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.

Philadelphia Black Basketball HOF: Why?

If NOT us? Who?

As I entered my forties, I really began to treasure my relationships with my older friends. At the top the list was my relationship with Claude Gross, Sr. We shared a love of the great game of basketball, we both appreciated the role that Philadelphia played in bringing the game to international prominence and we both never shut up.

Now…I’m opinionated and outspoken. But, I can’t begin to hold a candle to the legendary loquaciousness of Claude Gross.

More than just about anything else, he loved to talk hoops. His favorite topics were how good he was as a player and a coach. He was a living, breathing embodiment of the cartoon character Commander McBragg. Except, you always knew that Commander McBragg was embellishing his accomplishments.

Claude Gross never told me a single lie.

“I beat Wilt in High School, he wasn’t ready for me…”
“We won the YMCA/AAU national championship in Jim Crow North Carolina in 1953…”
“I played professional basketball under an assumed name while I was in high school…”
“I averaged more than 40 in the industrial league…”
“Me and Tee Parham were like 800 – 0…”

Claude Gross discusses Philly players of his era

Upon initially meeting Claude and hearing all of this, one would naturally wonder if he was exaggerating… NEVER!

As his gait got slower, and his energy levels decreased, I realized that I would not have my friend forever.

Claude and his contemporaries were GIANTS in the game. As noted above, his was the only Public League team to defeat Wilt Chamberlain and Overbrook HS. He played with John Chaney in high school. He mentored Ray “Chink” Scott, Earl Monroe, Mo Howard, Andre McCarter, Gene Banks, Lionel Simmons, Nate Blackwell, Geoffrey Arnold, Donnie Carr, Bobby Johnson, BJ Johnson, Donnie Carr, Rashid Bey and hundreds of other young men the came through the Sonny Hill Community Involvement League.

Claude passed on so much knowledge about the history of the game. He was an endless font and an incredible inspiration.

Claude Gross, front row 2nd from right

It just wasn’t fair that the accomplishments of his generation weren’t memorialized.

I never really knew about the magnificent careers of Tarzan Cooper, Zach Clayton and Frank Washington until Claude explained in great detail what they had accomplished. With words, he could place you in a cramped church gym and you could actually “see” Tee Parham scoring 40, 50, 60 or even 90 points with ease.

After bouncing around the idea with Claude, Tee Parham, Dave Riddick and Ray Scott, I decided to establish the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I enlisted Mo Howard and Geoffrey Arnold and we were off and running. We literally had nothing but spirit, energy and commitment.

Somehow, someway we wanted to be able to recognize the GREAT Philadelphia players, coaches, journalists and contributors that would never be otherwise recognized.

If NOT us? Who?

There is no Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame. These guys were banned from competition in the Big 5 solely because they were Black. Who? Who was gonna recognize and memorialize their enormous contributions?

With a nice little contribution from Lionel Simmons, we were off and running. No glitz, no glamour… Just 100 hopheads gathered in a small North Philadelphia community center with plenty of food and top shelf liquor loving and respecting one another.

ESPN’s Undefeated, the Philadelphia Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer provided extensive regional and national media coverage of the inaugural class. Temple and La Salle Universities were very supportive. Philadelphia Youth Basketball and Mike Horsey gave generous donations.

Nate Blackwell, Black Basketball HOF Induction Speech

The highlight… The headliner… The GRAND MASTER of the evening was my dear friend Claude Gross. He was a little weak, he wasn’t moving very well… But his mind was as sharp as ever! There were at least 20 South Philly guys in the house and they were drinking, carousing and fully supporting their leader.

Just a few weeks after his induction, Claude passed away. I can’t describe how good it felt knowing we were able to induct him into the Black Basketball Hall of Fame while he was able to fully participate and enjoy the ceremony.

Tee Parham

I have come to treasure every interaction and conversation I have with guys like Tee Parham, Ray Scott and Sonny Hill. They have given the game of basketball and the city of Philadelphia so much. We were able to present the late, great Dave Riddick with his award acknowledging his induction before he passed away. These moments are invaluable. To be able to honor the legends from yesteryear as well as my contemporaries like Nate Blackwell, Mike Anderson and Lionel Simmons meant so much to me. To see and feel the extent to which they appreciated the honor was incredible.

Roland Houston, Horace Owens PBBHOF member, Dave Riddick PBBHOF member and Geoff Arnold

I am extremely proud to have played a significant role in establishing a means of properly enshrining them and ensuring their legacies are shared with future generations.

The Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame, under the leadership of Mo Howard and Al Taylor has grown and taken on a much needed role of advocating for and providing assistance for members of the Philadelphia basketball community in need.

Again… If NOT us? Who?

I love the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame matters!

Sam Sessoms: High Major PG!

Sam Sessoms: High Major PG!

I remember it very clearly… Tommy Dempsey kept asking “why aren’t others recruiting him?”

Damn good question Demps… “I don’t have a fuckin’ clue.”

It was Fall of 2017 and Dempsey, the Head Coach at Binghamton University, could not believe what he was seeing. Here was an uber talented kid… A sure fire leader… A fierce competitor with highly refined offensive skills sitting there with no offers. What the fuck?

Dempsey wanted him… He really wanted Sessoms.

The Binghamton coach really couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a line of D1 coaches on the Sessoms family porch. Honestly, I really couldn’t help him figure that one out.

I was flummoxed my damn self.

Indeed, Black Cager Sports had just named Sam Sessoms the HS MVP of the Greater Philadelphia region. His competitors for that award were Cam Reddish (Duke), Isaiah Wong (Miami), Donta Scott (Maryland), Naheem McLeod (Florida State) and Eric Dixon (Villanova). Each and every one of those guys was a sure fire high major prospect with multiple offers.

Yet, somehow the Black Cager MVP had ZERO (0) D1 offers. That is, until Dempsey laid eyes on him. Now it is worth mentioning that Dempsey had some real advantages over a lot of other programs. He had developed a keen understanding of Philadelphia’s Scholastic Basketball scene. Perhaps, more importantly he had cultivated and maintained some strong relationships in the Phillt basketball community.

Dempsey always did his homework. As a result, Dempsey feasted on overlooked Philly ballers at both Rider and subsequently Binghamton. For example, he took a chance on an unheralded Public League Division D Conference Player of the Year in 2008. Paul Robeson’s Brandon Penn went on to have a solid career in the MAAC and play professionally overseas.

Some other guys like Mike Ringgold, Danny Stewart and Novar Gadson were more well known commodities, but they garnered little interest from Big 5 programs. These guys excelled under Dempsey at Rider. Ringgold pumped in 1,386 points and grabbed 789 rebounds. Stewart finished his career with 1,414 points and 872 rebounds. Gadson put up 1,475 points and corralled 726 points.

Sometimes Dempsey hit doubles, triples and homers. Other times the at-bats weren’t as fruitful. Philly schoolboy legend, Nurideen Lindsey played a solid, but unspectacular, season for Dempsey at Rider. Lindsey averaged 8.0 ppg and 1.6 apg in his lone year with the Broncs.

One of Dempsey’s last forays into Philly while at Rider was his recruitment of Roman Catholic PF Junior Fortunat. Fortunat would average 3.7 ppg and 2.5 rpg over a 112 game career at Rider. A Canadian national, Fortunat’s mother had entrusted Stephen Pina and I to help him find a program that would provide him with a quality education. We trusted Dempsey…

Why? Because Dempsey graduated ALL of his 4 year guys… Period. He also won more than his fair share of games at Rider and was rewarded with an opportunity to coach Binghamton University near is childhood home.

As he changed jobs, Dempsey remained committed to recruiting Philadelphia area kids.

Indeed, his first big recruit at Binghamton was Wissahickon’s Jordan Reed. In his first two years at Binghamton, Reed scored 913 points and pulled down 524 rebounds. Reed would transfer and complete his collegiate career at Tennessee State.

I say all that to say… Dempsey knows his way around Philly.

So when he was recruiting Sessoms he was perplexed… “How am I the only one that sees it?”

I had no real answers.

The most common explanation put forth for the lack of D1 interest in Sessoms as a PG prospect was the sub par season his grassroots club had during his 17U season. Playing alongside, not one, but two ball dominant top 20 national players he was overlooked. Cam Reddish and Louis King were at or near the top every national recruit ranking. Both would eventually be named to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team in 2018.

Sessoms a natural point guard, spent his summer, on the wing, watching Reddish and King do their thing on an immensely talented and underachieving Team Final squad that struggled to compete against the very best the EYBL had to offer.

Some say that experience really had a negative impact on his recruitment.

I’m not so sure… To come to that conclusion, one has to skip over the body of work he put in at the Shipley School. For four years, Sessoms literally terrorized the opposition. He went up against all the very best teams in the area and… quite fankly…

He BUSSED day ass!

I mean he truly was unstoppable. Some of the finest guards in the region were completely at his mercy, There was nothing they could do to slow him down, much less stop him.

Tommy Dempsey saw it… I saw it…

The other 350 or so D1 coaches just missed it.

A proud young man and a fierce competitor, Sessoms and his father refused to allow the slow pace of the recruitment process to get to them. They understood that he only needed one offer… Just one…

On a visit to Binghamton, Tommy Dempsey did something no other D1 coach in America would do that year. He offered Sam Sessoms a full basketball scholarship. A few days after returning from the visit, Sessoms would commit to Dempsey.

Sam Sessoms at Binghamton University

Over the next two seasons, Sessoms was the most productive player in the America East Conference. Dempsey was rewarded handsomely for his belief in Sessoms’ ability to compete at the D1 level. In just 2 seasons, he finished his tenure at Binghamton No. 2 on the Bearcats’ Division I-era career scoring list with 1,151 points. He eclipsed the 1,000 career point milestone in just 57 games. His 588 points as a freshman stands as the second-highest single-season total in program history. Sessoms finished in the top five in America East in both scoring and assists, he was one of only two of the league’s players to accomplish that feat as a freshman and sophomore.

In short, he tore they asses up…

Predictably, after his outstanding freshman campaign, many of the schools that completely disregarded him 12 months earlier expressed a profound appreciation for his game.

“If he transfers… we would be interested…” I heard that from at least 7 or 8 mid to high major programs.

However, by that time, Dempsey and Sessoms had developed a relationship that extended beyond the traditional player/coach bond. These guys were friends. They are both forthright grown men and treated one another with the respect one would accord to another grown man.

Recognizing that Dempsey gave him an opportunity fulfill his dream of playing at the D1 level when others had not, Sessoms decided to stay at Binghamton for his sophomore campaign.

After his second year, Dempsey fully understood that Sessoms faced an monumental decision. While he excelled individually, Binghamton continued to struggle as a team. Wins were hard to come by. He knew that Sessoms would have a boatload of options.

He knew the rest of the world could now see what only he saw 24 months earlier… Sam Sessoms is a BAD MUTHAFUCKA…

Dempsey humbly asked if he could recruit him again as Sessoms weighed his options to “move up” to a high major program. This is grown man shit! He didn’t try to manipulate him… He didn’t bad mouth the programs that expressed interest in his franchise player… He just asked for an opportunity to present his best case for Sessoms remaining the centerpiece of the Binghamton program.

I fuck with Tommy Dempsey!

In what was an emotionally charged conversation, Sessoms had to let his coach know he was moving on. Speaking to Dempsey around this time, he was conflicted. He knew that Sessoms would be successful wherever he landed, but he was losing his best player and his good friend. He fully supported Sessoms and still does.

A decisive young man, Sessoms quickly determined that he could be major contributor to the Penn State program Pat Chambers was building.

Not long after his commitment, the NCAA decided to make this year a “free” year for all student-athletes eligibility-wise. At that point, Sessoms sought and was granted a waiver to play immediately.

Sam Sessoms, Penn State

God is good… Penn State Basketball has Sam Sessoms at 20, with two seasons under his belt for the next three years.

Sessoms will help every player and coach in the Nittany Lion program get better. He will prod them… He will push them… If they are slow to respond, he will get it done himself…

It looks the same to me, he’s out there imposing his will on opposing teams. Going where he wants… Doing what he wants…

Only difference is the opposing teams are much bigger, stronger and more athletic. You know what though?

He’s BUSSING dey ass too!

So… Where do you rank Dunph and Phil among Philly College Coaches?

College basketball fans are enduring some trying times. Hopefully, we will be able to patch together something resembling a Division 1 college basketball season. Fans of small college basketball may very well hav to do without… D2 and D3 seasons don’t seem likely. There have been extensive cancellations at the D1 level. Scores of teams have shut down for 2-week periods following positive tests. All things equal… One would anticipate the cancellation of the season.

But… All things ain’t equal…

There is a big fuckin’ pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If most schools competing can get to 12, 13 or 14 regular season games played, the NCAA will find 68 of them and populate the field for the 2021 NCAA Men’s basketball Tournament.

At that point, they are printing cash…

When the tournament is held, over $1,000,000,000 will flow into the coffers of the NCAA.

The NCAA has an opportunity to make in excess of a billion dollars from the TV rights to its basketball tournament starring unpaid basketball players. Furthermore, these unpaid players are competing under stressful and medically challenging conditions. And… that billion doesn’t include the money the NCAA and member schools make from other media rights and ticket sales.

But I digress…

We are gonna have an NCAA tournament… The NCAA is gonna get that muthafuckin’ bag!

What will the journey to the bag look like? Who knows?

So far, the big boys have literally been parked outside the gym at Indian Casinos asking “who got next?”

I’m tellin’ y’all… The show must go on…

So… While we are bumbling, fumbling and stumbling our way into another season of college basketball, it seems like a perfect time to discuss the head coaching careers of two legendary local figures, Fran Dunphy and Phil Martelli. Their Big 5 head coaching careers are in the books. Both are over a year removed from their stints as Big 5 Head Coaches.

So… start to finish… Where would you rank their respective bodies of work amongst best in Philly’s illustrious college basketball history?

Full Disclosure: Both of these guys are friends of Black Cager Sports. Over the years, both gave Black Cager Sports unfettered access to their respective programs. Both have appeared multiple times on Black Cager Sports talk. These are my guys. I tried my best to control for the friendship factor and objectively assess their accomplishments and place them in the pantheon of great Philly coaches. Don’t know if others will agree.

Both would be extremely uncomfortable in discussions placing themselves alongside the great college coaches in Philadelphia. Well… Dunph would be uncomfortable… I think Phil would perhaps be a little more open for such conversation. Nonetheless, Black Cager Sports is committed to recognizing and honoring excellence and sparking interesting sports dialogue whenever possible. In that spirit, we set out to compare the the careers of Dunphy and Martelli against those of the very best college coaches to come through the City of Brotherly love.

All errors and omissions are my fault… Here we go…

Jay Wright, Villanova

#1 Jay Wright
Over the course of his 20 year stint at Villanova, Wright has played in the post-season every year but one. He has reached the NCAA Sweet 16 six times, the Elite Eight 4 times and the Final Four 3 times. Wright’s Wildcats were crowned National Champions in 2016 and 2018. Wright entered the season with 471 wins at Villanova and 593 overall. He’s won 72.1% of his games at Villavona.

Jay Wright is the finest college basketball coach Philadelphia has produced… Period.

John Chaney, Temple

#2 John Chaney
Tough to type that #2 next to Coach Chaney’s name. It’s really hard to place anyone over Coach Chaney for so many reasons. It almost feels like I’m betraying a fundamental truth… a core belief. Coach Chaney is the best. For so many reasons… Coach Chaney, the man, the social commentator had my full attention throughout his career. His perspective on collegiate athletics, the NCAA, student-athletes and race influenced my outlook. I first became aware of racial, social, economic and cultural aspects impacting collegiate athletics by paying attention to what Coach Chaney said publicly.

On January 13, 1989, William Rhoden wrote about what he described as a “contested piece of legislation that some feel could slow the influx of black athletes into predominantly white Division I universities.” I remember it like yesterday. I remember my visceral response when I read Rhoden’s recounting of the responses of John Chaney and John Thompson. Chaney, the basketball coach at Temple, referred to the N.C.A.A. as ”that racist organization.” He was deeply angered by NCAA action on scholarship eligibility that would limit opportunities for Black student-athletes.

The late, great John Thompson said, ”I think it’s sort of ironic when they began to integrate the South athletes were the ones used to pave the way, and they were used under the pious assertion that ‘we’re helping these poor kids… Now, apparently someone has said, ‘Enough,’ so they don’t need the kids anymore. They’re using the same rationale they used to get them in to begin to keep them out. I guess it’s a situation where we’re like shoes and clothes. We’re not in style anymore.”

It’s like Coach Chaney and Coach Thompson came into a dark room and turned the lights on for me. For that, Coach Chaney will always remain my personal number 1 college basketball coach. He literally helped create the intellectual space for me, decades later, to interject strong opinions on racial dynamics the manner in which they impact HS and college sports.

Coach Chaney was directly impacted by American Apartheid/Jim Crow social conditions when he graduated as the best player in Philadelphia’s Public League. He was not afforded an opportunity to play for one of the local college programs because he was Black. This is Coach Chaney… The man forced to play at a Black college, Bethune-Cookman, in the deep south.

In 24 years as Head Coach of the Owls, Coach Chaney led his team to post-season appearances every year except his first season at the helm. The Owls went to the post-season every year from 1984 through 2006.
Every year… 23 straight seasons. Chaney’s Owls made 17 NCAA appearances. They made 5 Elite Eight appearances. The Owls won the Atlantic 10 regular season Championship 8 times and the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship 6 times.

Fran Dunphy, Temple

#3 Fran Dunphy
Dunphy won 310 games while coaching Penn for 17 seasons… Then… He won another 270 while coaching Temple for another 13 seasons. Overall, Dunphy won 580 games while coaching in the Big 5.

Fran Dunphy is the all-time winningest coach in Philadelphia Big 5 history.

Dunph has coached in seventeen NCAA tournaments. Some may feel that Dunph’s ranking is elevated. I don’t think he would place himself in the top 10.

He wouldn’t want me to do it… But, I’m doing it… I got Dunph 3rd all-time.

Jack Ramsay, St. Joseph’s

#4 Jack Ramsay
Saint Joseph’s hired Jack Ramsay as coach for the 1955-56 basketball season for $3,500. It would prove to be a great decision. In his first season at St Joseph, the Hawks went 23-6 to win their first Big 5 crown. This season also marked the school’s first-ever postseason playoff berth, as St Joseph’s placed won in the NIT. Ramsay would remain at St. Joseph’s through 1966, leading the Hawks to six more Big 5 crowns, five straight seasons of first-place finishes in the Middle Atlantic Conference, ten postseason appearances, and a Final Four in 1961.

Is Ramsay ranking being dinged for leaving to pursue a World Championship in the NBA? Yup…

His ranking is a tough call… Do you give him credit here for the NBA championship? Naaaah…

Ranking Dr. Jack is like ranking Gayle Sayers… You didn’t see many do it better… Dr. Jack won 76.5% of his games at St. Joseph’s. He was 306-234 overall.

Harry Litwack, Temple

#5 Harry Litwack
Litwack coached the Owls to 2 NCAA Final Four (1956, 1958) appearances. That’s right… Two Final Fours… He also led the Owls to the NIT Championship in 1969. Litwack compiled a record of 373–193. Recognized as one the very best coaches of his era, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Phil Martelli, St. Joseph’s

#6 Phil Martelli
Martelli is my guy… I had a front row seat as Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to seven NCAA Tournaments and six NITs in 24 seasons as head coach. Phil had a damn good run at St. Joseph’s.

His highs were very, very high… At times, astronomical…

He was good out of the gate… In his very first season as head coach (1995–96) the Hawks reached the NIT Finals.

Now before we go further… Full disclosure… Martelli is my homie… My guy… Throughout his tenure with St. Joseph’s, Phil Martelli afforded Black Cager Sports and Delgreco Wilson unfettered access to the Men’s Basketball team. I attended/covered virtually every home game. I openly pulled for the St. Joseph’s Basketball program under Phil Martelli’s leadership.

Over the years, Phil delivered some big wins…

In his second year, led by junior Big 5 MVP Rashid Bey flanked by Arthur “Yah” Davis and Terrell Myers and Harold Rasul, Martelli’s Hawks captured the A10 title. This talented and entertaining crew made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997.

After a 3 year dry spell, Martelli embarked upon one of the best runs in the past 25 years. In 2001, his Hawks finished 26-7 losing in the second round. Marvin O’Connor dropped 37 in an epic performance in the 83-90 loss to Stanford.

St. Joe’s would go 23-7 in 2002-03. Nice… Very good team…

The following year, with Jameer Nelson as his senior point guard, Martelli led the Hawks to the greatest season in school history. They ran the table during the regular season, going 27-0. The Hawks lost to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and ultimately reached the Elite Eight to finish with a record of 30-2.

This is “officially” the deepest run that St. Joseph’s has ever made in the tournament.

But, the fact is the 1960-61 SJU team went all the way to the Final Four and won the third-place game. Do I give Dr. Jack full credit for this Final Four appearance? Yup…

Will I note that his Final Four run was erased from the books due to a gambling scandal? Yup…

In 2004-05, Martelli led the Hawks back to the final game of the NIT, where they lost to South Carolina.

In 2008, Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to its first NCAA Tournament since 2004 with a team led by Pat Calathes and Ahmad Nivins.

Martelli captured the A10 Tournament titles in 2014 and 2016.

Rollie Massimino, Villanova

#7 Rollie Massimino
Massimino won a National Championship. He defeated John Thompson, Patrick Ewing and the mighty Georgetown Hoyas to get it done. Over the course of a 19 year run at Villanova, Massimino won 355 games. He made 11 NCAA appearances. Massimino Villanova teams made to the Elite Eight five times.

Massimino also insisted on playing Big Five City Series games on the Villanova campus. Under Massimino, Villanova decided no longer play a full slate of Big Five games. Massimino insisted on playing just two Big Five games a year.

It is what it is…

Massimino’s positions were clear… Philadelphia traditions did not matter… The Big Five was expendable. As far as Massimino was concerned, no Palestra, no round-robin, no Big Five.

Do I hold that against him? Yes

Kenneth Loffler, La Salle

#8 Kenneth Loeffler
Coached at La Salle from 1949 to 1955. His record at La Salle was 144 wins and only 28 losses. He won an NIT when it really mattered. He led La Salle to two Final Four appearances and a National championship.

What do you do with that record? How do you rank him? I don’t know… But, I feel strongly he is worthy of being mentioned. Coach Loeffler got shit done… in a big way.

Speedy Morris, La Salle

#9 Speedy Morris
Speedy Morris coached La Salle men’s basketball team for 15 years from 1986 to 2001. His first six years were outstanding. Morris led the Explorers to 4 NCAA appearances and 2 NITs over his first six seasons. He won 100 games in his four years.

Herb Magee, Jefferson University

#10 Herb Magee
Herb Magee has spent more than 60 years as either a player or coach at what is now known as Jefferson University. His career record stands at 1096-440. Magee is one of only four college coaches to surpass the 1,000 win milestone. On August 12, 2011, Magee was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Where do you rank Dunph and Phil?

Traci Carter: The Last of Claude’s Guys

This college basketball season marks the end of an era.

It will not be noted in national, regional or local newspapers. Sports Illustrated will not do a cover story… ESPN is not sending a film crew…

None of that matters…

The absence of mainstream media acknowledgment doesn’t make it’s passing any less significant. After this season, there won’t be another college basketball player that was coached directly by the late, great Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer Claude Gross, Sr.

There won’t be anymore of Claude’s guys coming down the pike.

The self-proclaimed GURU, began nurturing and developing South Philly’s basketball talent in the mid 1950’s. He heavily influenced the career of his dear friend Ray “Chink” Scott, who played 11 highly productive years in the NBA and ABA with the Pistons, Baltimore Bullets and Virginia Squires. Scot went on to become NBA Coach of The Year.

Over a coaching career spanning more than half of a century, Gross developed, coached and helped raise hundreds of young boys. He possessed a truly unique gift. Gross was able to use the game of basketball as a means of furthering the socialization process for hundreds of young Black men.

As a young man, he made you extremely uncomfortable… Gross forcefully maintained the adult/child distinction in his relationships with those playing in his program. Some would describe him as intimidating. Standing over 6’5″, he was a man and you were a boy. There was absolutely no confusion in this regard. Claude Gross was not a friend to his players, he was not a peer. He was an domineering authority figure within the highly regarded Sonny Hill League and the larger Philadelphia Basketball community.

Claude would poke you, prod you, smack you, cuss you, embarrass you, kiss you, hug you and most importantly, love you.

Once you became a man, it all made perfect sense. Mo Howard, Lionel Simmons, Roland Houston, Nate Blackwell, Geoffrey Arnold, Bobby Johnson, Donnie Carr, Rashid Bey, the entire Myers family, John Davis, Junior Fortunat these are just a few of the division 1 players that honed their games and refined their understanding of the larger world while playing for under Gross in the South Philly Sonny Hill Program.

Dion Waiters, BJ Johnson and Langston Galloway are the last of the NBA guys that played for Gross. All of them should have several more years left in their respective NBA careers.

But… at the college level, it’s a wrap. This is it. No more coming…

It’s significant in a lot of ways.

University of Hartford, graduate student and point guard Traci Carter is the last of the long and glorious line of college basketball players that were directly coached by Claude Gross.

It seems fitting that Traci is last.

(l-r) Tyrone Pitts, Rashid Bey, Fran Dunphy, Claude Gross and Dr. Scott Brooks

I met Traci, through Claude, when he was in the 7th grade. I had been talking to Claude and Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer Rashid Bey about their Sonny Hill teams. They both spoke glowingly about two South Philly kids in particular. Terquin “Buddha” Mott and Traci Carter, these guys were next up.

I head to one of Claude’s “practices” held for decades at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center located at 740 S 17th St. Truth be told, I really didn’t get to see the kid’s play. As usual, Claude’s practice consisted of Claude holding court and regaling everyone. After he explained in great detail how he led his Ben Franklin team into Overbrook HS and defeated Wilt and his teammates for the 937th time there wasn’t much scrimmaging that day…

At the conclusion of his performance, Rashid and Claude introduced me to young Traci Carter after the practice. “Traci… this is Del. He’s gonna help you stay on top your academic situation. Whatever he tells you to do… do it.” This was a very formal process. Rashid, Traci, Claude and I understood very clearly that I would be held accountable for keeping him on track academically.

The basketball was a foregone conclusion… If Claude and Rashid said he was D1 prospect, then he was a D1 prospect… period.

From that day forward, that was my responsibility. I was Traci’s academic “guy.” In this way, Traci was the beneficiary of Claude’s immense social capital. People with with belief systems rooted in religious faith, may refer to Traci’s situation as a “blessing.”

They are not mutually exclusive. One can be the beneficiary of social capital and be blessed at the same time.

Social capital is the effective functioning of social groups through interpersonal relationships. Because, Claude saw the need and had access to resources, Traci would have a personal, well-informed and accessible academic advisor throughout his career as a student-athlete. Traci directly benefited from the fact that Claude and I shared a sense of identity as Black men, a shared understanding of the importance of education, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation and, reciprocity.

Claude would do things to help me and I would always return the favor when called upon. In this way we were able leveraged our respective social capital. Think of social capital as a measure of the value of resources, both tangible (e.g., access to Marian Anderson Rec Center and McGonigle Hall) and intangible (e.g. people), and the impact that these resources have on individual young men, and on the larger Philadelphia basketball community. Social capital is regularly deployed by conscientious men to make hundreds of young men “middle class by mistake.”

A South Philly prodigy on the court, Carter enrolled at Prep Charter high school. He would suffer a significant knee injury, requiring surgery and not play at all as freshman. Through it all, Carter remained focused on his academic progress. The South Philly ol’ heads Claude, Rashid Bey and Donnie Carr instilled this value in him early. Carter internalized it almost immediately. More than the typical gifted young ballplayer, Carter grasped the importance of maintaining strong grades. Without prompting, he would check in every time he got his report card.

That’s what Claude and Rashid had told him to do 2 years earlier. I always walked him through his core updated GPA and core credits. Traci wanted to have all options available. He would not allow poor grades to limit his choices. As a high school freshman, Carter took control of his academics, even while suffering a significant knee injury.

Traci Carter, Roman Catholic

As he recovered, Carter decided he wanted to play in Philadelphia’s Catholic League. Carter began his playing career at Roman Catholic High School and averaged 7.6 points per game for the Cahillites as a sophomore and competed on the AAU circuit for We-R1 and the squad claimed the Under Armour Association Championship in 2014. He did very well on the court.

Off the court, he exhibited questionable judgement and engaged in some negative behaviors. As a result, he had to abruptly leave Roman Catholic.

Carter clearly violated school rules. Had to go…

He needed a school. He was leaning heavily on Donnie Carr for guidance. Claude “suggested” that we find a solution fast. “Fix this shit!” is the way he phrased his suggestion. In doing so, Claude was once again leveraging his considerable social capital.

An accomplished basketball player, Carter needed a school with a solid basketball coach and program. A precocious juvenile, Carter would benefit immensely from a high structured boarding situation that took him away from the streets of South Philadelphia.

Also, Carter had no money for educational expenses. He lived with his grandmother who was on a fixed income.

So… we needed to find a solid academic boarding school situation with a strong basketball program for free… Ok… got it…

Leveraging the only resource we had, social capital… Donnie Carr and I walked Traci Carter into meet with Pastor Dave Boudwin and Pervis Ellison, the School Head and Basketball Coach at Life Center Academy. All the cards were placed on the table. Traci fully disclosed the nature of his negative behaviors at Roman Catholic. We essentially asked Life Center Academy to take this young man just because it would benefit Traci.

We asked for a blessing.

We prayed on the situation and Traci’s educational and athletic career at Life Center began that day. Traci faithfully attended all church services and programs. He was able to participate in Life Center missionary programs in Central America.

Traci Carter, Life Center Academy

On the court, Traci averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game in 2014-15 and was tabbed first team all-independent. He was also a McDonald’s All-American Game nominee and was named the program’s most valuable player. Carter led the program to 40 victories in his two seasons and the team claimed the top ranking among independent teams within the state of New Jersey.

Each and every time Traci got his report card he sent me a picture and we had to review and update his standing. He did not take any chances. Actually, he was a pain in the ass about it. He understood how to calculate his GPA and core courses. He could have done this independently. However, he wanted to engage, he needed to discuss his academic standing. It was a ritual… a habit. Claude planted the seed of academic responsibility in Traci when he was 12. By the time he was 17, it was simply an important part of who Traci was as a student-athlete.

Why take chances?

Control the shit you can control…

Traci Carter, Marquette

On the court, Traci started off in the Big East at Marquette. He had a strong rookie season, leading the team in assists. He played in a total of 33 games, making 19 starts while averaging 23.9 minutes per outing. The next year Carter would play in 8 games and start 4 before leaving the program after the Fall semester.

He resurfaced at La Salle where he emerged as the starter on Ashley Howard’s first team. Carter played in all 31 games for the Explorers, while making 30 starts. He led team with 101 assists (3.3 apg) and 57 steals (1.8 spg). Averaged 6.4 points per contest. Shot 83.9 percent from the free-throw line.

Traci Carter, La Salle

Would talk to him occasionally… Always ask the same shit… “What’s up with the books?”

Always got the same response. “I’m straight.”

He was straight. Graduated easily and on time.

Delgreco Wilson & Traci Carter

Decided to go graduate school and continue playing at the University of Hartford. While pursuing a Master’s Carter played a lil’ hoops for Hartford.

He was named America East All-Conference Third Team and named to America East All-Defensive Team. Carter was one of two players to start all 33 games while breaking the program’s single-season record in steals with 83.  He finished sixth in the nation in steals and ninth in steals per game (2.5), leading the America East in both categories. Carter also finished as the America East’s leader in assists (162), assists per game (4.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9).

Traci Carter, Hartford

Guess what? They gave him another year of eligibility. Carter is once again running point for Hartford Head John Gallagher who is coming off most successful two-year run in Hartford’s DI history (2017-19).

I’m sure Traci will perform well on the court. He gets at guys…

Most importantly, Carter’s going to emerge from his journey as a student-athlete with a Master’s degree, zero debt and plenty of relationships. The last of Claude’s guys. Catch him Tuesday night as he squares off with Collin Gillespie and Villanova on Tuesday night.

You’ll be witnessing the the end of an era. Traci Carter, M.A. is the last one.

Well played Mr. Gross.

St. Joseph’s Basketball: This Ain’t Last Year

So… the father of one of the top D1 prospects in the area calls me yesterday… Right away he observes…

“The kids are gonna wanna play at St. Joe’s… Billy let’s ’em go, they play hard and they play anybody.”

Billy Lange, St. Joseph’s Head Coach

His son already signed, sealed and committed to another D1 program out of the state, Dad was just doing what we’ve always done… Talking local hoops. I had to agree with his assessment.

“They are in shape, he let’s those guys play basketball. They keep coming at you…”

This was after the second loss in a row to a nationally prominent Power 5 conference opponent. We both agreed there will be some BIG wins coming and soon…

St. Joseph’s Head Coach Billy Lange has taken a stand… He’s decided that he will throw his bunch into the deep end of the pool and see what happens. Sink or swim muthafucka… It’s an admirable approach. Lange sits at 6-28 since assuming the helm at 54th and City Avenue.

Many other coaches would schedule as many America East, NEC or MEAC opponents as possible and get some easy wins. Not Lange…

Yet, despite the losses…

Everyone seems to agree that he’s got the program headed in a decidedly positive direction. Shit… Lange is so convinced in his team’s progress that he is apparently seeking out every available Power 5, Top 25 road game he can find.

Greg Foster, Jr., Saint Joseph’s

Such a scheduling approach is revered around these parts. Grab a bunch of Philly kids, get on a plane and take on all comers. For hoop heads in the 50 – 70 year old range, some of your fondest memories include watching John Chaney march his troops into North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and UNLV and screaming “check rock.”

Last year, despite a ton of close losses, Coach Lange stuck with his plan and his analytic dependent approach to college basketball.

Layups and threes… That’s what the analytic eggheads say… Layups and threes… This approach has taken over the NBA… Houston, Portland, Golden State, etc. have adopted this approach to basketball…

Lange’s embrace of this strategy was clear last year… Many questioned the approach, myself included…

Ryan Daly, Saint Joseph’s

We noted that Lange didn’t have the horses for the kind of race he wanted to run. Maybe, just maybe, he could have slightly modified his approach and won another game or two. Maybe he could have finished 8 – 24 or 9 – 23 instead of 6 – 26.

Naaaaaaah… Lange clearly said FUCK that… We are gonna learn to play the way I want to play…

He decided to stick with his approach and take his lumps. He wanted his team to learn to play a certain way. Of course, he wanted to win but not at the expense of forestalling the full implementation of “BillyBall” on Hawk Hill.

At times, it was painful to watch. He was playing pinochle with a hand dealt from poker deck.

Dahmir Bishop & Jordan Hall, Saint Joseph’s

This year, he has assembled a roster that is faster, more explosive, better shooting and better defensively.

These guys are playing as a unit. They are committed to being aggressive offensively. They push the rock. Even against elite athletes they just keep coming.

Dahmir Bishop (Imhotep/Xavier) and Jack Forrest (Lower Merion/Columbia) look like kids that have been allowed outside after spending 6 months on punishment. With Lange’s encouragement and support, these guys are letting it fly… They have demonstrated an ability to get good looks at layups and threes… More importantly, they’ve been converting these looks at a nice clip.

Greg Foster is athletic, he’s able to push the rock while being cautious and he’s a very capable perimeter defender. Jordan Hall is finding his way… A natural playmaker, he is a long and capable point forward.

Cameron Brown is a capable scorers and a steady calming influence off the bench and Rahmir Moore provides pure unadulterated Philly toughness.

Despite the aforementioned upgrades to the roster, this SJU team will only go as far as the BIG DOGS are able to take them. Taylor Funk and Ryan Daly possess All-A10 talent. Funk, with his feet set is one of the best shooters we’ve seen in recent years. His range literally extends from the concession stand inward. He’s always been capable of stringing together 3, 4 or 5 straight NBA 3 pointers. Nothing new to see here. What is new is his commitment to strength and conditioning. He has changed his body. He is leaner than he was in high school. This is significant because he will have to play major minutes if this version of the Hawks aspire to be a factor in the A10.

Taylor Funk, Saint Joseph’s

Funk can barely jump over the laptop he using to complete his schoolwork, yet he had emerged as a solid “BIG” for this team. He understands the importance of positioning in rebounding and defending the post. He’s getting shit done against much bigger and more explosive post players… Respect.

Daly continues be the unquestioned leader of this scrappy Hawk bunch. He’s a fucking hockey player on a basketball court. Daly is the Bobby Clarke of college basketball. Against Auburn and Kansas he repeatedly tried to protect the rim against 6’9” dudes with 40 inch vertical leaps. Watching at game speed, one is convinced that he got “all ball” on these efforts. The slo-motion instant replays reveal the truth though… He just checked those guys against the boards and damn near knocked their teeth out.

But he sells it hard! “What foul ref?”

Daly has never seen a matchup he didn’t like… He’s going to score, rebound and get assists every game. There’s literally nothing the opponent can do about it. His tenacity and confidence allows the other guys to play freely.

Coach Lange has a very interesting team… They play an appealing style of basketball… They are seeking out the very best opponents… Local Dads and kids are noticing.

Imagine what will happen if they can make it to the Stanley Cup Finals?

Or… better yet, what if they knock off Nova on Wednesday?