They Are Who We Thought They Were…

“Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were!”

Dennis Green, Cardinals Head Coach 2006

With 43 points and 14 rebounds in the Gonzaga DC Championship Game Abington’s Senior Superstar, Eric Dixon (WeRone Hoops), officially put the PIAA on notice! Playing against a tough, deep and talented St. Frances Academy squad that is perennially ranked in the top 25 nationally, Dixon put on a performance for the ages. He scored in every way imaginable… jump hooks, fade aways, up and unders, turn around jumpers, face up 3s, etc. Eric was really digging deep into his bag… The DC crowd was in awe of his skill level. He was named tournament MVP despite losing to the Panthers in the title game. Dixon (Villanova commit) is now the all-time leading scorer in the history of Abington HS basketball with over 1700 points. He will likely end up in the 2400-2500 range when it’s all said and done.

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Eric Dixon, named MVP after scoring 43 points and pulling down 14 rebounds

Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Senior All-American candidate, Naheem McLeod (PYO Hoops) kicked in the door for his senior season. Before a full house in a new gymnasium McLeod exploded for 41 points and 14 rebounds to lead P-W to close win over Norristown. The 7’3″ McLeod (Florida State commit) displayed a wide range of skills in this contest. He advanced the ball in transition, he pulled up and made jumpshots beyond 3 point range, there were a few no look passes and of course about a gazillion dunks! As a senior, McLeod clearly understands that this year’s team will only go as far as he can carry them. He appears more than ready to carry the load.

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McLeod in action against Norristown. (Photo Credit: Raw Sports)

Cheltenham’s Division 1 prospect, Zahree Harrison ’20, jump started the Cheltenham campaign with two outstanding performances. Harrison was named the MVP of the Tip Off Classic after filling the stat sheet with12 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in the first contest and piling up 23 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in the second game. He continues to garner interest from mid-major programs along the eastern seaboard.

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Harrison (center, holding MVP trophy) after title game

Constitution’s “Big 2” Keshaun “Champ” Hammonds and Jabari Merritt scored 21 and 17 points, respectively, as the Generals defeated Miguel Boc’s young and fiesty West Catholic Prep squad. Looking for extremely big things from Hammonds and Merritt this season. Both are being closely monitored by several mid-major programs.

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Keshaun “Champ” Hammonds, Division 1 combo guard prospect

La Salle’s Senior point guard Allen Powell is off to great start. He had 17 points and 7 assists in the first game of the season. The next game he put up 19 points and again dished 7 assists while earning the MVP in the Scholastic Play-by-Play Tip Off Classic! Led by Powell, La Salle is a real threat to make it to the Palestra this year. Several low to mid-major programs have been inquiring about this sharpshooting point guard.

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Allen Powell, La Salle Senior Point Guard

Neumann-Goretti sophomore Chris Evans, came out letting it fly! Lil’ Money connected on 6 out of 7 three point field goal attempts and earned an MVP award in the Scholastic Play-by-Play Tip Off Classic. His range and the green light Carl Arrigale and the Saints have given him will pose problems for opponents all season.

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Jeremy Treatman and Chris Evans, Neumann-Goretti sophomore

Yes… It’s early…

But, they are who we thought they were!

This week, Overbrook, led by the dynamic Division 1 PG prospect, Naim Walker ’21 and the prolific scorer Khalif Washington ’19, travels to O’Hara where they will face first year coach Ryan Nemetz’s squad. They will also host arch rival West Philadelphia on Thursday.

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Khalif Washington, center

Donta Scott (Maryland commit), Dahmir Bishop (Xavier commit), Chereef Knox (Undecided), Jamil Riggins (Binghamton commit) and Fatayn Wesley (undecided) lead nationally ranked Imhotep as they host Hammonds, Merritt and Constitution on Tuesday. On Saturday, Imhotep faces Delaware powerhouse Samford in the Diane Mosco Tournament at Archbishop Wood.

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Donta Scott, Imhotep Senior

Then on Sunday…

Roman Catholic attempts to hand Imhotep it’s first loss in Philly in three years. Scott, Bishop, Knox, Riggins and Wesley were freshmen the last time they tasted defeat in a local matchup. Seth Lundy (Penn State commit), Hakim Hart (St. Joseph’s commit), Louis Wild (undecided), Lynn Greer (ESPN top 100), Jalen Duren (ESPN top 5) and Justice Williams (ESPN top 100), more than any other local team in recent memory, possess the talent and athleticism to matchup with mighty Imhotep. The game could very well come down to a chess match between the Imhotep Head Coach and Roman’s Matt Griffin.

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Roman Catholic Star, Seth Lundy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Assessing The Roman Empire

Will the sun set on the Roman Empire in 2019?

Nope…

Roman Catholic has long stood among the greatest scholastic basketball programs in Philadelphia and along the Eastern Seaboard. Mike Bantom, John Griffin, Zane Major, Dallas Comegys, Tarone Thorton, and Bernard Jones are some of names that come to mind when thinking of the Roman program in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s. The late great Eddie Griffin ushered in the new millennium at Broad and Vine. For decades, when one thought of the Catholic League, one thought of the Cahillites.

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Roman Catholic’s Eddie Griffin in the McDonald’s All-American Game

Oh every once in a while, someone like Rodney Blake would appear at Bonner and disrupt the established order. Comegys and Thorton just couldn’t get past Big Rod. But it always seemed that Roman could make an adjustment, find a player, do whatever it took to get back on top.

Til he appeared… He invaded from the south…

Sir Carl Arrigale of St. John Neumann appeared on the scene for the 1998-99 season. It took him just 36 months to win his first Catholic League title. He then proceeded to win 10 titles over the next 14 seasons.

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Neumann- Goretti Coach Carl Arrigale

For a decade and a half, the Roman Empire was sacked… Long live Sir Arrigale and the Saints…

The Cahillites grew increasingly frustrated… One could hear the whispers… They were circumspect about General Chris McNesby. While always in the mix, for years, he failed to capture the crown.

That is… Until he did!

Then he did it again and rode off on his stallion into the sunset… Just like John Elway, McNesby left as a two-time champion…

The Roman Empire was regaining it’s footing, back to back titles, and BOOM General McNesby retires…

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Former Roman Head Coach, Chris McNesby

The fuck?

In an instant, one of the most prestigious scholastic coaching jobs in America was available… Who?

Who would take the reigns?

Roman decided on a bright, young, energetic yet unproven assistant coach.

Matt Griffin… son a coach… brother of a coach… Was named Head Coach.

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Roman Catholic Coach, Matt Griffin

 

Immediately, the questions emerged… Is he ready? Can he manage a game? Can he recruit? Can he relate to the players?

His first year, a phalanx of Vikings arose from Warminster and scorched the landscape. Led by the brilliant Commander Gillespie and General Mosco, they crushed the competition while taking no prisoners.

But just as they did in earlier decades, the Roman Empire regrouped a year later. In a classic battle that came down to the final play, the Cahillites captured the Crown for the 3rd time in 4 years.

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Penn State commit, Seth Lundy ’19

Visiting the cramped Roman gymnasium today, one finds a battalion that appears ready to defend and perhaps expand the Roman Empire. The current roster features at least 5, maybe 6, Division 1 scholarship players. Penn State commit Seth Lundy ’19 is a top 100 talent at the SF/PF spot. St. Joseph’s commit Hakim Hart ’19 has a feathery soft jump shot with range out the NBA 3 point line at the SG/SF position. Lynn Greer ’20 is another top 100 level talent playing in the backcourt. Also in the backcourt is Justice Williams ‘22, a mercurial 6’3” freshman combo that plays with USA basketball. Manning the middle is 6’9” Jalen Duren ’22 a top 5 level talent in his class. Sheeeeeesh…..

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St. Joseph’s University commit, Hakim Hart

 

Combo guard Louis Wild ’19 is a scholarship level player, perhaps low D1 or high D2. Lightning quick Michael Anderson ’21 will catch the eye of scouts with his scoring and playmaking abilities. Athletic wing Gabe Perez ’19 will also play college basketball.

The Cahillites are loaded! Roman is LONG!. Roman is ATHLETIC! Roman has shooters. Roman has an elite rim protector.

In just under 2 weeks, they venture down to the nation’s capital where they will face two exceptionally strong and proud programs. The battles with Archbishop Carroll and DeMatha Catholic will give us an early read… Are the youngins ready for prime time?

Then on December 16, the Cahillites face Public Power, the nationally ranked Imhotep Panthers. This has the makings of the Philly high school Game of the Year.

Shit ‘bout to get real around here! Hoop Headz… Take Terrell Owens advice and “get your popcorn ready!”

Black Cager Sports looks forward to covering these exciting matchups!

“Devine” Intervention: Khalil Turner’s Philadelphia Story

Written by Khalil Turner

Family is supposed to protect you. The safest place in the world is with your family…

Isn’t it?

That is what I was always taught… In fact, I internalized and deeply believed that message.

Then real life intervened!

What happens when your family becomes a threat to your safety and well-being? I was truly unprepared for the moment I had to really face that situation head on.
Never had I felt that my safety and well-being were at risk… Never, ever… My older siblings, however, have not always agreed.

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Khalil Turner and his extended family

About three years ago, I was just starting my freshman year at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School. Finally, I was a “big boy.” I was a High School student filled with anticipation and eager to begin my academic and athletic journey, when a report was filed with the Sankofa counselor. This report stated that my sister and I were being “mistreated” at home.

More specifically, my siblings felt so strongly that our health and general well-being were at-risk that they decided to formally intervene. It was that bad. Looking back, I realize I lacked a frame of reference, I thought it was normal. I thought everyone struggled like we did… But my older siblings knew better and they came to the conclusion that my family was unable to adequately provide for and protect us.

A call was made…

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Khalil Turner and his older siblings during his LOI signing ceremony

Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is the county child welfare and juvenile justice agency. Their mission is to provide and promote safety, permanency, and well-being for children and youth at risk of abuse, neglect, and delinquency. Unbeknownst to me, our living situation definitely fell under their purview.

So… One day they just appeared… DHS was at my front door…

I had no comprehension of the concept, so I never imagined that I was “at-risk.”
I remember the DHS case workers making detailed observations of our living conditions… They literally looked in every crack and crevice of our family home. Everything was closely examined. Then, they conducted exhaustive interviews of my family members and came to a conclusion that would alter the trajectory of my life.

DHS concluded that our needs were not being adequately met. We had to be removed from the only home we ever knew.

What?!?! Foster care… Huh?

Now I knew my mother was struggling with some dependence and related mental health issues, but I never for a moment felt abused or neglected. I was just living day to day… But DHS determined otherwise. Citing a lack of structure and a paucity of resources in the household, they decided we had to leave our family home, for our own good.

Real life crept up on me real quick… My friends are worried about homework and playing Madden or NBA 2K on PlayStation… I’m just beginning my freshman year in high school and suddenly dealing with change and adversity of a magnitude I never imagine.

Honestly, at times, it was too much for me to bear…

Angry and frustrated, I had an immensely strained relationship with the family that DHS wanted me to move in with. It just wasn’t going to work. This I knew almost immediately.

I wanted to be with family… I wanted to be with people I love… I wanted to be with people I trust… DHS wanted me to live with total strangers.

I was scared… Then God intervened.

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Kobe Devine (foreground), Dayna Devine and Khalil Turner

He made it possible for me to live with my friend Kobe Devine and his parents Dayna and Barry Devine. Actually, there was no real plan. It kind of just happened. I would stay with the Devines when he had AAU basketball tournaments. Kobe’s Dad was my AAU coach and, logistically, it was just easier to be there than to have them worrying about picking me up and dropping me off. Eventually, I just decided to stay and not return to the “foster home” where the relations were strained.

Again… I thank God!

The Devine family members were angels sent from above in my time of need. This I am sure of. Nonetheless, it was initially awkward, while I loved the Devines they were not my “real” family. I was a young, insecure and scared boy. But this family was beyond patient and understanding with me. After a few months, the love and support overwhelmed me, Kobe became my “blood” brother and his parents became my parents as well. They made sure I felt welcomed. They were always asking me if I needed anything.

Before I knew it, I felt safe… Again. Now… It should be noted that this process wasn’t easy!

After moving into the Devine home, my life changed in so many ways. For the first time, I experienced unwavering family structure. There were limits, there were boundaries, there were rules… And, they were rigidly enforced. For the first time, I had to consistently deal with consequences of my actions and decisions.

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Khalil Turner and Dayna Devine

The first few months were rough because I had never really been subjected to discipline and structure. Immature and ignorant, I tried to balk and disagree when Kobe’s mom, Dayna, imposed the family structure on me. I didn’t want to hear it… I didn’t like being held accountable. I didn’t want to suffer the logical consequences of my actions. I would attempt to argue with her.

I was immature and unable to fully comprehend the blessing I was receiving.

Now, I fully understand how wrong and misguided I was.

Over time, I became increasingly respectful and considerate toward others because Kobe’s Mom and Dad were respectful and considerate toward me. I realized that they were preparing me to enter the world on my own.

Dayna Devine was my mentor, my teacher and my surrogate mother. The lessons and encouragement were non-stop. Several times a day, she would talk to me about the importance of respect, obedience and discipline. Within a few months, I began to internalize these values. She really led me through the process of becoming a more mature, responsible and accountable young man.

Every night, I would think to myself: how can I become a better man? How can I avoid the negative paths that so many of my neighbors, friends and family members have embarked upon? Every night, I would think about making my Mom and Kobe’s mom proud… I wanted to make sure they didn’t have to stress about paying for me to go to college.

After everything my family has endured, I still wanted to look out for my mother because I believe that family is still first. With the Devines in my life I am blessed to have an extended family added to the equation.

Since I began living with Kobe and the Devines, I had no choice other than to go hard in pursuit of my dreams and everything I love. I was determined to make my mother happy. I wanted to bring a smile to Dayna Devine’s face. I wanted an opportunity to continue my education and play college basketball at the Division 1 level.

Basketball is my love and I recognized that I could leverage my athletic ability to access college. As I progressed through high school, with the guidance of the Devines, I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I have tried to include Kobe every step of the way because he did not have to invite me into his family and his home. He is my brother and I love him. I thank him for helping me pursue my dreams and I will always stand with him as he pursues his dreams.

God had been incredibly good to me… Although I didn’t have a stable father in my life, I kept meeting men that were a positive and strong influence on me. Many men in the Philadelphia basketball community embraced me and helped cultivate my talent.

Then it happened…

I picked up my first Division 1 basketball scholarship offer from Hartford University. With this offer, it became tangible… It became real…

I could use basketball to attend college for free. There would be another offer… and another offer… and another offer…

No Sankofa student had ever received a Division 1 scholarship. This was huge for my school, my family, my friends and for me. More than anything else, it inspired me to work even harder. Receiving that first scholarship offer made me think that’s anything is possible. It also made me think about the support and protection I would need once I graduate from Sankofa. I chose Rider University because I know the Kevin Baggett (Head Coach), Dino Presley (Assistant Coach) and the other coaches will be there for me for the rest of my life.

As months and years went by, the drama of the DHS ordeal began to recede from the forefront of my thoughts. I began to truly believe that I was going to be something special in life. I was experiencing a great deal of success in the classroom and on the basketball court.

But, beneath the surface, the pain still lingers…

 

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Between his two mothers, Turner signs a Letter of Intent to attend Rider University

I recently signed a Letter of Intent to attend and play at Rider. After graduation from Sankofa, I will spend four years living, learning and playing on campus in Lawrenceville, NJ. But today I am still not living with my mother. Regrettably, she has not addressed or resolved her mental health and dependence issues to the satisfaction of DHS.

I love my mother, but I can’t focus on that right now I just have to keep working hard. I know she loves me and I pray she gets better soon. However, I am intensely focused on making both my biological and my extended families proud. These past few years have changed me. It was very hard at the beginning and has become a little easier everyday. I am happy that I have my good friend and brother, Kobe, in my life. I truly do not know where I would be at this moment if Kobe and the Devines did not accept me into their family. I know I wouldn’t have the protection and love that a family is supposed to provide.

I know I would not feel safe.

Phil Martelli: Still Standing Strong!

It was December 7, 2013… I remember it like it was last night…

Jay Wright brought his undefeated and 14th ranked Wildcats down Lancaster Ave. for a “Holy War” matchup with the Saint Joseph’s University Hawks. For the first 20 minutes, it was a fairly even game. Villanova entered the locker room at halftime leading 39-35. I looked forward to a typically tight Big 5 finish.

Then it happened… Whoaaaa… I have no idea what Wright said to his troops during the intermission. But… Daaaaaaaymn it worked!

I have always imagined it had to be something along the lines of Ray Rhodes’ legendary motivational speech to his Eagles team. If you are an Eagles fan of a certain age, you know the speech, Rhodes told his squad to think of the other team as burglars coming into their homes to beat their kids and rape their wives.

Had to be something along those lines… I was a witness…

Nova came out of the locker room, the buzzer sounded…

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James Bell, 25 points and 14 rebounds on 12/07/2013

 

The Wildcats made the Hawks go into the bushes and get a switch. “And… you betta NOT bring back a lil’ one…” Then they told ‘em to take off their pants. They proceeded to whoop dat ass UNMERCIFULLY for 20 minutes straight. It was the kind of whoopin’ that left huge welts on the upper thigh and gluteus maximus for days… If you from ’round da way, it was an “extension cord” type of ass whoopin’…

Final score Villanova 98, St. Joseph’s 68… Drubbed by thirty! JayVaughn Pinkston had 27 and 8. James Bell finished with 25 and 14. It was UGLY! In front of a standing room only packed Hagan Arena…

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JayVaughn Pinkston, 27 points and 8 rebounds on 12/07/2013

The air was thick with tension, disappointment and frustration as the lashes were administered… Whoop… Whoop… Whoop… They NEVER let up…

Remember how you felt sorry for your homie as you sat outside the window and listened to his Momma whoop dat ass for the dumb shit y’all did… That’s how it felt for 4,200 Hawk fans that night…

One young man, however, decided to take it a step further… He crossed a line… He came over to the family section directly behind the St. Joseph’s bench and proceeded to belt out a rhythmic chant at the top of his lungs…

“FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL…”

This went on for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 4 minutes…

It became apparent that this young man was not going to cease.

Finally, Phil’s lovely wife Judy, grandchild in her arms decided to stand about 3 feet directly in front of this young man and stare through his soul. If looks could kill, this young man died a thousand deaths.

I truly feared she might revert to her Immaculata playing days and elbow the young man in his orbital socket…

Awkward, uncomfortable, vexatious, exasperating… I cannot find the words to describe the feeling I had standing proximate to these two die hard Hawk supporters…

In some ways, I understood the positions of both parties… The fan was humiliated… The Hawks did not put up a fight… As Buddy Ryan would say, they “lifted their skirt.” For the first time in my three decades of following St. Joseph’s basketball, the Hawk, while not dead, was on life support.

I had high hopes for that particular Hawk squad. Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic were All-League level players and DeAndre Bembry was the ultimate glue guy as a freshman. I too was EXTREMELY disappointed…

But, to relentlessly call for a man to be fired within a few feet of his wife, daughter, father and grandchildren was bit much for me…

I needed to talk with someone… Someone that could provide some perspective…

What the FUCK was goin’ on?

The next day, I called Rashid Bey… Phil’s first truly great player at St. Joseph’s, Bey is a 2-time Big 5 MVP Award winner and Big Hall of Famer. He led the Hawks to a Sweet 16 appearance in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.

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Rashid Bey, Big 5 Hall of Famer

“What up Sheed?”

I described what I had witnessed the night before… In great detail, I spelled out the ass whoopin’… I complained about the tactless display by the understandably frustrated fan… I sympathized with Judy enduring a relentless call for her husband’s termination…

“What the FUCK Rashid?”

In response, he very calmly said to me… “I think Phil is gonna go on a run with this team… watch.”

I thought… “Huh? Sheed is bugging”

Fast forward to March 16, 2014, I was at the team hotel with Langston, Ron, Halil and Phil… I was in the room when their name was called and they found out they would play UConn in the NCAA tournament. Just as his former player predicted, Phil went on a run with that team and they won the A-10 Championship a couple hours earlier at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY.

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2014 A10 Champions, St. Joseph’s University Hawks

I say all of that to say…There’s something about the connection Martelli has with really good players he coaches. It was there with Bey and Myers… It was there with O’Connor and Crenshaw… It was there with Nelson, West and Carroll… Bey had premonition that it would emerge with Galloway.

He was right…

It would emerge two years later with Bembry and Miles… Another run… Another A-10 Championship…

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2016 A10 Champions, St. Joseph’s University Hawks

Martelli has a gift… He is able to get really good players to believe in themselves… Over and over we have seen his guys become enormously confident in themselves and lift their teammates…

Once they reach this point, Phil is a master at knowing when to step aside and let them go. Typically, these players are highly skilled guards and wings. Once they are on the same page, Phil truly gets out of their way. It becomes and absolute pleasure to watch them play the right way without him riding them day in and day out.

Oh… He will always FORCEFULLY redirect the supporting players that miss an assignment or give less than full effort. But when St. Joseph’s is really good, Martelli has really talented guys he can trust… These 2 or 3 guys rarely miss an assignment and they always give maximum effort. They lead by example.

It’s a joy to watch Martelli at this point in his coaching career. He has led Saint Joseph’s to seven NCAA Tournaments and six NITs.  He has been named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year 4 times (1997, 2001, 2004, 2005). He was Naismith College Coach of the Year (2004) and Associated Press Coach of the Year (2004). But, that’s not the stuff most remember…

He came in rumbling Steve Lappas, Speedy Morris and John Chaney. He’s squared off against their successors. His friendly rivalry with Bruiser spanned Flint’s tenure with UMass and Drexel. He’s seen Billy Hahn, Glen Miller, Jerome Allen and John Giannini come and go.

This will be the final year he faces his dear friend Fran Dunphy.

This past off season, the pages of Big 5 history were turned yet again. Ashley Howard took the reigns at La Salle and Aaron McKie was formally installed as the Head Coach in Waiting at Temple.

These changes sparked a lot of discussion about the recruiting landscape in Philadelphia. Martelli heard the whispers. Those Coach of the year Trophies really didn’t seem to matter that much…

“Could he still relate to the high school kids? Could he compete with Aaron and Ashley in the living rooms of recruits?”

Martelli grabbed his smartphone and let everybody know exactly how he felt… “I’m still the O.G! I’m still here!”

While he was congratulatory toward McKie and Howard, he called every AAU and High School coach in the area and let them know he intended to continue competing aggressively in his hometown. He was yielding no ground…

That call made me smile…

A few months later, Ryan Daly (Archbishop Carroll) is on his roster. Hakim Hart (Roman Catholic) and Jameer Nelson (Haverford) have committed to attend SJU.

On the floor, silky-smooth, super shooting wing Charlie Brown (George Washington) and point guard Fresh Kimble (Neumann-Goretti) are combining with the uber-cerebral forward Pierfrancesco Oliva to lead the way for the 2018-2019 Hawks.

They played their first game last night. A good win over a tough, experienced, athletic Old Dominion team. I know it’s only one game… BUT… It’s pretty obvious Fresh, Charlie and Oliva are good players beginning to believe in themselves… All three have missed a season due to injury. They are hungry… They want to win…

Oh… I saw Martelli carrying two of his precious grandchildren last night… The mood in the room was just a tad lighter than that dreadful night 5 years ago…

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Martelli and 5 of his grandchildren after win over ODU

I’m bout to call Rashid… Tell you what he says…

The Traci Carter Show

I love Traci Carter… So should you!

He is a quintessential Philly point guard. Yet, Philly has only had fleeting glances of his game… That is about to change in a MAJOR way.

Why has he rarely appeared on the Philly stage? Well is a long story…

Like hundreds of great, very good and even some not so good South Philadelphia ballers that came before him, Carter studied under the “Guru.” That is where I met him in the summer of 2010. He was on the court with about a dozen or so other kids being “coached” by the legendary Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer, Claude Gross.

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Claude Gross, Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer

At the behest of Claude and 2-time Big 5 MVP, Rashid Bey, I stopped by the Marian Anderson Recreation Center to watch the South Philly contingent in the Sonny Hill Future League practice. Both were convinced they had a “special” player on that squad.

For the uninitiated, let me explain what a Claude Gross practice entailed… Claude would talk and talk and talk and then talk some more. Every so often, he would run a drill or let the players scrimmage and then he would see an error or a miscalculation… The ball would STOP and Claude would talk some more… Now agitated, his vocabulary became forceful and profanity laden to put it mildly.

For those determined to learn… For those desiring to improve… the fussing and cussing was just the price of admission – tuition, if you will – to get to the inevitable lesson. Mo Howard, Andre McCarter, Geoffrey Arnold, Nate Blackwell, Lionel Simmons and Donnie Carr are just a few of the ballers that matriculated through Basketball 101 taught by the Guru.

Traci Carter was one of the last really good players to take the class while Claude was still roaming the sidelines.

Physically, he did not stand out… In fact, while they were patiently listening to Claude’s lecture, I could not tell which one was Traci. He was skinny and very nondescript.

Then Claude let ‘em play a lil’ bit… One time up the court and it was clear which one I was supposed to be watching. His floor game was advanced. Even as a middle schooler, Carter was a dynamic and tough lead guard. He was all business… He took the game very seriously. While very slight, he already possessed the tools to be a factor on both ends of the floor. Actually, he reminded me of Bey at St. Joseph’s. His handle was VERY tight, he made good decisions and he was capable of making open threes and pull-ups alike. Perhaps, most impressive was his lightning quick first step is quick and his ability to change pace with the ball.

That day, Claude and Rashid told Traci “this is Del, he’s gonna make sure you are ok academically… Do what he tells you.”

Traci’s been my youngin from that very moment.

I eagerly awaited his high school debut. Traci enrolled at Prep Charter and I was sure he would set the Pub on fire… Then it happened… Fucking knee injury and subsequent surgery.

Shit!

He missed his entire freshman year. Given an assignment by Claude, I dared not perform my assigned duties. I kept in touch with Traci. I was impressed with his maturity and the way he was able to handle a serious injury at such a young age. He spirits remained high and he kept his grades together.

He decided to transfer to Roman Catholic for his sophomore year. Running the point on a team that featured Shep Garner, Rashann London and Manny Taylor, Traci helped Cahillites go 13-1 in the Catholic League before bowing out to Steve Vasturia, Mile Overton and St. Joseph’s Prep in the Catholic League semi-finals.

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Traci Carter at Roman Catholic

Making 3rd team All-Catholic as a sophomore, the future seemed exceedingly bright for Carter and the Cahillites.

Then he stumbled… This time off the court… A few too many youthful indiscretions resulted in another transfer.

This time, Traci relied on Donnie Carr to help guide his decision-making. I suggested that they consider Life Center Academy in Burlington.

Donnie, Traci and I met with Pastor Dave Boudwin and explained he was a good kid in need of a change of scenery and the support of the church. Pervis Ellison agreed to take on the role of coach/mentor for Traci.

Life Center Academy embraced Traci. He flourished in small class settings, regularly attended all religious gatherings, went on missions overseas and matured a great deal.

Like everyone else that fell under direction of Claude Gross, Traci followed orders. Every time he would receive his report card, he would text a picture and ask me to calculate where he stood. He took no chances.

Truth be told, Traci was a pain in the ass! Donnie Carr wasn’t a walk in the park either.

I found myself on several occasions, driving to Burlington to walk Traci through his core course GPA calculations. There was no way we would allow Traci to fall through the cracks.

On the court, he flourished. Traci earned the 90th spot in the national rankings for the class of 2015 by rivals.com. He was Rated as the 18th best point guard in the class by FOXSports.com. He 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 Life Center’s most valuable player. Traci led Life Center Academy to over 40 victories in his two seasons and the team claimed the top ranking among independent teams within the state of New Jersey. He concluded his prep career with over 1,000 points and was tabbed the top player in the Hoop Hall Classic.

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Traci Carter at Life Center Academy

But all of this took place in Burlington, New Jersey. Philly didn’t get to see his rise to scholastic prominence. He was off the radar screen.

College recruiters knew where to find him though… Xavier, Boston College, Pittsburgh, UConn, Creighton and a host of other high major programs were hot on his heels throughout his senior year. Traci eventually chose Marquette.

As a freshman, he did very well. Traci appeared in all 33 games and started 19. A true Philly point guard he averaged 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game while scoring 5.4 points in a very tough Big East Conference.

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Traci Carter at Marquette

At the start of his sophomore campaign, he began to express a little but of frustration. Nonetheless, he started 4 of the first 8 games. He was still averaging nearly 4 assists per game.

But there was pensiveness and sense of unease in our conversations that had not been there before. I encouraged him to tough it out… “Make it to the end of the school year,” I said…

Within a few days, it was all over the internet… “Carter leaves Marquette…”

John Giannini was there with open arms… He welcomed Traci… Then he also took Donnie Carr…

God is good! Thank you La Salle University!

With two years of eligibility remaining, Philly will finally get to see what I saw 8 years ago in that sweltering Marion Anderson gym. An authentic Philly point guard running a Philly team.

Local Hoopheads have been blessed… We have an overabundance of tough Philly point guards suiting up this year… Collin Gillespie is playing for Jay Wright, Stevie Jordan and Kimar Williams are at Rider, Shizz Alston sets the table at Temple, Fresh Kimble is Martelli’s coach on the floor…

But you’ve seen all these guys recently…

Physically mature and hungry to establish himself as the premier point guard in the Big 5 and the A10, my youngin is about to bring you sumthin’ a lil’ different…

The show debuts Tuesday evening at 7:30 pm at the Liacouras Center, 1776 North Broad Street.

Don’t be late… The Guru is watching…

Temple vs. La Salle: It’s Only Right!

It’s only right… Makes perfect sense…

The college basketball season begins with the Temple Owls hosting La Salle’s Explorers. Fran Dunphy, the winningest coach in the history of the Big 5 will match wits with Ashley Howard in his first game as Head Coach.

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La Salle Head Coach, Ashley Howard

Dunphy has 557 career wins… Howard is seeking his first…

Both programs are in the midst of massive transformations. While the memory remains fresh on the mind of every Philly hoophead, Tyrone Garland’s Southwest Philly floater kissed of the glass and slithered through the net six years ago. The Sweet 16 in 2013 is officially ancient Chinese History at 20th and Olney.

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Tyrone Garland, “SW Philly Floater”

Since then, the Explorers have finished 8th, 9th, 14th, T7th and T10th… Unacceptable…

The decision was made to go in another direction…

A nationwide search yielded a candidate that grew up about 3 subway stops from the La Salle campus. An integral part of the meteoric rise of the Villanova program, Howard was tapped to lead the Explorers back to prominence.

Young, energetic and extremely AGGRESSIVE on the recruiting trail, Howard leads his squad into the Liacouris Center to face the Owls on Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, Dunphy has been leading a Big 5 basketball program since 1989.

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Fran Dunphy, Temple Head Coach

He constructed an Ivy League powerhouse at the University of Pennsylvania. He went 310-163 with 9 NCAA appearances with the Quakers.

Upon taking the reigns from Hall of Fame Coach John Chaney, Dunphy proceeded to make 6 NCAA appearances in his first 7 years at the helm of the Owl program.

In 2013, however, Temple abandoned the Atlantic 10 (A10) Conference for the more competitive American Athletic Conference (AAC). Since making the jump, Temple has appeared in the NCAA tournament just once in 5 years. While the Owls have also made 2 NIT tournaments, including one NIT Semifinal, that’s just not enough to satisfy Owl alums and fans.

So… for just the 5th time since 1952, Temple will have a new basketball coach next season.

Harry Litwack (1952-1973), Don Casey (1973-1982), John Chaney (1982-2006), Fran Dunphy (2006-2019) will be succeeded by Aaron McKie (2019).

Two Philadelphia programs with justifiably proud traditions are taking different approaches in their attempts to return to glory.

La Salle reached onto the Villanova bench and snatched a young assistant known as a relentless recruiter and gave him the keys to the car. Howard’s been riding shotgun for the past 5 years as Jay Wright’s been conducting “drive-by” massacres of Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Pennsylvania on his way to cutting down the Final Four nets TWICE!

Now it’s his responsibility to stop the bleeding.

Dunphy is set to begin his final lap. He’s still pumped… He’s still eager to compete… He’s till working hard to prepare his troops for battle. Aaron McKie is serving an apprentice year, patiently waiting his turn.

Around 10:00 pm Tuesday evening, either Howard will have victory number 1 or Dunphy will have number 558…

Either way, hoopheads will get a first look at two historically GREAT programs in transition.

College Basketball is Back!

College basketball is back!

I’m Mike Watkins and I have Mental Health Issues

Over the past couple of weeks, Black Cager Sports Media has met, several times, with Penn State Basketball Star Michael Watkins to discuss the role depression and bipolar disorder have played in his encounters with law enforcement officials. Delgreco Wilson worked closely with Watkins during his last two years of high school. The two have remained friends as Mike has matriculated at Penn State. This is Watkins’ story as told to Wilson.

No longer… No more… Never again will I be afraid to share my story. While I am in the most precarious position I have ever been in, I have never been in a better position to help others.

For most of my life, my lack of mental health awareness and education has prevented me from honestly engaging the topic. Today, I realize that I can play a small role in preventing this problem from persisting especially among young Black men from tough inner city backgrounds. We don’t talk about depression, anxiety and suicide in the ‘hood.’

That is really unfortunate and needs to change.

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Mike Watkins, Penn State Student-Athlete

I now realize that distorted views about mental health can cause individuals who are struggling to feel confused, isolated, embarrassed, and ashamed. Further, these sentiments are enhanced for elite athletes such as myself. So many of my friends, family members and loved ones expect me to make it to the NBA. I must admit, their expectations and the pressures associated with them have served as obstacles in my journey towards getting help. Today my message is clear, athletic success and the need for mental health help aren’t mutually exclusive.

More than anything else, I truly realize the God has placed me within the Penn State community to save my life. By far, these have been the best years of my life.

Penn State has offered me a level of support and stability that I could not even imagine prior to coming on campus. The warning signs were always there. I attended six (6) different high schools. After starting off at West Philadelphia High School, I was referred to Daniel Boone for a series of disciplinary infractions. After a while, I was placed in another disciplinary school, CEP. I was clearly suffering from undiagnosed and unaddressed mental health issues during this period. However, I had begun to internalize the notion that I was a “bad” kid. In many ways, I was unconsciously trying to live up to that reputation.

Eventually, I was placed back into a regular education environment at my neighborhood school, John Bartram HS. For the first time, I started to take basketball seriously. Although, I didn’t really work hard at it, I had some early success and people began to take notice. I began to feel good about myself as a player. Basketball became a possible means of accessing a better life. I decided to transfer MCS to play with and against better competition. While we had one of the better teams in the area, I really didn’t pay attention to the academic side of the student-athlete equation. As a result, I wasn’t really being prepared to enter college.

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Mike Watkins at MCS

I decided to do a year at Phelps Prep School to prepare for the rigors of a college curriculum. Finally, I was admitted to Penn State but I was not eligible to play as a freshman. That was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I spent the 2015-16 becoming acclimated to life in State College, Pennsylvania. With the encouragement and support of the basketball coaches and my academic advisors, I had the best academic year of my life.

For the first time, it was okay to admit I didn’t understand a topic or concept. It was like a light had been turned on. Once I understood that I would not be judged and the material would be explained in a manner I could comprehend, I excelled. I realized that I belonged in my classes. I looked forward to learning. I actually learned how to learn. For that, I will forever be grateful to Penn State.

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Then it happened… All of my life violence and mayhem have been my neighbors. I have heard gun shots too many times to count. I have seen miles of yellow police tape marking the boundaries of “crime scenes.” ‘Slinging dope’ is the most common entry level job around my way. As a result, far more of my friends are in the penitentiary than are in college. I’ve seen a lot of things no young kid should ever have to see. I’ve even watched  dozens of mothers lose their maternal instinct in pursuit of the next high.

But this was different… He died in my arms. I literally felt life leave his body. While I know he went to Heaven, I was impacted in ways I have been struggling to understand ever since.

It just never seemed fair. It wasn’t right. I could not let go of the image of my best friend dying in my arms. Each time I thought about it, it was if it just occurred… the tears, the pain, the raw emotion became inescapable. I locked myself in my room. I didn’t want to be around my friends and teammates. Basketball brought me no joy. I started lashing out at my coaches and academic counselors. I tried to dull the pain with alcohol.

My depression impacted my decision-making. I now know this. I write it not as an excuse for my behavior. I did what I did. I own it. However, I want those I have negatively impacted to know that I now understand that “hurt people” turn around and hurt people.

I was hurting.

With the support and encouragement of Coach Chambers and the other coaches I sought professional help. I was prescribed Adderall and fexofenadine and began to see a psychologist. I tried various combinations of medication with varying effect and I have been able to develop some coping skills and begin to deal with the loss of my best friend.

Over the past couple of years, I have continued to work through my issues with some wonderful mental health professionals. I have good days and I have bad days. Truth be told, there have been times where I have self-medicated with alcohol and other substances.

At my lowest, I was hospitalized this past June after I expressed some suicidal ideations.  After threatening to jump from a balcony, I was declared a danger to myself. While I never acted upon these thoughts, they did exist. Truth matters. This I have learned.

While I have improved in a lot of ways, every day is a struggle. Recently, my behaviors have once again been the focus of media attention. I was wrong. I impulsively made another poor decision. I truly regret placing President Barron, Athletic Director Barbour and Coach Chambers in a position where they are called upon to explain their feelings about my poor decision-making. They have done nothing but helped me through very trying times. In return, I have failed to uphold my end of the bargain.

I publicly apologize for bringing negative attention to Penn State University.

What I want the people at Penn State to understand is that this most recent episode and any of earlier negative behaviors are not reflections of my feelings toward the community.

I love Penn State. Penn State has saved my life.

Because I enrolled at Penn State, I have an understanding of the source of some of the sadness and pain I endure. Because I enrolled at Penn State, I understand the anxiety and impulsiveness that lead to my poor decision-making.

Because I enrolled at Penn State I am a better man.

Michael Watkins

We Are…Penn State!”