I Thought John Mosco and Archbishop Wood Fell Off… I Was Wrong!

Rahsool Diggins is gone… He’s on the UConn roster. Marcus Randolph is gone… He’s on the Richmond roster… Daeshon Shepherd is gone… He’s on the La Salle roster… Jaylen Stinson is gone… He’s on the James Madison roster…

These guys formed the core of the Archbishop Wood basketball program over the past three years. Diggins had one of the all-time great Philadelphia schoolboy careers. He ended up a consensus top 100 prospect and landed in the highly regarded Big East Conference, Randolph, a southpaw sniper, could always be counted on for a big bucket in a crucial moment. A big shooting guard, he plies his trade in the Atlantic 10. Shepherd was one of the most explosive leapers in recent years. He seemed to effortlessly sail through the air in Wood’s Warminster gym and violently deposit the ball through the rim. Like Randolph, he now competes in the Atlantic 10. Stinson was a defensive stopper. A tenacious on ball defender, he took great pleasure in disrupting the best laid game plans of opposing coaches and point guards. He’s continuing his career in Colonial Athletic Association.

All of those guys, four (4) NCAA Division 1 scholarship recipients, played for John Mosco’s Catholic League Champion Vikings last season. All of them are gone…

But wait… There’s more…

The consulate glue guy, Muneer Newton, is contributing to the success of the William Penn University NAIA basketball program. William Penn is currently 15-1 and ranked 2nd in the latest National NAIA poll. Newton has played in all 16 games.

Rob Jackson, another stalwart for Mosco’s program over the past few years accepted a football scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats won the American Athletic Conference championship while going undefeated through the regular season. Jackson and the Bearcats lost to top-ranked Alabama 27-6 in the College Football Playoff.

I say all of that to say two things… One, Mosco and his staff have done an amazing job developing young men into college ready student-athletes. Many of the the young men coming through the Wood program, since Mosco became coach, have gone on to college. More importantly, for the most part, the parents have not received a single bill for room, board, tuition, fees and books.

That’s just GOOD SHIT!

Justin Moore ’22, Wood Point Guard

The other reason, I outlined all of that recent success was because I thought Mosco and Wood would fall off.

What program could lose 4,000+ points all at once and remain at the top of the heap? Surely, this would be a rebuilding year at Wood… Right?

Further complicating things for the Vikings was the departure of Mosco’s long-time consigliere, Chris Roantree. Roantree served as an assistant Mosco for the eight seasons. He helped lead the Vikings to the 2017 & 2021 PCL titles, the 2017 PIAA Championship and state runner-up finishes in both 2019 & 2021. 

Six full scholarship athletes and his top assistant… Gone… all at once.

Mosco is vulnerable… This is the year the tables will turn and he’s gonna take his lumps in th Catholic League… Right?

Wrong… I was fuckin’ wrong!

I failed to adequately account for the impact of Justin Moore’s arrival in Warminster. After McDevitt joined St. James, North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty and Hallahan on scrap heap of Catholic League history, Philly’s finest point guard became an unrestricted free agent. Committed to play for Zach Spiker and his McDevitt Head Coach Will Chavis at Drexel University, Moore decided spend his senior season playing point guard for the Vikings.

Justin Moore, Post-Game Interview

Following in the footsteps of Tommy Funk, Collin Gillespie and Rahsool Diggins, Moore is vying for a seat in the BIG chair. He may very well be the best Philly guard this year.

Deploying a different cast of characters, while reading from the same script it looks John Mosco may be headed toward a familiar ending. Moore may lead Wood to yet another Palestra appearance in pursuit of third Catholic League title and a subsequent deep run in the state playoffs.

John Mosco, Archbishop Wood Head Coach

Tonight, I ventured out to the Main Line to watch Mosco and the Vikings take on Devon Prep led by Head Coach Jason Fisher. Now in their fourth season as a member of the Catholic League, Devon Prep has established itself as a formidable and highly competitive basketball program.

The tiny Devon Prep gym looks like it holds maybe 300-400 people, if the fire Marshall looks the other way. It’s about the size of the Roman Catholic gym with an actual regulation high school basketball court in place.

This was my initial visit to Devon Prep, it quickly became apparent that they have a very real home court advantage. The game was completely sold-out. Their relatively small student section competed well above it’s weight class. Maybe 100 or so students were EXTREMELY loud, energetic, boisterous and fully engaged to the final buzzer.

I was impressed.

As I watched the teams warm-up, I noticed that Wood looked like a really good high school team. They were long, lean and athletic. Junior PF Carson Howard stands about 6’8.” Senior wing Mike Knouse comes in at about 6’4” and a sturdy 210 lbs. Junior PG Bahsil Laster is a lean and athletic 6’4”. Super smooth sophomore SG Jahlil Bethea is also 6’4”. Senior wing Tyson Allen is a powerfully built 6’3”. The smallest of the bunch is yet another NCAA Division 1 scholarship recipient. The aforementioned Moore is 6’2”, super quick and very athletic.

Devon Prep, on the other hand, looked like a group of high school students that happened to be playing basketball. They aren’t very long… They aren’t extraordinarily athletic…

But… I’ve come to learn that looks can be very deceiving. I’ve seen Jason Fisher’s team rout Archbishop Ryan in Ryan’s gym. I’ve also witnessed their takedown of a nationally ranked St. Frances (MD) program during a fall event.

Lucas Orchard ’23, Devon Prep

Devon Prep can play and they have some very good players. Junior forward Lucas Orchard (19.3 ppg) is one of the leading scorers in the Catholic League. Senior guard IV Petit (13.2 ppg) is a skilled and tough competitor. Senior point guard Allen Cieslak (13.3) is hard-nosed and Junior forward Jacen Holloway (12.1) is strong rebounder capable to stepping out and knocking down 3-point shots with ease.

They are a tough out…

Devon Prep runs an offense that appears to have no set “pattern” per se (such as the flex offense). Instead, Coach Fisher’s way of playing offense uses principles that require offensive players to read the defense. For the most part, Devon Prep runs an unstructured free-lance offense that uses screens and cuts, with players reading and reacting to the defense.

The Devon Prep offense is very deliberate and patient, often featuring many passes each possession. This tends to slow the game down, controlling the tempo, usually resulting in lower game scores. Opponents have to be committed to staying attached to their man. Devon Prep thrives on mental lapses and over aggression.

John Mosco had his Wood Vikings ready for this challenge.

Wood jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first quarter. At the 2:25 mark Wood was up 10-2. After one quarter of play, Wood held a 15-2 lead. They extended that lead to 20-2 with 5:19 left in the first half. At halftime Wood was up 12, 27-15.

The lead would hover around the 8-12 point range for the remainder of the game until Devon Prep was able to close the gap to 4, 59-63 with 1:04 remaining in the game. From there, Devon Prep was forced to foul to stop the clock and extend the game. Wood players calmly converted the free throws and escaped with a 10 point, 71-61 road victory.

Justin Moore demonstrated why he is considered the best point guard in the city by many observers. He did an outstanding job defending IV Petit while picking spots to assert himself offensively. Carson Howard was dominant on the boards finishing with 16 rebounds. Senior forward Mike Knouse was a steadying force throughout the contest.

Wood is still Wood… Johnny Mosco hasn’t fallen off.

As of January 15, Wood sits atop the Catholic League Standings, along with West Catholic. The Vikings have 3 league wins and 0 losses. Roman Catholic, Archbishop Ryan and Devon Prep each have 1 loss. Neumann-Goretti has only played 1 league game.

Faced with the challenge of replacing over 90% of the production from last years team without his top lieutenant, Mosco has Wood right where they were last year… At the top of the standings…

Maybe… Just maybe… John Mosco actually knows what hell he is doing.

Montverde Ain’t From ‘Round Here…

Camden, NJ (January 13, 2022) For the past three years, Camden High has dominated the local scholastic hoops basketball scene. The Panthers had lost exactly one (1) game in three seasons. Since the start of this season, Camden had beaten nationally ranked Roselle Catholic (67-64) in a tough season opener in the new Camden High gymnasium, blown out the reigning Philly Catholic League Champions Archbishop Wood (73-41) on a neutral court and knocked off South Jersey contender Lenape (76-64) at home. On paper, these were three tough local opponents. Once they got their legs under them, the Panthers started to consistently open up BIG CANS of “whoop ass” on regional opponents.

Bishop Eustace fell by 19 (66-47), then they slaughtered Winslow Township by 54 and in their most recent game the Panthers decimated Eastern by 61 points. Camden High is by far the best and most dominant local team. Every local ranking has Camden sitting in the #1 spot and it has been that way for quite a while. Indeed, Camden entered their game tonight riding the crest of a 44 game winning streak.

DJ Wagner ’23, ESPN #1 prospect

Simply stated, since DJ Wagner arrived and Rick Brunson assumed the reins, none of the locals can fuck with Camden.

Well… almost none of them…

There was that one December night in 2019 at Cherry Hill East HS when Roman Catholic, featuring 2022 NBA lottery Pick Jalen Duren, current LSU Tiger Justice Williams, recent St. Joseph’s transfer Lynn Greer and current Cahillite star Xzayvier Brown came across the Ben Franklin bridge and knocked off the Panthers 70-59 in front of an overflowing, boisterous, raucous and decidedly Camden crowd.

Other than that one night, Brunson and the Panthers have run the table.

Indeed, the Panthers have been so dominant that it’s difficult to imagine a local high school basketball team beating them for the remainder of this year and through next year. Unquestionably, Camden High is head and shoulders above the local competition.

The problem is… Montverde ain’t from ‘round here…

Those boys are different.

While Camden has at least 8 eight Division 1 basketball prospects, including 2 high major targets (Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw), Montverde’s roster is filled with high major prospects top to bottom.

Derek Queen (3rd from left) and Kwame Evans (to the right of Queen) watch from the bench

Take a moment and think about the fact that Kwame Evans, ESPN #3 in the class of 2023, and Derek Queen, ESPN #2 in the class of 2024, do NOT start and play sparingly for this Montverde team.

Dariq Whitehead, ESPN #5 in the Class of 2022 (Duke Commit) is the leader of this talented bunch. He finished with an exhilarating 18 points in front of about 30 of his supporters who drove down from Newark to see his matchup with Wagner, ESPN #1 in the class of 2023. Whitehead did not disappoint… He dunked, made threes and even did a little Globetrotter inspired behind the back euro-step layup.

Dillon Mitchell, ESPN #18 in the Class of 2022 (Texas Commit) chipped in with 13 points. For Camden, Aaron Bradshaw, ESPN #22 in the Class of 2023, showed why he is so highly ranked. He was the lone Panther able to match the length and explosiveness of Montverde. He was aggressive attacking the basket and made several spectacular blocks. Bradshaw led Camden with 17 points and Wagner chipped in 4.

Aaron Bradshaw, ’23 ESPN #22

Those of us of a certain age will remember the tremendous anticipation accompanying the build up to an early Mike Tyson defense of his heavyweight title. That’s what this week was like… How would Camden fare against national competition? Some openly wondered if Montverde could hang with the Panthers.

Then… the bell rung… And, Montverde landed a hard right cross squarely on Camden’s jaw… For all intents and purposes, the fight was over in the first round.

Montverde jumped out to a quick 14-2 lead with 5 thunderous dunks. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 22-4 Montverde.

Camden needed a standing 8 count. For the uninitiated, A standing eight count, also known as a protection count, is a boxing judgment call made by a referee during a bout. When invoked, the referee stops the action and counts to eight. … Standing eight counts by the referee are scored the same as a knockdown, whether the boxer was knocked down or not…

1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… Okay… Let me wipe your gloves…

Eventually, Brunson went into a 2-3 zone and forced Montverde to shoot from the perimeter. This lessened the frequency of the aggravated assaults on the rim.

Rick Brunson, Camden High Coach

As the game progressed through the second, third and fourth quarters, Brunson was essentially a “cut man.” He liberally applied grease to his players eye area, ears and forehead to prevent Montverde’s leather boxing gloves from tearing and cutting the skin. When it looked like their eyes were getting puffy, Brunson applied an ice-cold steel bar to the skin to prevent swelling. The Camden coaches used a cotton swab to push clotting powder into the cut that did appear. In this way, they were able to stop further bleeding that might have deterred their player’s attention and focus during the game.

Camden lost a decisive unanimous decision. They did not win a round… 120-108 on all three cards…

But Camden did live to fight another day… Four of their next seven games are against more teams that ain’t from ‘round here. Hopefully, tonight’s loss will serve an learning opportunity. Camden may want to study that Floyd Mayweather shoulder roll tomorrow. Money Mayweather always protects his chin AND gets that bag.

Reggie Townsend… Glad You Stayed Big Dog!

There’s really nothing new under the sun… Thirty years ago, long before the advent of the NCAA “Transfer Portal” one of my youngbucks, Reggie Townsend, wanted to roll out during his freshman year… I’m so glad he fought through adversity and became a really good player right here in the Big 5.

It’s early Fall 1992 and John Griffin is entering his 3rd season at helm of the Men’s Basketball program at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s University. His first two years were just ok… He went 13-17 year one and 13-15 year two.

But there was a palpable buzz around the Hawk program.

Bernard Blunt and Rap Curry were no longer underclassmen with high ceilings… There were certified studs… Both were legitimate NBA prospects entering their junior seasons. Carlin Warley was a walking double-double and Bernard Jones shot about 87% from inside 15ft. Demetrius Poles was a highly skilled utility knife (PF/C) that could do just about everything – pass, shoot, rebound – on the court.

These were my youngbucks… I had extremely high expectations for this bunch.

To this core, Griffin added three really good freshmen… Mark Bass, Will Johnson and Reggie Townsend. Bass was from Trenton, NJ, Johnson was from Philly and Townsend hailed from Saginaw, Michigan.

Griffin knew he had a good team on paper. With Bass and Townsend coming from out of town, Griffin asked me to mentor these kids to help them adjust to Philly and the social, emotional and academic demands of college life.

Several evenings a week, we met at the Fieldhouse or in the dorms. We had a a lot of fun… Of course, my guys handled their business academically. I viewed my role as that of a “translator”… I put the history, social science, English material in terms they would understand and contexts they could relate to. There were a LOT of cuss words and laughter… I demonstrated how a lot of the scholars they were reading were “lying muthafuckas”…

But after each session, I was very sure my guys understood the material and were able to appropriately explain any and all relevant concepts. They were solid students and used me to gain the confidence necessary to compete in the classroom. Of course, both hold degrees from St. Joe’s.

On the court, they had very different journeys. Bass, standing… maybe… 5’9” was ready for college basketball as freshman. He was able to identify and carve out an important role for himself playing off of Blunt and Curry. Bass was a tremendous athlete with an unusual level of grit, determination and self-confidence. Coach Griffin and the upperclassmen immediately embraced him. He started every game and averaged 10 ppg and 34.1 mpg while guarding some of best players in the nation.

Townsend, on the other hand, appeared in 22 games and only played 4.8 mpg when he did get on the floor. He averaged a minuscule 1.4 ppg.

Once they got deep into the season, the study sessions would get a little tense. Townsend was frustrated. Bass was cool… Shit Bass was starting and getting double figures most nights. Nonetheless, Bass ALWAYS supported and encouraged his friend and teammate.

St. Joseph’s University Great, Reggie Townsend ’96

One evening, Townsend declared… “I’m out Del!”

“Where the fuck you going Big Dog?”

“I think Imma go to Praire View…”

“Huh?.. Praire View? Fuckouttahere Bro… Naaaah.”

“Yeah they was on me hard… I’m tired of not playing.”

“Slow down Big Dog… Your time is gonna come… Carlin is good… BJ is good… Meat is good… Just be ready when your time comes.”

“Fuck that…”

“Chill Big Dog… You gonna be alright.”

The next season, Townsend started 18 of 28 games and scored 7.6 ppg while playing 23.4 mpg.

Then the Big Dog took over...

Townsend started his last 61 games in a SJU uniform. He was damn near automatic on the low block. Think of a poor man’s Wayman Tisdale… His footwork was impeccable and he could easily step out to 18 feet with a sweet stroke. He averaged 15 ppg and 6 rpg as a junior and 15 ppg and 6.5 rpg as a senior.

Townsend finished his career with 1146 points, 484 rebounds and an appearance in the 1996 NIT finals at Madison Square Garden where the Hawks lost to Nebraska and a freshman PG named Tyronn Lue. Real Shit… When A.I. bussed Lue’s ass and disrespectfully stepped over him in the NBA finals, it felt like revenge for my youngins… Real Shit…

“Yeah… Fuck Dat Ni**a A.I.!”

More young players need to fight through adversity like the Big Dog.

Happy New Year to Reggie Townsend… The Big Dog from Saginaw… Luv U Bro!!

Jarrod Denard, Jr., A Black Cager Sports Favorite!

People have favorites… Some won’t admit it… Not me…

I have favorites… I like some players more than others.

My favorites usually fall into one of 2 camps. Either, I believe they are the BEST players or I just LOVE the kids. A special few fit into both categories: Jamal Nichols, Jameer Nelson, Sr., DJ Newbill, Langston Galloway, Ryan Daly, Samme Givens, Donta Scott and Eric Dixon are some examples. Once they become a favorite, there’s literally nothing that can change that status… As my favorite Ol’ Head, Claude Gross, told me almost everyday, “I love you and ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”

There are no rankings you are just a favorite… There is no BEST favorite, there’s no LEAST favorite… they are all the same…

Jarrod Denard, Jr., son of Public League great, Jarrod Denard, Sr.

Three area middle school players were basically born into Black Cager Sports “favorite” status: Tor Harrison, Jr., Kamal Yard, Jr. and Jarrod Denard, Jr. Indeed, Jarrod, Jr. was just a thought when his Dad, Jarrod, Sr. publicly thanked my man Marlon Garrett and I for helping “him get better as a player, and grow up…” as he committed to college.

I just LOVE these young men… Period! Ain’t a damn thing they can do about it!

I’ve known each of them for years now… I can’t remember meeting them and I know they can’t remember meeting me… You know… Just like your family…

These young men are exceedingly respectful, always thoughtful, super intelligent and mature. They are exactly what you want to see in young Black boys… When I see them, I am always excited to learn what’s going on in their lives.

“What up Boy?”

What follows is always fascinating…

Their fathers are my friends and that has resulted in a high level of trust and respect in my relationships with their sons. I am truly grateful that they allow me to be my loud, opinionated and authentic self with their boys. I look forward to the high school journey with each of them.

Well… I finally got to see one of my favorite middle school guys actually play basketball yesterday. Low and behold, I LOVE him and he’s one of the BEST middle school guards I’ve seen in recent years.

Jarrod Denard, Jr., Happy Hallow Elite

Jarrod Denard, Jr. is one of the leaders on a talent-laden Happy Hallow Elite 2027 team.

Although Jarrod and his teammates are only 7th graders, it was really hard to evaluate them as players because there was a significant talent gap between Happy Hallow and the 8th/9th graders they were facing.

Happy Hollow smoked ‘em… They were quicker, more athletic, better shooters, better passers, better defenders, more unselfish, more disciplined… Shit… They were just waaaaay better at basketball.

Even though the talent gap between the teams was huge, I was able to make a few basketball observations about one of my favorites. Jarrod is an advanced middle school basketball player. He understands how to play. At the middle school level, he’s one of the more prolific scorers in the region. Possesses good size for a Varsity HS point guard at 13, standing about 5’10″ with a nice wingspan. He uses his strong frame well to absorb contact around the rim. Jarrod is an extremely confident shooter that is dangerous at mid-range or well behind the HS 3-point arc. He doesn’t hesitate to square up from 22-25 away from the hoop. Needs very little space or time to get off a quality shot against middle school/junior high school competition. He is able to create his own shot or spot-up off the ball effectively. He handles the ball very well and uses quick, short dribbles and changes of direction/speed to keep defenders off balance. Jarrod is very aggressive in transition, always looking to make something happen. He is a quality passer, that has the ability to create for his teammates by driving into the lane and kicking the ball out. Most importantly, he appears to be a strong leader with a competitive drive… Like his Daddy!

Jarrod, Jr., as a 13 year old 7th grader, already possesses varsity High School talent, but like most middle school prospects, he hasn’t proved that he can consistently produce against elite HS level talent… YET! An elite high school program team looking for a tough, talented, scoring point guard would be well-served by catching Happy Hallow Elite and talking to Jarrod Denard, Sr. about his son’s educational plans.

Camden High has a Game Today, The Basketball Season is NOW FULLY Underway

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.

DJ Wagner, Camden Junior Guard

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.

Aaron Bradshaw, Camden junior PF/C

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.

Cian Medley, Camden Junior PG

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.

Cornelius “Boog” Robinson, Camden Junior Wing

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.

DJ, Milt and Dejuan Wager, Camden Basketball royalty

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

West’s Deyishon Miller ’22 Is The Best Philly Player You Have Never Heard Of!

I apologized to Deyishon Miller today.

When I am wrong, I try own my mistakes. At the core of the Black Cager Sports mission is helping talented student-athletes transition to college. West Philadelphia HS senior guard, Deyishon Miller is one of the more talented basketball student-athletes in the Greater Philadelphia region. Until I walked in the St. Joseph’s Prep gym today, I never heard of him. That’s my fault…

I should’ve been aware of the young man’s presence on the Philadelphia basketball scene. I have to thank my good friend, Amauro Austin, for the tip. We were discussing West Philadelphia’s recent road victory over Bonner-Prendie and I asked Amauro, “Is Bonner bad or does West Philadelphia have some guys?”

Amouro replied, “It’s my understanding, West Philly has a couple of guys.”

Over the years, I have come to realize that Amauro is like a hungry Pit Bull looking for a bone in the park when it comes to talented, yet unheralded, basketball prospects. For example, he introduced me to Charlie Brown while he was toiling away in relative obscurity at George Washington HS. When he suggests that I take a peek, I always move the curtain to the side and take a hard look.

Based on his statement that West Philly has some dudes, I made my way down to see the Speedboys play a very young and talented St. Joseph’s Prep team.

Deyishon Miller ’22, West Philadelphia HS Guard

One of West Philly’s dudes, Deyishon Miller, put on a magnificent display as the rapidly rising Public League team defeated it’s second consecutive Philadelphia Catholic League team on the road. Miller scored 36 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out 10 assists, shot 16-17 from the free throw line and drained 5 3-pointers.

36 pts, 14 rebs, 10 ast, 16-17 ft, 5 3-pointers

Miller is a very fluid scorer who gets buckets in a variety of ways. Standing 6’4” and coming in at a solid 210 lbs, he is a very good athlete with excellent lift and explosiveness. He is able to pair his athleticism nicely with a quick first step to consistently blow by defenders and attack the basket off the dribble. His leaping ability also makes him a lethal cutter and transition scorer, taking very little time to load up and bounce.

Miller is a confident dribbler with a knack for creating space, especially when it comes to his step-back jumper. He’s a shot creator in every sense of the term. Miller can score from all three levels, he demonstrates an ability to operate as a pick-and-roll ball handler and an off-ball scorer. Miller also exhibits very good vision and playmaking ability.

The tallest player on West Philadelphia’s roster, defensively Miller was matched up against 6’9” 240 sophomore center Tristen Guillouette. He did an outstanding job defending the post. He was able to hold his position and keep Guillouette off the boards Offensively, Miller played point guard for the Speedboys. He did an excellent job controlling the pace of the game and keeping his teammates involved.

Post-Game Interview with Miller and Coach Marc Reason

The West Philadelphia Boys Basketball Program has done an outstanding job developing Miller. He consistently makes the correct basketball play. Low-mid D1s, PSAC and CIAA schools need to make their way to West Philly’s gym as soon as possible.

Deyishon Miller is a solid college basketball prospect. Now that the Speedboys have started the season with 2 convincing wins against solid Catholic League teams and he’s posting “Oscar stats”, people will start to take notice.

Again… I apologize for not knowing Deyishon Miller until today… Now that I know him, so will every low to mid D1 and D2 coach in my rolodex.

Absolute scholarship level player!

Lincoln vs Cheyney: Everything Ain’t For Everybody

Everything ain’t for everybody…

Lincoln Head Coach, Corey Lowery & Cheyney Head Coach, Terrell Stokes

I’ve never attended the Mummers parade in my life… Nor, have I attended a Flyers game… Union soccer? Drive by the stadium in Chester 5 times a week, have never ventured inside.

WWE wrasslin’? That’s not my thing… But, I must admit, about thirty years ago one of my youngins wanted to see Razor Ramone sooooo bad, I broke down and bought us some tickets. While my youngbuck absolutely lost his mind, that evening confirmed what I strongly suspected. I just cannot do scripted sports (other than some NBA playoff games).

NASCAR? Naaah… I’ll pass.

In my forties, I discovered I love golf. Truth be told, I like the game… I LOVE that golf offers the perfect opportunity to talk shit to opponents for 4 hours without risking a torn achilles tendon or ACL tear.

Tennis? I absolutely loved watching tennis when Serena Williams was 20-30 years old. For some reason, my interest has waned lately.

Now… Since I can remember, I’ve been passionate about basketball. I’ve loved it ever since I sat in a theater at the age of ten and a young Lawrence Fishburne screamed “they killed Cornbread… they killed Cornbread… they killed Cornbread” over and over and over again for what seemed like an hour. Jamaal Wilkes (Cornbread) became my favorite player until Magic Johnson knocked off Larry Bird in the NCAA Championship game in 1979.

Lawrence Fishburne and Jamaal Wilkes in “Cornbread, Earl and Me”

I’ve been to hundreds of basketball games over the years since then. NBA games, G-League games, semi-pro games, NCAA Final Four games, high major college games, small college games, high school games, AAU/grassroots games… every type of game you can imagine.

Maaaaaaan listen…

Nothing… and I mean nothing is like a game between my beloved alma mater Lincoln University and our long-standing rival Cheyney University. But this game ain’t for everybody.

If you eat potato salad and you don’t know who made it… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…

If you prefer pumpkin pie over sweet potato pie… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…

If you think Eminem is better than Biggie, Nas or Jay-Z… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…

If you never dropped your candy on the ground, retrieved it and kissed it up to God… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…

If you never played “catch a girl, get a girl”… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…

If none of your cousins sell weed… The Lincoln/Cheyney game ain’t for you…

Real shit…

On Wednesday, December 7, 2021, this magnificent rivalry resumed at Cope Hall on Cheyney’s beautiful campus nestled on the border between Delaware and Chester counties. A raucous sell out crowd filled the brightly lit sauna… I mean gymnasium.

The thermostat had to be set to “broil”… Those familiar with some of the older HBCU facilities across the country understand that the heat is just like the heat in old public housing projects. It’s either off and bitter cold or on and sweltering. There’s no adjusting temperature… No fine tuning…

In the old projects, if you want the temperature to get below a 100 degrees? Open a window. You want it below 90 degrees? Open 2 windows.

And so it was at Cope Hall…

Once it became overpowering, they opened the doors in the rear of the gym for some relief. Within seconds, no fewer than 50 young Cheyney “scholars” rushed in and immediately sat in the bleachers blending seamlessly into the sell out crowd.

I must admit, I was taken aback by their lack manners. The overpowering aroma of high grade marijuana was unmistakable. Ignorant ass Cheyney kids…

They didn’t even offer to let the Ol’ Head hit the blunt!

Keeping it real… The game itself was not very competitive. Since joining the CIAA conference, Lincoln has devoted significant resources to the basketball program. Meanwhile Cheyney, struggling financially, has de-emphasized sports. Cheyney no longer competes in the PSAC and they have disbanded their football program.

They are trying to revive the basketball program. They’ve made a GREAT Head Coaching hire. Simon Gratz and University of Maryland Legend Terrell Stokes will eventually have the Wolves back on top.

However, he just got there. He wasn’t brought on board until October… He had to recruit this year’s team in the cafeteria… That’s not normally where you find top notch college basketball talent.

Eventually, HBCU’s will stop handcuffing their new coaches and get them situated in the spring. The few dollars saved by not paying a coach for a couple months are not worth aggravation of falling woefully behind in recruiting… But that’s a matter for another time.

Back to the game… Entering the game, Lincoln had whupped dat ass 9 consecutive times… The Lions were going for 10 straight… Mission accomplished!

The margin on this night was 28 points.

Nonetheless, despite the lopsided nature of recent contests, the Lincoln/Cheyney game remains a must see event for those that understand and appreciate HBCU culture. It’s special… At halftime, the cheerleaders had a ferocious battle in the middle of the court. Anticipating the confrontation, the crowd spilled on the playing surface. One overly optimistic Cheyney athletic department employee walked through the crowd asking the students to please stand outside the out of bounds lines.

I watched her ask no fewer than 25 kids to please get of the court… Each one, very politely, said Naaaah…

However, it wasn’t confrontational… To the untrained eye, it may have looked hectic, perhaps evern out of control. But there were armed Cheyney police in the gym at all times… These officers knew each and every one of their Cheyney students… There are only about 650 enrolled in the school. The officers knew the kids were “technically” wrong and violating protocol… The also knew both sets of cheerleaders were “killing that shit.” They were not about to be party poopers.

Why escalate the situation? One (white) cop standing next to me looked at the unfolding events and said “it’s good to see these kids having so much fun.”

He was absolutely correct… That was GREAT policing! Once the teams emerged from the locker rooms, the crowd dissipated from the floor and the players proceeded to warm up in preparation for the second half. At any other gymnasium in the Greater Philadelphia Region, security and the police would have immediately utilized force to clear the floor… and rightfully so.

But the people in Cope Hall that night don’t eat everybody’s potato salad. The Cheyney police know that…

As the game drew to a close, some of the Cheyney students – the same ones that broached the rear entrance smelling like that new fragrance “eau de purple haze” – grew increasingly frustrated and restless. With less than a minute on the clock and the Wolves down 28 they started chanting “Fuck LU… Fuck LU… Fuck LU… Fuck LU.”

I loved it…

I love Cheyney… I love when Lincoln whups dat Cheyney ass! Once that mission is accomplished, I become a Cheyney fan.

I want Cheyney to go 28-1 every year. The one loss must be… has to be… gotta be to Lincoln.

Cuz Lincoln is better than Cheyney in every way… For example, Lincoln kids would’ve let the Ol’ Head hit the blunt… But Cheyney is better than every other school in America.

I know it’s confusing. I know it’s convoluted.

You ain’t supposed to understand wit yo pumpkin pie eatin’ ass…

Remember… Everything ain’t for everybody.

Reading HS Picked Up Where They Left Off… Beating Philly’s Finest

After two years of weirdness… The country is inching back toward normalcy…

Two seasons ago, everything came to an abrupt halt as the coronavirus engulfed western civilization. The United States battened down the hatches and Americans hunkered down in their homes until the Covid-19 storm started to diminish.

Sports?

Shut that shit down… NBA, NCAA, PIAA, CYO, intramurals, milk crate roughhouse, hangers on bedroom doors, paper football on desks… Everything… Shut that shit down!

Last year, we dared to peek out… We, once again, began to have something resembling scholastic competition. However, since most games were played with no fans it was still wierd… Momma? Nope, can’t come… Grandma? Nope, can’t come… What about my girl? Naah… My side jawn? No, she can’t get in either.

But, at least they played some games. The last time we saw Reading High School play a scholastic game, they defeated nationally ranked Philadelphia Catholic League powerhouse Archbishop Wood High School, 58-57 on March 29, to win the BIG BOY PIAA 6A boys’ basketball championship at the Giant Center in Derry Township, Dauphin County. With that victory, the Red Knights captured their second state crown in the last four years.

Joey Chapman, Reading Senior Combo Guard

It was considered an upset.

Archbishop Wood, champions of Philadelphia’s vaunted Catholic League featured no fewer than four players currently on NCAA Division 1 rosters. Point guard, Rahsool Diggins was ranked 58th in the nation by ESPN and ranked in the top 100 by every other reputable scouting service. He is currently playing for UConn in the Big East. Combo guard, Jaylen Stinson is playing in the Colonial Athletic Association for James Madison. Two Wood wings, Marcus Randolph and Desean Shepard are in the highly competitive Atlantic 10 conference at Richmond and La Salle respectively.

Wood was FUCKIN LOADED…

I didn’t even mention do everything power forward Muneer Newton, who is starter William Penn University (Iowa) currently a top 3 NAIA program.

The Reading Red Knights knocked ’em off…

I’m really starting to wonder if they have wifi in Reading. Clearly, the young men on the varsity basketball team don’t know much about their opponents reputations or rankings. Or perhaps, they just don’t give a fuck… Check ball!

After ending last season defeating one of the finest teams in the nation. Reading decided to initiate this season with a matchup against the mighty Imhotep Panthers. Imhotep has three players currently ranked in the top 100 in their respective classes. Junior wing, Justin Edwards is ranked #16 by ESPN in the class of 2023. Sophomore combo guard, Ahmad Nowell is the #24 player in the class of 2024 according to ESPN. Junior point guard, Rahmir Barno is ranked #98 in the nation according to 247sports.

Imhotep is FUCKIN LOADED…

Furthermore, they are coached by, the highly regarded, Brother Andre Noble, winner of an all-time record 9 Public League Championships and 7 state champions. A relatively young man, Noble is on track to be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Morgan Wooten and Bob Hurley should he decide to remain on the sideline.

The thing is… the kids in Reading either don’t know or don’t give a fuck about all the high falutin accomplishments of Philadelphia’s elite scholastic basketball programs.

Pick a gym… Put 32 minutes on the clock… Find 3 refs… Get a scorekeeper…

Check Ball!

Once again, a bunch of Berks County kids virtually unknown to folks residing outside Reading city limits knocked off a Philadelphia powerhouse program.

Daniel Alcantara, a senior forward was assigned the task of matching up with Imhotep’s Edwards. A highly skilled wing with outstanding length, Edwards holds offers from Kentucky, Auburn, Syracuse, Georgetown, Virginia, Marquette, Pitt, St. John’s, VCU, Rutgers, UConn, Penn State, Maryland, Miami, Temple, Seton Hall, etc

You get the picture…

Alcantara, on the other hand, holds an offer of a cheesesteak with fried onions and hot peppers from Black Cager Sports whenever he’s in Philly to go along with a single D1 offer from Jacksonville a couple D2 offers from PSAC schools.

Daniel Alcantara (c), MVP of the Game

Those D2 PSAC schools are trying to hit the jackpot… They are fighting way above their weight class…

Tonight… Alcantara was the best player on the floor… By a considerable margin. He finished with 27 points and 4 rebounds while limiting Edwards to 13 points and 5 rebounds. Alcantara scored from all three levels. He splashed in 4 3-pointers… Not one hit the rim… He received the ball at the foul line turned and faced the Imhotep defense, gave simple ball fake and proceeded to waltz down the lane to finish creative layups and floaters with both hands. He even threw in a dunk for good measure. All of his contributions were timely and much needed.

Every time it seemed Imhotep was turning the tables and about take control, Alcantara delivered a stinging counterpunch.

Also tonight… Senior guard, Joey Chapman was the toughest player on the court… By a considerable margin. He imposed his will on the Imhotep guards. In the words of my friend and fellow scribe, Amauro Austin, “Chapman took a few lunches out there tonight.”

An incredibly confident player, Chapman let the Imhotep guards know he was there all night. This kid NEVER, EVER shuts up… He talks when he makes a good play… he talks when he makes a bad play… He talks when he’s up… He talks when he’s down…

Standing about 6’2’ and coming in at 190 lbs, Chapman is built like a Big 10 or SEC safety prospect. While he prefers the hardwood to the gridiron, Chapman plays basketball like a high major football player. If aesthetics are your thing, you won’t appreciate Chapman. He game doesn’t feature sweet, smooth crossovers, elegant in and outs and step backs… You won’t see him dribbling behind his back or between his legs…

However, if winning basketball games is your thing, you will appreciate Chapman. He makes winning plays over and over and over again. You need to stop a fast break? He’ll strip the dribbler from behind… You need a loose ball? Get the towels ready, because Chapman’s perspiration is about to be all over the floor. You need a tough basket? Here he comes… He’s getting to the rim. Free throws in crunch time? He does that too…

PSAC and CIAA schools looking for guys that want to win games would be well served to make their way to Reading to see young Mr. Chapman.

Ruben Rodriguez, Jr., Junior Point Guard

If there is a kid that established some degree of “star” power on the Reading roster, it is junior point guard Ruben Rodriguez, Jr. A very athletic and intelligent player, Rodriguez holds D1 offers from Jacksonville and St. Peter’s. A selfless player committed to helping his team win, Rodriguez does just about everything on the court. And he does it with a lot of panache. His game is aesthetically pleasing and does feature tight crossovers, quick in and outs and step backs. He scores, he passes, he defends, he rebounds and tonight he played through a cramp in his calf muscle.

Rick Perez, Post-Game Interview

On what turned out to be a wonderful first night of the scholastic season in Pennsylvania, highly regarded sophomore point guard, Ahmad Nowell made his debut in an Imhotep uniform. He did not disappoint. Nowell scored 16 points in the first half to help Imhotep erase an early deficit and go into the locker room up 2 at the half. The second half would be prove to b more challenging. Reading coach Rick Perez made the necessary adjustments in the locker room and Nowell was held to 4 points over the final 16 minutes. With three full high school seasons ahead of him, Nowell threw down the gauntlet and immediately established himself as one of the premier backcourt men in the state. For the first 16 minutes, he gave the experienced Reading guards all they could handle.

Ahmad Nowell, sophomore combo guard, Imhotep

When an opportunity presents itself, go watch Nowell play… After one game, he’s in the discussion for the best guard in the region. I have no doubt that he will go down as one of the finest players to don the dashiki at Imhotep.

And… some bad muthafuckas have worn the dashiki.

Hoop group is to be commended for putting this matchup together. Two titans battling on open night. It’s shame one had to walk away with a loss. Imhotep’s supremely talented team fell to a bunch of gritty, grimy, tough Berks County kids playing together as a team. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Imhotep probably had the best three players on the court. Reading definitely had the better basketball team. And… Reading HS Picked Up Where They Left Off… Beating Philly’s Finest!

Howard & McKie: How Are They Doing at La Salle & Temple?

April 2018 was a busy month in the Philadelphia college basketball circles… On April 8, Ashley Howard was named Head Coach of the proud La Salle Explorer men’s basketball program. Three days later and a couple miles south on Broad Street, Aaron McKie was promoted to Associate Head Coach of the Temple Owls men’s program. McKie would eventually become Head Coach of the Owls a year later, on April 3, 2019.

Ashley Howard, La Salle Head Coach

Black Cager Sports was elated with these developments. Howard was the Jackie Robinson of La Salle University Basketball. For the first time in the long and illustrious history of the Explorer program, a Black man was the face of the program. Temple, on the other hand, was continuing a well established pattern of giving highly qualified Blacks an opportunity to serve in leadership positions in both the university administration and within the athletic department. April 2018 was a wonderful month for those committed to diversity in local college athletics.

The eyes of Temple Nation are fixed on Aaron McKie, who was officially introduced as Temple’s newest men’s basketball coach in a ceremony at McGonigle Hall on April 2, 2019.

Fast forward to tonight… How are they doing?

Howard, now in his fourth season as Head Coach, brought his guys down Broad Street to face McKie (3rd season) and the Owls.

The ultimate local boy makes good stories, Howard and McKie both have impeccable Philly resumes. Howard started his scholastic career at St. Joseph’s Prep and finished at Bonner. He was firmly entrenched as Drexel’s point guard when health concerns ended his playing days. Howard immediately discovered his passion for learning and teaching the game of basketball. He spent a couple years as a student coach under James “Bruiser” Flint.

Howard started his professional coaching journey at La Salle after graduating from Drexel. He served as an assistant to John Giannini until 2008 when he joined the staff of Bruiser Flint at his alma mater. In 2012, he joined Chris Mack’s staff at Xavier University. After one year with Xavier, Howard spent five years as an assistant to Hall of Fame Coach Jay Wright at Villanova. The Wildcats won a pair of National Championships while Howard was on the staff.

McKie is the consummate Public League product. After a wonderful scholastic career playing for Bill Ellerbee at Simon Gratz, he enrolled at Temple to play for the late Hall of Fame Coach, John Chaney. Once he served a year in Prop 48 purgatory, McKie embarked a magnificent career at Temple. He played in the NCAA Tournament all three years and reached the Elite 8 in 1993. That same season, McKie was name A10 Player of the Year.

McKie came into coaching at the NBA level. He was a five-year assistant (2007-2013) on the Philadelphia 76ers staff and helped lead the franchise to four NBA playoff appearances. Returning to his beloved Owls, McKie served five seasons on Fran Dunphy’s. His last year he was promoted to associate head coach. In 2018-29, the Owls went 23-10, earned an NCAA Tournament berth and tied for third in the American Athletic Conference after being picked to finish sixth. Temple had three 20 win seasons in McKie’s five years on the staff. The Owls also went to the NCAA Tournament twice and to the NIT Semifinals in 2015.

Like I said, impeccable Philly resumes…

So… How are these guys performing as Head Coaches?

Since taking over, Howard is 36-56 (.391) overall and 20-33 (.377) in the A10. McKie is 23-31 (.426) overall and 10-22 (.313) in the AAC.

La Salle Coaches Winning Percentages

Speedy Morris – .540 overall and .571 in league
John Giannini – .484 overall and .431 in league
Ashley Howard – .391 overall and .377 in league
Billy Hahn – .389 overall and .333 in league

Temple Coaches Winning Percentages

John Chaney – .671 overall and .747 in league
Fran Dunphy .625 overall and .632 in league
Aaron McKie .426 overall and .313 in league

Howard has a lower winning percentage than Speedy Morris and John Giannini. His overall winning percentage is virtually the same as that of Billy Hahn. Over the course of 15 seasons, Coach Morris won 238 games. A closer look reveals the fact that 100 of those wins came in his first four seasons with Lionel Simmons wearing an Explorer uniform, The other 138 came over 11 seasons without Lionel Simmons.

The take away?

It’s hard as shit to win at La Salle if you don’t have Lionel Simmons.

While La Salle plays in a multi-bid A10 Conference, it’s facilities are obsolete. Think about this… Monmouth, Coppin State, Towson, Bucknell, Delaware and JMU all have basketball arenas and modern practice facilities that are much more attractive than Tom Gola Arena and TruMark Financial Center.

La Salle’s campus is also less than idyllic. Located a stone’s throw away from the bustling Olney Transportation Center, La Salle’s students and faculties are definitely “hood” adjacent, if not squarely in the hood.

La Salle is a tough sell… It’s hard to win college games… sustained winning at La Salle seems damn near impossible. Over the past 30 seasons, La Salle has made two (2) NCAA Tournament appearances and two (2) NIT appearances.

Coach Morris finished below .500 in each of his last 8 seasons. Coach Hahn never got above .500 in 3 seasons. Giannini didn’t make his first post-season appearance until his 8th season and his lone NCAA tournament came in his 9th year at La Salle.

Hysier Miller, Temple freshman and Khalil Brantley, La Salle freshman

The expectation was that some of that magic Nova dust was gonna be sprinkled at 20th and Olney. The uptick has yet to begin. Now, in the fourth year of the Howard regime, some fans and alums are becoming vocal in expressing their dissatisfaction.

The Temple tradition is much different.

From the early 1980s all the way through the early 2000’s Temple was widely considered one of the top 15-20 college basketball programs in the nation. Under Coach Chaney, the Owls made 5 Elite 8 appearances. Temple made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances in 18 years spanning 1983-2001. Coach Chaney had a (barely) losing record (14-15) his first year. He then had a winning record for 23 straight seasons after that.

Over course of his 13 year run as Head Coach, Dunphy had 2 losing seasons. He won over 20 games 9 times and over 25 on 3 occasions. Dunphy led the Owls to 8 NCAA Tournament appearances and 2 NIT appearances.

Battle knocks down a free throw against La Salle

Unlike La Salle, Temple has a modern on campus arena and a state-of-the-art practice facility. Temple’s campus is minutes away from Center City and has undergone a massive transformation in recent years.

On the downside, Temple’s affiliation with the American Athletic Conference is not a strong selling point for the basketball program. Games against North Texas and UAB are not exciting to Philly, North Jersey and PG County kids. But, perhaps, the largest impediment to attracting top flight talent to North Broad Street is the growing perception that the campus is unsafe. Temple is proximate to low income/high crime residential districts. Over the past week or so, two brutal murders have gained national media attention.

But… Temple has always been in “Norf” Philly…

It’s location has never stopped the winning on the court. Temple fans expect to win and make the NCAA tournament every year. These are reasonable expectations for the 5th winningest program in the history of college basketball.

As it stands, Howard and McKie are underperforming. They are not meeting nor are they exceeding the lofty expectations that were bandied about in the heady days of April 2018.

It’s still early in this current season. Howard has the Explorers off to an inauspicious 2-4 start. They have lost to Sacred Heart at home, Delaware in Newark, Villanova at the Palestra and Temple on North Broad. They won two home games against Albany and Army.

The Explorers have 5 non-conference games before they begin the tough A10 regular season. Holy Cross, Fairleigh Dickinson, Penn, Bucknell and Drexel represent challenging but winnable games for La Salle. If they can find a way to go 5-0 or 4-1 over this stretch, Howard will go a long toward reassuring increasingly restless fans and alums.

In order to stop the bleeding, the Explorers have to start making baskets. As Philly Basketball impresario Sam Rines is fond of saying, “the objective of the game is to put the ball in the hole.” La Salle put on a woeful shooting display at the Liacouris Center. Clifton Moore (2-10), Josh Nickleberry (0-7), Khalil Brantley (1-12) and Jack Clark (2-11) combined to shoot 5 for 40 from the field. Fuck you gonna do with that? Impossible… Can’t beat anyone shooting at that clip… Howard has to figure out a way to put these guys in position to have some success, the kids have to start knocking down some shots… sooner rather than later.

Sitting at 4-3, McKie and the Owls are set to play Penn at home, at Vanderbilt, at St. Joseph’s, UCF at home, Drexel at home, Delaware State at home and then at Villanova. A 6-1 or 5-2 stretch would reinvigorate fans and alums that seem to be taking a wait and see approach to this years version of the Owls.

The matchup with Penn is intriguing. Steve Donahue has more than held his own since taking over the Quaker program. Temple will be a solid favorite against a struggling St. Joe’s squad. The game with Drexel is looking like the Battle for 2nd place in the City 6. Temple should take care of Delaware State and then they will have a chance to get measure themselves against Big Bro from the Main Line. Howard’s hill is a much steeper climb than McKie’s. Everyone is watching and gauging their progress. Been doing so since April 2018.

We Are Failing to Socialize Some Youth… Maybe Sports Can Help?

Urban adults, especially Black and Brown grown ups in places like Philadelphia, Camden, Wilmington, Trenton, Reading and Allentown are struggling to effectively socialize a segment of the Black youth population. Wait… wait… no, fuck it… let’s speak plainly and avoid miscommunication. Black Philadelphians are woefully failing to effectively socialize some of these Black youth.

Let me be as clear as possible… Here, socialization is understood as the process by which young people acquire the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for responsible independent adult status. Simply put, Socialization is process by which kids become grown ups.

In some parts of urban Black communities, this process is effectively broken. Real shit… there is zero socialization taking place with some of these kids and it’s become very scary. Consider for a moment, the undeniable fact that there is a segment of the young Black and Brown male population in Philadelphia that is nihilistic. This cohort, generally speaking, seems to fall between the ages 12-25. These youth have very clearly rejected all religious, moral and even street principles in the belief that life is meaningless and has no value.

The Philadelphia Police Crime Scene unit work the 2300 Block of W. Harold Street were 5 people were shot with more that 20 rounds fired during a late gathering Monday night. Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Every day… Every… Single… Day…

Like an intense deep bass drumbeat, these young men pounce upon and execute people in relentless assaults with very powerful automatic and semi-automatic firearms on streets across the Greater Philadelphia Region. These youth, literally, knock on a door, shoot the father, invade the home, push the mother aside and slaughter the brother in front of the mother. This is 4 months after they sent a bullet through the leg of the 8 year old sister.

These muthafuckas…

They run up on you while you’re with your woman.

“You know what it is… Run it in… All of it…” Meanwhile, a laser attached to a Glock 9mm, with an extended clip, is glowing just below your chin.

Your heart is pounding through your chest… Instinctually, you rely on a basic understanding of armed robbery etiquette passed down for generations, you calmly hand over everything to your strong arm robber. No sudden moves… Just give him everything… Don’t offer any resistance… You just want to make it through the ordeal.

The phone… the wallet… the watch… the chain… the cash… everything…

You run it in… Your woman is crying and you just want them to leave and give her comfort, let her know everything is ok…

They aggressively snatch everything out of your hands… There is no life, no hope, no nothing in their soulless eyes…

And… then the Glock explodes… You catch a glimpse of a burst of fire and then eternal darkness…

They shot two 9mm slugs into your chest… For absolutely no reason… They already have all of your shit…

These muthafuckas don’t give a fuck about the armed robbery etiquette.

Life has no value to these youth. Let me say it AGAIN… Society, in general, and the Black community, in particular, have failed to adequately socialize these youth.

Everyday… Every muthafuckin’ day these youth leave beautiful Black bodies riddled with 5, 10, 15 even 20 bullets laying in the street or slumped over steering wheels. Literally, it seems as if a minimum of 40 shell casings are strewn about every shooting crime scene. Four or five dozen yellow shell casing markers look like somebody dropped a deck of pinochle cards adjacent to beautiful dead Black bodies.

The other day, these muthafuckas chased a 14 year old down… Multiple gunmen hunted him in broad daylight on the streets of Philadelphia… Police said the boy was shot 18 times throughout various parts of his body. Nearly forty shell casings were recovered. The 14 year old died at a hospital a short time later. He was one of over 2,000 people that have experienced large caliber bullets ripping through their flesh this year in Philadelphia and one of over 500 whose life was extinguished by gunfire.

Samuel Collington, slain Temple Student from Prospect Park, Delaware County

Also, the other day, these muthafuckas approached, Samuel Collington, a young white male college senior from Prospect Park, Delaware County on the edge of the Temple campus. He had borrowed his parents SUV to bring some stuff to his North Philadelphia apartment. He exited the vehicle and encountered evil.

“Run it in…”

According to some that have witnessed surveillance video, Collington violated the armed robbery etiquette and physically resisted his strong arm robbers.

It didn’t matter, they were probably gonna kill him anyway… Comply, resist… Shit don’t matter to these muthafuckas…

We are failing to socialize these kids… Abysmally…

These young predominantly Black youth have not acquired the requisite habits, beliefs, and knowledge necessary to transition into responsible, independent law-abiding adulthood.

They haven’t… You know they haven’t… We all know they haven’t…

Instead, we have witnessed an increasing number of young criminals willing to commit heinous and barbaric violent crimes without remorse. In recent years, cities like Chicago and Philadelphia have witnessed the emergence of a genocidal pattern of gun violence featuring massive increases in the frequency of both shootings and murders.

Sports matters…

Through it all, sports have been beacon of hope. With a few exceptions, the basketball community can say those aren’t our kids running rampant in the streets. Of course, there have been a few players involved as shooters and victims in gun violence. But for the most part, it ain’t our kids…

There are aspects of youth sports that positively affect the socialization process. A significant number of young Black male athletes have been appropriately socialized. Overall, these kids graduate from high school and are far more likely to engage in socially acceptable behavior than their disengaged street-based brethren. In the Greater Philadelphia region, organized youth, grassroots and high school basketball have provided vehicles whereby youth remain engaged with the educational system and are exposed to important habits, necessary beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of respectable society.

As spelled out by the great Black Philosopher, Christopher Wallace, ”Because the streets is a short stop / either you’re slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.”

For the most part, the gun-toters and the gangsters find it difficult to maintain a high school and college basketball, football, baseball, soccer or tennis career while remaining immersed in street life.

Those that choose the latter find themselves participating in youth sports, grassroots and scholastic “programs” that have rules, expectations and logical consequences in place. They experience some semblance of a socialization process through sports.

Many young Black and Brown boys end up “middle class by mistake.”

Carl Arrigale (l) and Rick Perez (r)

The key seems to be strong, caring, passionate and dedicated leadership. There are many different leadership styles. There are countless ways in which one can “coach” kids up on and off the court. Here is a glimpse at two very different approaches to the increasingly challenging task of coaching 15-19 year old boys transitioning to adulthood.

Both men are highly effective and their respective programs produce young men that are ready to adapt to college, trade school or the world of work after high school. How do we clone Rick Perez and Carl Arrigale? How do we make another Andre Noble, John Mosco or Rob Moore?

These guys elevate self-esteem among their players, they provide opportunities for increased social interaction, they build self-confidence and provide environments where young men can exhibit reasonable aggressiveness and take reasonable risks.

Unfortunately, there is an increasing and alarming amount of spillover from the streets into youth sports. Several weeks ago, an 8 year old girl was murdered at the conclusion of a football game at my alma mater, Academy Park, High School in Sharon Hill, PA. The perpetrators pulling the trigger and ending a life in this instance were young white males employed as police officers by the Borough of Sharon Hill.

There was also a shooting during a football game in Pleasantville, NJ a couple years ago and a 10-year old boy was killed. I have lost count of the number of high school athletes that have been murdered in the region. More than a few prominent former athletes are in prison on gun charges and related crimes.

The curtain that once separated athletes with a “future” from the “street dudes” is in tatters. Coaches like Isaiah Thomas, Rich Bold, Ray Barbosa, Lonnie Diggs and Jamel Lindsey are in the trenches trying to keep young men on the right path. Grassroots organizations like the Bottom Ballers, Philly Blue Magic, Philly Pride, Team Final-Red and K-Low provide much needed structure and guidance for college bound youth. Philadelphia Youth Basketball (PYB) has been an important part of the socialization process for hundreds of youth for several years.

The kids coming through these programs are high school graduates, they are in college, they are working, they care for their families. These are our kids…

Sports… More specifically, the basketball community has been an integral part of socializing Philadelphia youth for more than half a century. Sonny Hill, Claude Gross, John Chaney, Tee Shields and the rest of the Baker League/Sonny Hill Community Involvement League created a blueprint that guided youth basketball for more than 30 years. The emergence of shoe company contracts and benefits diverted attention away from this blueprint. There will never again be one dominant entity like the Hill League. Nonetheless, one could envision a far greater “socialization” impact if there was just a basic level of coordination among the important coaches, grassroots organizations, and high schools. Unfortunately, most in the youth basketball community have yet to realize that we are all on the same team.

The Philadelphia basketball community is having a positive impact on participating youth… No doubt…

However, nihilism is chipping away at the edge of sports. More and more… we see kids and adults that truly don’t give a fuck… Refs getting attacked… Fights and brawls… Guns in Spooky Nook…

Collectively, we need to limit the spread of nihilism among on the youth.

We need more Champions like Rick Perez and more Legends like Carl Arrigale.