Philadelphia area due to having pro players and having a plethora of Division 1 College basketball players that have made an impact at that level as well as dominating the Philadelphia High School Basketball Scene. Team Final, led by the Director Rob Brown, is the standard of excellence and this year is no different!!!

Jameel Brown, Team Final

The name Team Final in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware inspires many emotions like other flagship teams such as the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Lakers do across the country. Rarely will you find a person who has a son that plays basketball in the Tri-State area who doesn’t have an opinion on Team Final. Love them or Hate them, you can almost guarantee that Team Final will produce a great product and have players that will become household names.

Team Final participates in the Nike EYBL basketball Circuit, which is arguably the most competitive and most prestigious High School Basketball Circuit in the country. A lot of the players that are seen today on your TV screens playing in the NBA are alums of this Circuit. Yearly the top players of this circuit are seen at the very beginning of the NBA Draft walking across the stage accepting their hats from Commissioner Adam Silver.

The EYBL fields teams from North America as far west as California, as far south as Florida and Texas and as far north as Canada. Teams jockey their position to try to get to the “Crown Jewel” of Nike Basketball in an event called the “Peach Jam”. The “Peach Jam” is an event held every year in the town of North Augusta, SC where this little town gets flooded by every major college coach in America, scouts and now media outlets as games are televised by such entities as ESPN. The 17U “Peach Jam” is the among the most sought-after trophies in Boys High School Basketball PERIOD!!!

Jalen Duren, Team Final

This leads to my title is called the “Final Frontier”. One of the few things that has eluded the grasp of Team Final is hoisting the “Peach Jam” trophy. This year and this group might be the one to lead Rob Brown, Aaron Burt and the other superb coaches of the Illustrious Team Final Program to the goal of lifting that 17U trophy. The 17U Team Final Team is led by Generational Big Man Talent 6-10 Jalen Duren (formerly of Roman Catholic and now with National Champion Monteverde Academy in Florida), the #2 player overall in the current 2022 ESPN rankings (behind only 6-8 G-F Emoni Bates). Duren, the only player in the Philadelphia Catholic League History to be named 1st team All-Catholic as a Freshman and Sophomore, is often mentioned alongside names of the Late Great Roman and NBA Star 6-10 Eddie Griffin and former Legendary Gratz, North Carolina Star and NBA Champion 6-11 Rasheed Wallace as being the best big man from Philly over the last 30 years. No matter where you rank Duren among those comparisons, just being mentioned with those legends tells you all you need to know about this future pro.

Duren alone would pose an imposing figure for teams, so having a second athletic big is downright scary and this Team Final has just the player in Westtown’s 7-1 C Dereck Lively. Lively is another player who has a chance to make some real noise at the next level with his ability to move fluidly at his imposing height and ability to protect the rim. Team Final will have their version of the Twin Towers made famous by Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson first, then David Robinson and Tim Duncan next. If having 1 rim protector is a luxury, then having 2 must be considered an extravagance that Team Final is excited to have. But flanking those Twin Towers, the 17u Team Final team has a backcourt of HM prospect guards in 6-3 G Justice Williams (formerly of Roman Catholic and now with National Champion Monteverde Academy in Florida) and 6-3 G Jameel “Milzy” Brown (The Haverford School), who initially committed to Purdue but now has opened up his recruitment. Both of those guards are smooth scoring guards that also can distribute the rock as well.

Another impressive wing player is 6-5 U Conn Commit Corey Floyd Jr. (Roselle Catholic), who is built like a linebacker but moves like a smaller guard. He and 6-3 Otega Oweh (Blair Academy) will be looked to give this team some balance on the floor. Ibrahima Bayu (Perkiomen School) is an intriguing 6-8 prospect that will add size and athletic ability to this already deep roster of prospects. Guards Jaheim Bethea (MCS) and Jaden Arline (Paul VI) provide great ballhandling and depth to the backcourt while 6-5 F Jack Seidler (Marlboro High NJ) will give this group another creative shot maker with size. The 17U Team Final team is an intriguing mix of size, speed, strength that has the area excited to see if they can bring home the gold.

Team Final has also built intriguing groups for their 2023’s and 2024’s groups. The 16U (2023) Team has such intriguing prospects like 6-7 Combo Justin Edwards and 5-10 speedy G Rahmir Burno from the undefeated Imhotep Team and 6-2 G Ruben Rodriguez Jr from PA 6A Champions and National ranked Reading High. But also extended their reach across the state with prospects 6-2 G Brandon Davis (Laurel Highlands) and 6-5 Wing Daemar Kelly (Penn Hills). 6-6 Combo James Johns Jr., son of 17U coach James Johns, and 6-2 2024 G Elijah Duval, brother of former Duke PG Tre Duval, brings some intriguing prospects to this 16U team. 6-8 Wing Christian Kirkland (formerly of Roman, now at Friends Select) is another player who coaches with be looking at with a keen eye.

The 15s will be led by their strong backcourt of 6-0 Deuce Jones (Trenton Catholic), 6-1 Nick Coval (Parkland, who already was Co-MVP of his conference), 5-10 Robert Wright III (Neumann-Goretti, hit a GW shot in his first varsity game) and 6-2 sharpshooter Moses Hipps (Archbishop Carroll, who already owns an offer from Lasalle). 6-4 Elijah Brown (St. Augustine Prep) will add some high flying athleticism to this group and his High School Teammate 6-9 Luke Bevilacqua will add size to this team.

Rosters
15s
Robert Wright 5-10- Neumann
Deuce Jones 6-0-Trenton Catholic
Nick Coval 6-1-Parkland
Moses Hipps 6-2-Carroll
Elijah Brown 6-4-St. Augustine
Amir Williams 6-5-Neumann
Jadon Murray 6-6-Ryan
Thomas Sorber 6-9- Trenton Catholic
Luke Bevilacqua-6-9- St. Augustine
Staff-
Nate Hodge -Head Coach
DJ Irving
Tramayne Hawthorne
Caleb Kupa

16s
Rahmir Burno-5-10-Imhotep
Justin Edwards-6-7- Imhotep
Brandon Davis-6-2-Laurel Highlands
Elijah Duval-6-2-Bonner
Ruben Rodriguez Jr-6-2-Reading
Daemar Kelly-6-5-Penn Hills
James Johns-6-6-TBD
Christian Kirkland-6-8-Friends Select
Carson Howard-6-8-Lacey
Ian Imegwu-6-8-Blair
Caleb Bryant-6-8-Lasalle
Staff-
Tahar Sutton-Head Coach
Aaron Burt
Calvin Gilbert
Khalief Tinsley

17U
Jaheim Bethea 5-10-MCS
Jaden Arline-6-0-Paul VI
Justice Williams-6-3-Montverde
Jameel Brown-6-3-Haverford School
Corey Floyd-6-5-Roselle Catholic
Otega Oweh-6-3-Blair
Ibrahima Bayu-6-8-Perkiomen School
Derick Lively 7-1-Westtown
Jalen Duren 6-10-Montverde
Jack Seidler 6-5-Marlboro

Staff-
James Johns-Head Coach
Chris Roantree
Kyle Finkly
Dwayne “Roc” Jones
Henry Smith

Positioning Delaware State University Basketball: An Open Letter to President Tony Allen

April 4, 2021

Dr. Tony Allen, President

Delaware State University

Dear Dr. Allen:

Just a few thoughts on Delaware State University and where it fits in today’s version of Division 1 college basketball. These are truly some challenging times. I have paid close attention to college basketball and college basketball coaching hires for more than 30 years. My focus has been primarily on the mid-Atlantic region. I am convinced that Delaware State can make good decisions and compete for MEAC championships in a relatively short period of time.

Dr. Tony Allen

The Shifting College Basketball Landscape
The mid-Atlantic region’s rich college basketball tradition has experienced a massive and consequential paradigm shift. Things are very different than they were just a few years ago.

A mere cursory glance reveals that college basketball recruiting has been radically transformed. President Allen you face a serious challenge. You have to identify a coach whose values align with those you are instilling within your administration and all across campus. You also need a coach with skill sets and deep relationships that will translate to a significantly upgraded roster in a relatively short period of time. You want a winner. You want to bring pride and passion back to the storied Hornet Hoops program.

I got you…

I know a guy…

You find yourself asking: Exactly where does the Delaware State Basketball program fit in this vexing and fast changing NCAA Division 1 context? And, who would be the best leader of the program going forward?

The recent history has been rather bleak. The last 2 Delaware State Coaches have combined record of 58-163.

Let’s win some games… Let’s win some championships…

Rider Assistant Geoff Arnold is, by far, the most qualified and battle tested candidate to improve that record and lead the Delaware State program into battle against the BIG BOYS and highly competitive MEAC foes.

Rider Assistant Coach, Geoffrey Arnold

Where DSU Basketball Stands: Encircled by the BIG BOYS
The present discussion will center around Delaware State Basketball, but the logic is applicable to Division 1 college basketball in general. Let’s focus on the strategy of encirclement deployed by Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany and it’s deleterious impact on the recruiting of mid-Atlantic mid-major basketball programs such as Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Drexel and the regions only Division 1 HBCU, Delaware State.

The Big 10 is in the midst of a well-funded and sustained basketball invasion of the mid-Atlantic region. They have effectively encircled Delaware State and the region’s other mid-majors: Rutgers to the north, Penn State to the West and Maryland to the South.

Former Big 10 Commissioner, Jim Delany

Big 10 programs are attracting top HS recruits that would otherwise serve as reinforcements for Delaware State and other mid-majors. At first glance, one might view that as problematic. However, in the current context, it represents tremendous opportunity. Those same top prospects and recruits are now widely available in the transfer portal… Just gotta get ’em… Every program in America is monitoring and recruiting the transfer portal.

Things are very different now. Delaware State, with the right coach in place, can compete with every mid major program in the mid-Atlantic region for the top prospects.

We are feeling the effects of decisions made a while ago. So… how did we get here?

In what can aptly be described as as stroke of genius, Delany added Penn State to the Big 10 in 1990, twenty-four years later he added Maryland and Rutgers. With the latter two additions, encirclement was firmly in place. Delany has publicly stated how significant the mid-Atlantic presence is to the Big 10’s long-term plans. “I don’t think people should evaluate this in the short term. But in a 25-year or 50-year period, I think they’re going to be very competitive. They are added value. And if the Big Ten had stayed at 10 and not taken on any of the risk associated with expansion, we probably would be tied for the fourth-largest conference.

Delany further added, “Rutgers is a fabulous institution, as is Maryland. And the corridor they occupy with Penn State might be the most important in the Western world — great students, political institutions, financial institutions. So we’re not only recruiting students to play basketball but students overall.”
“If you don’t venture out,” Delany said, “you never gain anything. I don’t want to go back and read all the articles about (criticism for) the Big Ten Network or instant replay or expansion. You have to do what you think is right. And if you make mistakes, you course correct or you double down.”

The Big 10 doubled-down and it is now reaping the rewards.

DJ Newbill, John Johnson, Shep Garner, Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostic, John Harrar, Mike Watkins, Izaiah Brockington, Kyle McCloskey and Seth Lundy were Philly area Penn State Nittany Lions that may have found their way to Delaware State or other local mid majors under the old paradigm.

Five of Maryland’s top 6 players played with grassroots clubs based in the Philadelphia region.

Fifteen years ago, coaching staffs spent countless hours in HS gyms evaluating and building meaningful relationships with prospects and their families. Trusting the bond they had formed with these coaches during this process, prospects were far more inclined to commit to HBCUs and other mid major programs. Those days are gone. The shift is real… Coaches haven’t been allowed to evaluate prospects in-person for over a year. Nonetheless, recruiting is more intense than it has ever been.

Zoom-based recruiting is paramount. It is the new normal.

Positioning Delaware State Basketball
Many mid-major athletic programs remain entrenched in the outdated paradigm. They have yet to fully comprehend the extent of the paradigm shift. Plainly stated, they are not up on transfer portal recruiting. They do not have deep and trusting relationships required to successfully integrate transfer portal recruiting into the overall roster management strategy.

Zoom video conferencing is a key aspect of college basketball recruiting going forward. During the pandemic, Arnold formed a Zoom-based professional development group called “12inches Over”. A weekly gathering that brings in guests who share their professional evolution stories with NBA, college and high school coaches. Through storytelling, Arnold has developed a distinct brand of professional development for basketball coaches and enthusiasts. Dawn Staley (South Carolina), Rod Baker (Philadelphia 76ers), Bruiser Flint (Kentucky), Kevin Broadus (Morgan State), Karl Hobbs (Rutgers) and Drew Gladstone (Northern Illinois) are among the 60-80 coaches that tune in weekly.

Arnold and Delaware State are uniquely positioned to take advantage of and leverage massive changes in the college basketball recruiting industry.

These days, you can dramatically reshape your Men’s basketball program in a relatively short period of time.

The recruiting process has been highly compressed. Zoom-based transfer portal recruiting is as important as traditional high school recruiting. For many college programs it has become the primary recruiting vehicle. College basketball recruiting, to a large extent, consists of a zoom or two and a few days of texting/calling. Scholarship offers and commitments are taking place between transfers in the NCAA portal and college coaches at a breakneck pace. You need an experienced and discerning coach to navigate this new highly fluid transfer portal era.

This is the new reality in college basketball.

The challenge you face is to identify a coach that can be aggressive in the market for elite players while maintaining a commitment to the core values of your administration. You need a coach that gonna get it done and represent Delaware State University in a dignified manner at all times.

President Allen… Geoff Arnold is that guy. He will identify talented high school student-athletes and deftly integrate the transfer portal into his roster management strategy.

Hire Geoffrey Arnold… Black Cager Sports enthusiastically and unequivocally endorses Geoff Arnold for the Head Men’s Basketball Coaching position at Delaware State. Arnold ranks among the top 3% of college basketball coaches I have encountered.

As the Founder of the Arline Institute, Black Cager Sports Media and the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame, I have developed working relationships with some of the top basketball coaches in America. On a regular basis, I deal extensively with coaching staffs at the following colleges and universities:
Temple
St. Joseph’s
Maryland
Penn State
South Carolina
North Texas
Morgan State
Howard
Maryland, Eastern Shore
Washington
Marquette
Rutgers
Seton Hall
La Salle
Drexel
Delaware
Northern Illinois
Georgia
East Carolina
Syracuse
St. John’s
Fairleigh Dickinson
Yale
Pennsylvania
Mt. St Mary’s

Coach Arnold ranks among the very best in all areas areas when compared to his peers at these institutions. He is an outstanding recruiter, blessed with an extraordinary ability to relate equally well to players, parents and grandparents. He has a solid grasp of all NCAA rules and regulations and scrupulously adheres to the letter and spirit of regulatory guidance.

He teaches the game with a passion that is rare and his players reap the benefits. He has coached several players currently in the National Basketball Association, Langston Galloway (Phoenix Suns), DeAndre Bembry (Toronto Raptors) and Charlie Brown (Minnesota Timberwolves) were recruited and trained by Arnold during his stint with St. Joseph’s.

Nov 29, 2016; Queens, NY, USA; Delaware State Hornets guard Devin Morgan (22) reacts after scoring a three point basket during the second half against the St. John’s Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena. Delaware State Hornets won 79-72. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Leveraging Existing Relationships

College Basketball Recruiting in 2021, especially the increasingly important transfer portal version, is all about who you know and who trusts you. Arnold has established a vast network of deep relationships in the mid-Atlantic region. Black Cager Sports enthusiastically and unequivocally endorses Geoff Arnold for the Head Men’s Basketball Coaching position at Delaware State.

In sum, President Allen, Black Cager Sports pledges to tirelessly assist you, and should you hire him, Coach Arnold and the Delaware State Athletic and Admissions Departments in their efforts to identify, recruit and enroll talented and qualified students and student-athletes.

You will soon hear from scores of Athletic Directors and Coaches extolling the virtues of Coach Arnold… They are right…

Let’s have a Hornet Basketball Renaissance!

James Nelson-Stewart: My Final 5 Thoughts on the Scholastic Season

State Champions, Reading High School

One

READING!!! What can you say about this team that has not already been said? The Underdogs from Berks County shocked the nation by beating the 7th ranked Archbishop Wood 58-57 in the 6A finals. For most fans, observers, scouts and writers (including yours truly) thought that this game was going to be a coronation of one of the great teams of the recent Philadelphia HS basketball era in the 7th ranked undefeated Archbishop Wood Vikings, who normally started 4 players that have scored over 1,000 points and signed Division 1 basketball scholarships. But somebody forgot to tell the Red Knights of Reading and Coach Rick Perez of this coronation party. Let me say the group of players and parents of Reading High were confident and excited for the opportunity to prove the masses wrong and did they ever. For Reading High to even be in this position to play for a State Championship was an incredible journey. From having Coach Perez suspended before the beginning of this season to now having the 25th ranked team in the United States in America shows you what the power of perseverance can overcome. The community rallied behind this team from the very start and had the look of possibly having a special season. But best believe it was not going to come without challenges and their one main challenge was Wilson West Lawn HS, led by their special generational player Stevie Mitchell. Reading, who finished with a record of 27-2, played Wilson four times this year and they split those games. But Reading won the most important game of the four and represented District 3 in the State Playoffs. With the restrictions brought on by COVID, only one team would represent a District in the State Playoffs. Each game brought a “Win-or-Go Home” mentality that Reading thrived in. By defeating the only team that beat them this year to get the playoffs, Reading was confident of their ability to win the title. But to achieve that feat, they had to overcome a team that had not lost all year and played in the undisputed best league in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Catholic League). But again, after conquering first their own school board and then Stevie Mitchell and Wilson, they had no fear of vanquishing the formidable Wood team, led by future HOF Coach John Mosco. Incredible season for this group led by Coach Rick Perez and Sr. 6-6 F Moro Osumanu (West Chester), who had 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Title Game. But here is the scary part for the rest of the state, Reading High only had 2 Seniors on their roster (Osumanu and Rene Rodriguez), the rest are underclassmen led by 6-4 Jr Wing Daniel Alcantara, 6-0 Jr G Joey Chapman (who had the game sealing steal), 6-1 Jr G Xavier Davis, 6-1 So Amier Burdine (Starting Varsity QB) and 6-1 Star So Ruben Rodriguez Jr. Reading may be around for a while!!!

Philadelphia Catholic League Champions, Archbishop Wood

Two

Can’t talk about Reading without talking about the team that they beat Archbishop Wood and the season they had. While the disappointment over the last game with linger with some, you can’t take away the run the Vikings had in this 2021 Season. Wood, led by 2 Time Back-to-Back PCL MVP & MaxPreps’s PA POY Rahsool Diggins, had a season that most programs would dream of. From being as high as #7 in the nation, to running through the PCL undefeated (14-0), to winning the PCL and District 12 Titles, this team was nearly perfect. This team had 4 1,000-point scorers and 1st Team All- Catholic in All Time Leader Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd, Jaylen Stinson and Marcus Randolph. They boasted a 2nd Team All Catholic 6-6 Sr F Muneer Newton, who could have been the most indispensable player on the team and other players like 6-4 Jr F Mike Knouse, 6-6 Sr C Rob Jackson and 6-2 Jr G Tyson Allen, who stepped up as injuries bit the Vikings late in the season. This group had a very successful 4 year run as they were the 2021 PCL Champions, 2-time PCL Regular Season Champs, 3 Time District 12 Champs and 2 Time State Finalist with a 3rd one probably stymied by COVID in 2020. Salute to those young men and Future HOF Coach John Mosco for an incredible season.

State Champions, Allentown Central Catholic

Three

District 11 has ended its streak of 36 years without a State Title with its incredible win on a last second layup by Jr PG 6-0 Tyson Thomas that lifted Allentown Central Catholic to the 4A State Championship. Led by Coach Dennis Csenstis, Allentown Central Catholic made their historic run to their state title by beating District 1’s PJP, who had a great run itself and District 12’s Archbishop Carroll, out of the PCL. This team is also primed for a run in 2022 with their best players being Guard Tyson Thomas and Jr G-F 6-6 Liam Joyce and some up-and-comers such as Fr F 6-6 David Fridia. This one is very personal as last year I was part of the Team Final Red Organization from Allentown and these 3 players are also part of that organization. Thomas, son of Team Final Red co-founder Marlon Thomas, was also named Co-MVP of his conference this year.

Destiny McPhaul, West Catholic

Four

District 12, while still the most powerful District in the State of Pennsylvania, left the Boys Basketball season with ZERO state titles but did leave the Girls Basketball Season with 3 state titles. The Boys went 0-3 in title games with losses by Constitution, Ryan and Wood. The Girls did just the opposite by going 3-0 in title games with wins by West Catholic, led by Destiny McPhaul, Cardinal O’Hara and Wood led by Ryanne Allen. With the State Tournament held in this format, teams like 6A Roman Catholic, were not able to participate. But it also shows that parity is growing throughout the state on the Boys side.

Five

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention how much different it could have been if 4A Neumann-Goretti or 5A Undefeated Imhotep were able to participate this year. This is not to take anything away from the Champions of those 2 classes because those schools still had to play very good teams and would have had a chance to beat either team. But for these teams not to have the chance to compete is just not fair. I’m not going into why they were not able to play but they both deserved better.

Philly Pride Basketball Tryouts March 21, 2021

Philly Pride is one of the most respected AAU/Grassroots programs in the Nation. In recent years, Pride alums have played in the NBA, G-League, Big 10, Big East, A10, MAAC, MEAC and several other NCAA Division 1 conferences. Pride competes on the highly competitive Under Armour Association Circuit where they won the 16U National Championship in 2019.

Click on the links below to register for the appropriate session:

15U Tryout Link, 10:00 am – 11:45 am
https://go.teamsnap.com/forms/261299

16U Tryout Link, 12:15 pm – 2:00 pm
https://go.teamsnap.com/forms/261375

17U Tryout Link – 2:15 pm – 4:00 pm
https://go.teamsnap.com/forms/261378

5 Things About Eastern PA/South Jersey Boys Basketball for the Season 2021

By James Nelson-Stewart

One

In this year of the “COVID”, where teams had to miss period of times due to the virus, one of the biggest and most controversial stories is that of the defending Philadelphia Catholic League Champions, Neumann-Goretti Saints. As a lover of all sports and a die-hard basketball fan, this story concerns me in many ways. In the Year of the Pandemic, where people fought for children to play sports, I find the rule of students “transferring for athletic purposes” seems to be hypocritical and biased due to the fact some of the reasoning of playing sports through this Pandemic were adults saying that playing sports helps with the child’s mental health. But playing for a coach that doesn’t support your vision helps the child’s mental health. I digress but the sad situation of Neumann being disqualified from defending their title seems unnecessary and unwarranted. In this year of so many twists and turns, rules should have been a little more lenient and Neumann should have had a chance to defend their title. It truly is disappointing for the Neumann Family of Coaches and Players but we know they will regroup next year and will be ready for all comers.

Rahsool Diggins, 21 Archbishop Wood

Two

The Area’s National level players especially the strong and deep classes of guards really performed up to their lofty standards and then some. Three of the top guards even broke school records in their abridged seasons. 6-2 Marquette Signee Stevie Mitchell of Wilson West Lawn went over 2000 points in his amazing HS career that came to close with a loss in the District 3 Championship Game to Reading High School, led by Rick Perez. 6-6 Villanova Recruit Jordan Longino also closed his career out at Germantown Academy as the illustrious school’s All-Time Leading Scorer by passing legend and former NBA player Alvin Williams. Longino probably would have also surpassed the 2,000-point total but the Inter-Ac League only played a small slate of games this season. 6-3 Rahsool Diggins, the defending PCL MVP and future U-Conn Huskie, also added Wood’s All-Time Scoring title to his growing list of accomplishments that he can still add on to. Definitely one of the favorites to capture the league’s MVP again, he also has a chance to win a Catholic and State Title to his substantial resume of Accomplishments. While those 3 guards have definitely been newsworthy, there has been a plethora of incredible guard play this winter. Hysier “Fabe” Miller, Neumann’s fantastic Guard and incoming Temple Owl, fascinated fans with averages that steadily stayed in triple double range and definitely was in the conversation as the Catholic League MVP. Miami Commit and MCS Star “Wooga” Nisine Poplar, has definitely picked it up after a slow start to the season. Out in District 11, Sr 6-5 Sniper Jevin Muniz has Executive Charter looking at different heights for this season and continuing with his strong and steady play. Last but not least is the #1 ranked 2023 player in the Country D.J. Wagner, leading his Camden Team to an undefeated record while also winning NJ POY. Hard to believe the area has 2 more years of this Phenom. He has filled the big shoes left by his father extremely well. Some other noteworthy guards have been 2021s Florida St. Bound Jalen Warley (Westtown), High Scoring 2021 Guard Bernie Blunt (Rocktop Academy), Jaylen Stinson (Wood/James Madison), Carl Schaller (Garnet Valley/U of Chicago), Rahdir Hicks (Malvern Prep/Towson), Wisler Sanon (Paul VI, NJIT), Matt Compas (Wissahickon), Quadir Miller (Constitution), Griffin Barrouk (Rustin/Hofstra), Freddie Young (Trenton Catholic/Lincoln), Jameel Burton (Chester), Fareed Burton Jr. (Chester), Robert Bell (Abington) and Joe Jackman (CB East). Some notable 2022s have been Jameel Brown (Haverford/Purdue), Khalil Farmer (Roman Catholic), Jeremiah Bembry (Executive), Justin Moore (McDevitt), Saleem Payne (Cheltenham), Tyson Thomas (Allentown Central Catholic), Nate Ellis (William Allen), Argel “Ivy”Pettit (Devon Prep), Jacob Beccles (Constitution) and Derek Simpson (Lenape). Some notable 2023s have been Xyavier Brown (Roman Catholic), Rah Burno (Imhotep), Ruben Rodriquez (Reading), Chauncey Presley (MCS), Earl Stout (Wissahickon), Moe Scro-Dones (North Penn), Shawn Purvy (Souderton), Mark Butler and Keith Gee (Penn Charter).

Three

Will National Ranked Archbishop Wood (Maxpreps #9) finally capture the titles that eluded this group thus far. With the strong starting 5 of Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd (Lasalle), Marcus Randolph (Richmond), Jaylen Stinson (James Madison) and the underrated but extremely athletic and versatile F Muneer Newton and big man Rob Jackson (Cincinnati-Football Scholarship). The majority of this group has been playing for titles since their Sophomore years together. (Randolph came as a Jr.). They lost a heartbreaker in the 5A State Title game to Moon Township in 2019. Then in 2020, this group lost in the PCL Semifinals to Roman Catholic and lost the bid to win the state title due to COVID. They are on to the PCL Title game on Monday 3/15/2021 against the last team that beat them in Roman Catholic. This Roman team is much different from the team that beat them. No longer is 2022 #2 overall player Jalen Duren defending the basket or Guards Lynn Greer III or 2022 Justice Williams manning the backcourt. Now it’s the great backcourt of 2022 Khalil Farmer and Super Sophomore 2023 Xzayvier Brown and 2022 6-5 Daniel Skillings and 6-7 Radunovic up front. This Wood team is the most balanced team that the area may have seen in a while. All 5 starters should be definite 1st or 2nd team All-Catholic. Let’s see if the Catholic and State Titles are within their grasp this year.

Justin Moore, ’22 Bishop McDevitt

Four

The Newcomers really have made their mark around the state whether it was through transfer or the Class of 2024 players making their mark. The Catholic League has seen players such as Zaahir Williamson (Neumann), Christian Tomasco (Ryan), Daniel Skillings & Khalil Farmer (Roman), IV Pettit (Devon Prep), Justin Moore (Bishop McDevitt) make big noise this year. While players such as Jeremiah Bembry (Executive), Jameel Burton (Chester) and Trent Middleton (MCS) has their teams looking for State Gold. The freshman has made their mark throughout the area. Malachi Palmer (Central Dauphin East), Michael “Deuce” Jones (Trenton Catholic) and Nick Coval (Parkland) led the 2024’s but others such as Moses Hipps (Carroll), Robert Wright (Neumann), Elijah Duval (Bonner), Ron Brown (SCH), Jacob Cumminsky (CB East) and Jayden Colzie (Plymouth Whitemarsh) made some waves in the area. 2024 seems to be a strong and deep class throughout the region.

Jeremiah Bembry, ’22 Executive Education

Five

Is this the year the District 11 wins a state title? Executive Charter, coached by former D1 player Ray Barbosa and led by Jevin Muniz and Jeremiah Bembry have to be considered among the favorites in the 3A bracket along with 4A Allentown Central Catholic, led by Tyson Thomas and Liam Joyce and coached by Dennis Csensits. William Allen led by 2022 guard Nate Ellis would be considered a long shot, but the chance is still there. There has been a drought but the time may be near for that to end but I know MCS in 3A and Pope John Paul in 4A are ready to keep that drought going on further.

All-Catholic and All-Area teams will be out later this week.

Five (5) Things From the HS Season I Have Seen So Far

By James Nelson-Stewart

February 18, 2021

Saleem Payne, Cheltenham High School
  1. Three (3) teams have really surprised in the season Plymouth Whitemarsh, Devon Prep and North Penn. All 3 teams are pretty young and the future looks very bright for these programs.
  2. Four (4) underpublicized 2022 Point Guards need more love throughout the area. Saleem Payne (Cheltenham) super quick who has led Cheltenham to an undefeated record. Argel Ivy Pettit (Devon Prep) , he’s been balling the last 2 years at Rustin but now he has taken it to the Catholic League proving he’s for real. Joey Larkins (North Penn) the defensive leader and unselfish PG of the Knights. #24 in the class academically, he is heady and steady. Jeremiah Bembry (Executive Education) had been off the radar but has come back in a big way at Executive Education Charter School. He makes them a true contender for the state title.
  3. Muneer Newton (Wood) is playing like a 1st Team All Catholic. The only unsigned member of the Wood starting 5. Newton is very Athletic and a great team player would fit colleges at any level.
  4. The stars are playing like the stars. Rahsool Diggins (Wood), Daeshon Shepherd (Wood), Hysier Miller (Neumann-Goretti), Stevie Mitchell (Wilson West Lawn), Jameel Brown (Haverford School), Jevin Muniz (Executive Education), Jordan Longino (Germantown Academy) among others are looking elite.
  5. Some very strong 2023/2024 players are really starting to show their meddle. Led by 2023 Roman PG Xyavier Brown and Imhotep duo of Rahmir Burno and Justin Edwards, 2024s P-W Jayden Colzie, Carroll’s Moses Hipps, Devon Prep’s Ty Mishock, CB East Jacob Cumminsky, Central Dauphin’s National Ranked Malachi Palmer lead a very deep class of 2024’s in the area. The future looks bright for these 2 classes.
Stevie Mitchell, Wilson West Lawn

P.S-Get ready for an interesting playoff season as changes in the District and State format make every game remaining that much more important. 6A looks to be a minefield as usual but even more so this year with Wood and Roman in District 12 and District 3 Wilson, Reading and Central Dauphin and District 1 with PW, Neshaminy, Lower Merion and Cheltenham and limited spots available. No time for slip ups!!! Good Luck to every team playing this year in this crazy season!!!

A Big College Basketball Game on MLK, Jr Day: La Salle vs St. Joseph’s

There’s a BIG college basketball game tomorrow… A Big 5 matchup featuring the St. Joseph’s Hawks traveling uptown to take on the La Salle Explorers. It’s a BIG game because all my life it’s been a Big Game. Stevie Black vs Bryan Warrick… Lionel Simmons vs Rodney Blake… Rab Townes vs Rap Curry… Donnie Carr vs Rashid Bey… Those were BIG fuckin’ games!

Well… tomorrow the rivalry resumes… We are in new eras for both programs.

Ashley Howard, La Salle Head Coach

On April 8, 2018, La Salle announced Ashley Howard would be the next head coach of the Explorers, succeeding his former boss John Gianinni. After struggling early during his first season, Howard’s Explorers finished 10–21. The win total increased in year 2 as Howard guided the team to a 15–15 record in the 2019–20 season. The Explorers come into this game 5-8 (2-4 in the A10) and in the midst of a 3 game losing skid.

La Salle’s roster is loaded with local talent. David Beatty (Imhotep), Jhamir Brickus (Coatesville), Jack Clark (Cheltenham), Clifton Moore (Hatboro-Horsham), Christian Ray (Haverford School), Kyle Thompson (St. Joseph’s Prep) and Derrius Ward (Sankofa) all hail from the Greater Philadelphia region.

Howard plays a 10-man rotation. Ten (10) guys play anywhere between 14.3 and 24.7 mpg. Jack Clark leads the Explorers in scoring and rebounding with averages of 9.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg. Rookie point guard, Jhamir Brickus leads the team in minutes (24.7 mpg), assists (3.5 apg) and steals (1.7 spg). Clifton Moore blocks 1.7 shots per game.

Billy Lange, St. Joseph’s Coach

In late March 2018, St. Joseph’s announced they hired Billy Lange to replace Phil Martelli. The Hawks went 6-26 (2-16 in the A10) in Lange’s first year at the helm. This year, the Hawks are off to a 1-9 (0-4 in the A10) start.

The St. Josephs’s roster has some local flavor. Ryan Daly (Archbishop Carroll), Dahmir Bishop (Imhotep), Jack Forrest (Lower Merion), Jordan Hall (Neumann-Goretti), Rahmir Moore (Mastery North) and Chris Arizin (St. Joseph’s Prep) are the local boys on the Hawks roster.

Star senior guard Ryan Daly leads St. Joseph’s in scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.2). But he has only played 5 games due to a thumb injury on his non-shooting hand. Taylor Funk (16.1 ppg) has picked up the scoring slack in Daly’s absence. Funk also grabs 5.6 rpg. Freshman Point-Forward Jordan Hall is averaging a healthy 5.5 apg and 1.1 spg. Funk blocks 0.8 shots per game.

So why is tomorrow’s tilt a BIG game?

La Salle and St. Joseph’s are both trying to re-establish a foothold… It was 8 years ago when the Explorers defeated Boise State in the First Four, Kansas State in the Round of 64, and Ole Miss in the Round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16 where they lost to Wichita State. In his third season, Howard is 30-44 overall.

St. Joseph’s won the A10 Championship in 2014 and 2016. In 2019, they parted ways with long-time Head Coach Phil Martelli. In his second season, Lange is 7-35 overall.

These proud programs anxiously await their return to National prominence.

A BIG game indeed. Both clubs DESPERATELY need a win. Their fans are getting antsy…

Black Cager Pick: La Salle – 4

Sit yo’ Ass Down: Why Some Freshmen Don’t Play

In the words of the immortal Marlo (The Wire) “You want it to be one way. . . but it’s the other way.”

On commencement day Dwayne Anderson II was riding high. He was “the guy” on a team full of “the guys” at DMV powerhouse St. John’s College High School (DC) and St. Thomas More School (CT). He was a bucket getter extraordinaire headed to the school of his choice after telling a bevy of high profile programs “thanks but no thanks”. He planned to take in the sights and dunk on some guys during his pit stop at Villanova before going on to his inevitable destination: THE NBA.

Dwayne Anderson

At least that was the plan. Somehow, he went from going to the League to “walking to practice in tears”. What happened? Well, the answer is both simple and complex, with much of it rooted in the expectation that college would be a “rinse and repeat” of high school. 

Expectations can be a funny thing. They are formed automatically and are necessary for our survival but in the transition from high school to college basketball they have to be managed with an important caveat borrowed from any sound investment strategy: understand that past success does not guarantee future results. Or at least not immediate future results.

Keith Urgo, a coach at Penn State University, said this is a common mistake made by incoming freshmen who have to learn a plethora of things on and off the court to be productive in the program. Not once did any of the persons interviewed for this piece ever mention “talent level” as a reason for not getting playing time. Urgo mentioned a few things, including adapting their bodies to physically compete, improving their work habits and focus to consistently play with the required intensity and learning the systems implemented by the coaching staff. Larry Suggs, director of a midwestern AAU program, Team Sizzle, acknowledged the need for players to properly grasp the “terminology and techniques” college teams employ. 

Keith Urgo

Walter Fisher III, an assistant at an Illinois NAIA program, Governor’s State, echoed those same sentiments in describing the trials and tribulations suffered by freshmen. “The growth process is the same at our level,” he noted adding that “managing time off the court” is just as pivotal. 

Fisher pointed to one the keys to Anderson’s early struggles as a Wildcat. “(Freshman) have to develop the mental preparedness to compete everyday.” Anderson, now the Director of Basketball Operations at Villanova, acknowledged that was one the things he had to learn. “I thought I’d be given an opportunity to play” as opposed to “earning” it everyday in practice, he said. All of these were factors in my own son’s delay in playing meaningful minutes for the Villanova Wildcats. 

Another major component in “earning” playing time is garnering the head coaches trust by showing the necessary “commitment” to work hard on and off the floor to improve and contribute. In a cursory examination of minutes played by freshmen from the Class of 2019 from the Philadelphia area I found that most only played about 10-12 minutes. Isaiah Wong (Miami), Donta Scott (Maryland) and Christian Ray (Lasalle) were among the few to garner 21 minutes per game. With the exception of those three, the majority did not play important minutes in more than half of the conference games for their respective schools.

One of the things that can negatively affect the management of expectations is promises made on the recruiting trail. Urgo and Fisher emphasized that most coaches understand the dangers of guaranteeing playing time beyond the opportunity to compete for minutes. Still, some paint a less than realistic picture for prospects. Urgo added that some high school influencers don’t help as some may operate with an agenda and “sell the school, sell the dream” to recruits.

Fisher, who started his own AAU organization (Team RWA) prior to becoming a coach, took it a step further advising prospects to surround themselves with people who are willing to give straight forward feedback and have difficult conversations. “You want the blunt guy. You don’t want the dreamer.”

On the recruiting circuit, Urgo believes being honest and as forthright as possible can save a lot of “headaches” later, for both the staff and the player. It helps the player “pick a school that is the right fit. The right institution”. Fisher, who is in his 2nd season with the Jaguars, only assures prospects that “if you outplay the (upperclassmen) you will play”.

Well, “outplaying the upperclassmen” is quite often easier said than done. In college, especially at the NAIA level, it may be even harder because the players will be competing against guys as much as 5 years older than them. 

Anderson got an inkling of the difficulty in one preseason open run with his Villanova teammates. He had “made a steal or something” and got on the break with just 6-10 Jason Fraser standing between him and an impressive dunk. “He waited for me. Like, waited for me. So I (reared back) ready to dunk.” Then as Anderson recounted, Fraser leapt into the air meeting the high flying freshmen at the rim, blocking his dunk in spectacular fashion, bringing the ball down with him while sending the incredulous Anderson sprawling under the basket, Fraser standing over him with a greeting,  “Welcome to college”. 

Urgo talked about the importance of having veteran players to help freshmen adjust and accept their roles as they prepare to be key contributors down the road. He talked about how having Lamar Stevens helped Seth Lundy, who has doubled his scoring average in his sophomore year, get through his early playing time frustrations. Conversely, he related how not having that type of mentorship hurt Stevens and Tony Carr as they had to “figure it out” on the court, losing a lot but learning in the process. Both were outstanding high school players who were unaccustomed to the losing and they were often frustrated in the beginning. 

Stevens and Carr arrived in Happy Valley as heralded recruits in a program not known for them. They were instantly two of the best players on the roster. This is not the case for most incoming freshmen and certainly was not the case for Anderson, who joined several future NBA players on the mainline. It didn’t take him long to discern that he wasn’t going to be in the rotation as a freshman. “It was okay because I knew I was behind future NBA guys.” He spent his first year “watching them, learning from them, believing next year would be my time”. 

Over the following summer he would earn a chance to have a larger role early in the following season. He wasn’t getting it done. He again had to accept that he wasn’t “going to be one of the guys that would be playing.” It was tough for him and his parents. Following his sophomore season an end of the season meeting with Coach Wright made things quite a bit tougher. According to Anderson, Wright sat him down and told him he should transfer because he didn’t envision him having the kind of role on the team that he knew he wanted. 

Wright and his staff took notice and he earned more trust and more playing time. During a mid season lull he earned more opportunities as the guys ahead of him just weren’t productive enough. The turning point came midway through his junior year when Anderson buried a corner three to beat Seton Hall. He was a fixture in the rotation after that. That moment, that shot, propelled Anderson to a change in perspective that has driven him ever since. “I will never again accept that I’m not good enough.” 

His message to freshmen: “The way you adapt to coaching will determine when you get on the court.” And to parents: “Don’t try to solve all of their problems.” Urgo intimated that parents need to make sure their children are coachable as early as “5th or 6th grade”. Fisher advises that parents and other HS influencers “stop treating them like babies” and not to ‘“coddle them”. 

Other things high school influencers (parents, coaches and trainers, amongst others) can do to help are making sure they learn about nutrition and proper sleeping habits. In addition, Fisher says “trainers need to train them for the college game, not the pro game.” In relation to that Suggs said he tries to be familiar with what colleges are doing so that he can help his players start adapting before they even arrive on campus. For example, if he has a player committed to or strongly considering a certain school he would have them practice doing things like releasing from pin-downs or guarding ball screens the way the school does it. 

Other things freshmen often struggle with according to Fisher is focusing on things other than scoring and guarding without fouling. Also, drilling the fundamentals. “Be consistent. Don’t get bored with what you find boring.”

Eric Dixon

As a parent who is experiencing this first hand I would like to share a few things from my perspective. I acknowledge that being the parent in this process can be very difficult, especially when you have been involved in the game as I have as a player and coach. We invest an incredible amount of emotion, time and other resources to their development and, more importantly, want so badly for them to achieve their goals and realize their dreams. There is a sense of powerlessness that coaches and bystanders often ignore as they villainize us and scapegoat us. However, the truth is we do make mistakes and we do sometimes cause more harm than good when we interfere in their coaching and teams. Those needing help or information can join the CBPA for free. For more details visit us at theCBPA.org.

The key for me is understanding my role and realizing that my relationship with his coaches has to be a partnership with clear lines of both communication and boundaries. Also, when helping him with his school decision I considered that my son and I are close so picking a school close to home where my wife and I could attend games or just meet for a quick chew and chat was important. We don’t really talk about basketball unless he wants to and even then it’s never about discounting what his coaches are telling him.  Again, his coaches are my partners so I wouldn’t want to disparage them. In addition, I understand the value of him having to struggle. As one assistant said to me once, “Diamonds are not made at the top of the mountain, they are formed by the intense pressure under it.”

Also, “waiting your turn” may not be popular but it is often necessary. At Villanova, as Anderson found out, it is almost built into how the program develops leadership in it’s players. Wright and his staff teach players the fundamentals and how to be productive role players while they play behind the upperclassmen. These players then become leaders by example, torch bearers for those who come after them. Their mantra of “playing for those who came before us” becomes a kind of two-way street with learning and leading happening throughout the process.

The transition is “humbling” and an “extremely difficult… ego check” for many says Anderson, who is now pursuing a career in coaching. To those freshmen and their families who are struggling I say you are not alone. Pay attention and use patience, persistence and perseverance, and maybe even a little prayer, to get through it. 

My Homie Zimgid and the Best College Players from the Greater Philadelphia Region

My homie from Mars, Zimgid Zrvxow, came to visit tonight. Turns out, they are starting a professional basketball league on Mars. Zimgid’s assignment was to come to the USA to scout for the best players. Last week, he was on the West Coast hanging with Rico Hines. Rico put him onto Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.

Tonight, we had a few beers and blew a few trees while talking hoops. Maaaaan, y’all gotta try some of that Martian “LOUD”! Shit is ridiculous!!

Zimgid asked me: “Which kids from this area are playing the best in college basketball right now?” I started talking about ESPN and Rivals HS rankings… He stopped me… “FUCK that, that shit don’t matter… I wanna know who is playing the best in college basketball right now.”

“Ok… But, he was a McDonald’s All…” he cut me off again…

“I don’t care about none of that shit from HS… I don’t care about grassroots or shoe company circuit performances… Who is BALLIN in college right now?”

Apparently, the Martian Basketball League (MBL) will pay rookies 30 million uutiizs per year… Seems like that’s a lot of tax free Martian money…

I had to think long and hard and after a while I gave him the following list…

Stay tuned… When fans are allowed, you may see a 13 ft., 437 lb figure with three legs and 7 eyes carrying a clip board at Big East, Big 10 and A10 games. Don’t be alarmed… That’s just my man Zimgid.

You might wanna go out to the parking lot and get on the space ship with him… I’m telling you, that Martian LOUD is something special.