Explaining College Recruitment or the Lack Thereof…

I am a trained political scientist. I try to structure my thoughts on social behavior using analytical frameworks borrowed from social science. One of the most powerful, and therefore most useful, is rational choice theory.  Rational choice is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior.

Here we apply the basic premises of rational choice theory to the conundrum that is local college basketball recruiting. Basically, I’m trying develop an explanatory model make sense of shit that makes no sense at all…

Let me give a quick and dirty explanation of how I apply rational choice theory in this instance. I assume that aggregate social behavior (who gets and does not get D1 offers) results from the behavior of individual D1 coaches, each of whom is making their individual decisions. Rational choice theory then assumes that D1 coaches have preferences among the available high school/JUCO and transfer prospects that allow them to state which option they prefer. These preferences are assumed to be complete (the D1 coach can always say which of two prospects they consider preferable or that neither is preferred to the other) and transitive (if player A is preferred over player B and player B is preferred over player C, then A is preferred over C). In my rational choice model, D1 coaches are assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the self-determined best choice of action.

Basically, a rational choice model assumes D1 coaches get out and actually watch the prospects first hand, have an understanding of the options each kid has, realize what the prospect can add to his program and work in good faith to win games and improve his program.

The challenge then becomes explaining recruiting outcomes that don’t make no muthafuckin sense.

In the Philadelphia region, there have been some truly befuddling recruiting outcomes in recent years. Sam Sessoms, Ryan Daly and Jhamir Brickus are examples that force me to call the explanatory power of rational choice theory into question.

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Sam Sessoms, Binghamton University

Sessoms was one of the best guards to come out of Philadelphia’s fiercely competitive schoolboy scene in recent years. Academics was not an issue for Sesssoms. He attended and did well at one of the elite private Main Line high schools. Moreover, he played on the prestigious Nike EYBL summer circuit. He played for the Team Final program that has consistently produced NBA players. During the winter, Sessoms absolutely scorched opponents during a dominant senior season that saw him easily eclipse the 2,000 point mark. Yet, he had exactly one (1) D1 scholarship offer from Binghamton University which plays in the low-major America East Conference.

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Ryan Daly, St. Joseph’s University

Ryan Daly was named the MVP in the Philadelphia Catholic League as a senior. Daly was the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER in one of the top 3-4 HS leagues in the nation. He is a fearless and fierce competitor capable of scoring in bunches from all three levels and rebounding like a power forward. Like Sessoms, his academic profile was beyond reproach. Indeed, he would have been accepted at Ivy or Patriot League schools. Then there is his DNA… his father and grandfather were Philadelphia Catholic League stalwarts and played college ball for St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia’s vaunted Big 5. Yet, very late into his senior season, he was struggling find an adequate suitor for his considerable skills. Fortunately, Delaware’s Martin Inglesby swooped minutes after being given his first head coaching opportunity and gave Daly an opportunity to play in the mid-major Colonial Athletic Conference.

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Jhamir Brickus, Coatesville High School

Fast forward to today… Jhamir Brickus has just exceeded the 2,000 point mark with about 20 or so games left in his scholastic career. He has Rip Hamilton in his rear view mirror and will soon lap John Allen to become Coatesville’s all-time leading scorer. He regularly gives highly respected opponents 40 or even 50 points in big games. See for example, the 52 piece family pack… with biscuits and extra gravy he dropped off on Chester in the PIAA playoffs last year. Brickus consistently dominates games from the backcourt with exceptional ball-handling and an uncanny knack for finishing at the rim through contact. Possessing exceptional vision, he is an elite passer. He has played a couple summers on the highly competitive Under Armour UAA circuit where he averaged double figures in points, 5 assists and less than 1 turnover per game… Please note… He averaged LESS than one turnover per game against some of the best competition available. Simply stated, Brickus is a bad, bad man… Yet, his has yet to reel in D1 offers commensurate with his exceptional abilities.

What da fuck? How do we make sense of these outcomes? In my search for answers, I’m leaning hard on the my understanding of rational choice theory… Truth be told… I’m really struggling to make this shit make sense…

The premise of rational choice theory is that the aggregate behavior (the total sum of D1 offers) reflects the sum of the choices made by individual D1 coaches. Each D1 coach, in turn, makes their choice based on their own preferences and the constraints (or choice set) they face.

The logic of the model holds that D1 coaches choose the action (or outcome) they most prefer. In the case where offers (or recruiting outcomes) can be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits, a rational coach chooses the prospect (or recruiting outcome) that provides the maximum net benefit, i.e., the maximum benefit minus cost.

The local D1 coaches (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia) would experience very little costs recruiting these kids. Some gas, a few tolls and a couple Popeye’s chicken sandwiches on top of letters, phone calls, texts and DMs. Viewed in the context of their respective recruiting budgets, pursuing these guys costs nada, zilch, nothing…

The potential rewards? Daly exceeded 1000 points in two years and Sessoms may exceed 1,200 by the end of his sophomore campaign. Beyond that, these guys are Philly guards… They bring a level of toughness to programs that add a value that can’t be quantified. It’s apparent and easy to see now.

Indeed, if Sessoms or Daly were to enter the transfer portal today, each would likely receive 40-50 scholarship offers within a week. Think about that shit… The same D1 coaches that passed on them as high school seniors would relentlessly call, text, DM and visit them begging for their services today.

This begs the obvious question: How did they miss? Why couldn’t they see this 24-36 months ago?

We have to continue to assume that D1 coaches want to win… We must assume they want to add very good players. Indeed, the fact Zane Martin (New Mexico) receive offers from coaches at high major programs like Clemson, Seton Hall, Gonzaga and New Mexico 24 months after they were completely ignored by the same guys means something is seriously askew.

These fuckin’ coaches ain’t behaving rationally… The model doesn’t explain this shit…

Some really smart social scientists have introduced the useful concept of bounded rationality to account for situations precisely like this. Bounded rationality is the idea that rationality is limited, when individuals make decisions, by the tractability of the decision problem, the cognitive limitations of the mind, and the time available to make the decision. Decision-makers, in this view, act as satisficers, seeking a satisfactory solution rather than an optimal one.

In other words, coaches are limited by factors beyond their control. Plainly stated, some just are not that smart. In the words of my good friend, Amauro Austin, “some D1 coaches just don’t know what the hell they are looking at.” This was clearly the case in the recruitment of Ryan Daly. Coach after coach lamented that he was not an “explosive athlete.” They openly cited his lack of foot speed and the fact that he played “below the rim” as factors explaining their lack of a scholarship offer.

I would openly question if I had contacted the right office. I had to remind these guys, I was not trying to reach the track coach. I was not arguing that Ryan should run the 100 or 200 meter dash… Nor, was I suggesting that he be recruited as a high jumper…

“Sorry, coach… my bad… I thought you were looking for good fuckin’ BASKETBALL players.”

Same with Sessoms… He was too small… Incredibly, some even wondered if he could play at the D1 level at all. This as he was punishing opponent after opponent, it seemed like they were all reading from the same script. He can’t really shoot from distance… He’s not a true point guard… blah… blah… blah…

Huh?

Well… We seem to be headed down the same road with Brickus.

Here’s script on Jig… He doesn’t really play hard… He’s more of a small shooting guard… He doesn’t like to play defense… He’s too cool… He doesn’t play against anyone…

Once again, I find myself dealing with the “cognitive limitations” of a lot of D1 coaches.

I just want these guys to be actual rational actors… Unfortunately, more often than we care to admit, Amauro Austin’s assessment is dead on…

“Some D1 coaches just don’t know what the hell they are looking at.”

Doughty is CLEARLY the Best? That’s a Big Fuckin’ Thumb on the Scale!

Inevitably, in any conversation worth having about basketball you end up making comparisons. What I find extremely interesting is size and weight of the “thumb” that is invariably put on the scale. It’s one of those things that’s always there but it rarely made explicit.

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In a recent social media “debate” with my good friend Charles Jones from Born Leader Family, he asserts that Samir Doughty (Auburn/R-Senior) is “easily best college guard [from] our area offensively & defensively.”

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Samir Doughty, Auburn/R-Senior

That’s a STRONG fuckin’ statement… Indeed, Jones refuses to consider alternative assessments. While I love the energy and analytical rigor he brings to the discussion, I am not ready to concede that his conclusion is accurate.

Jones did make me realize this topic warrants a more serious evaluation. We need to make some things VERY EXPLICIT so we won’t continue the long-standing Philadelphia tradition of talking right past one another.

Toward that end, I want to perform a comparative analysis of some current Philly guards playing NCAA Division 1 basketball. The Below chart is a listing some Philly guards and their “per game” statistics in Division 1 competition.

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We chose per game averages instead of career totals for a reason. While interesting and in some ways informative, total stats are really not useful in the present comparative analysis because of the extreme variation in the number of games played. Some have only played as few as 41 and 51 games while others have played in as many as 102 and 107. This wide variation renders a comparison of totals almost meaningless. The per game averages, however, shed some useful light.

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Ryan Daly, St. Joseph’s/R-Junior

An objective comparison of the actual NCAA Division 1 game performance is fairly straightforward. More points, rebounds, assists and steals per game is better than fewer. As far as scoring is concerned, Sam Sessoms is the most prolific scorer over the course of his career which is also the shortest at 43 games.

But… We all know the game is much more than simply scoring points. Other important factors have to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind the objective here is not to identify the “perfect” way of framing the argument and measuring performance. Rather. the goal is to identify “better” ways of framing the argument. We are trying to lay the foundation for future debates and discussions. Most importantly, we want to help the hundreds of new consumers of Black Cager content understand what is often left unsaid.

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Sam Sessoms, Binghamton/Sophomore

We take it seriously and do it a little differently at Black Cager Sports Media.

My man Jones leaves very little unsaid… It was a heated dialogue with him that prompted this essay.  He rather forcefully put forth the following assertion, “In meaningless basketball (knowing you gonna lose going into games makes it a lot easier to play. No real pressure). As a ranked team coming off a final 4 you getting teams best punch. Big differentiating factor when u expected to win at the highest level and your expected to lose at a Lower level.”

Fair points… Jones has pushed the argument forward on an analytical level. You cannot just look at D1 stats and compare across the board.

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Stevie Jordan, Rider/Senior

At it’s core, his essential point is that when comparing player performance across conferences to determine which is “better” you have to put the “thumb” on the scale…

SEC points > American East points
SEC rebounds > American East rebounds
SEC assists > American East assists
SEC steals > American East steals

Again, fair points…

After establishing this point, Jones can argue that Doughty with NCAA Division 1 performance stats significantly lower than those of Samuel Sessoms, Ryan Daly, Stevie Jordan (Rider) and several other Philly guards is the “BEST” player. In a very straightforward manner, Jones is arguing that 18.4 ppg in the America East is not equal to nor is it a reasonable predictor for scoring in the Big East, ACC, Big 12, PAC 12, Big 10 or SEC.

Basically… He making it very clear that it’s levels to this shit!

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Josh Sharkey, Samford/Senior

And… If you don’t put your “thumb” on the scale for the Big East/ACC/Big 12/PAC 12, Big 10/SEC player… The comparison is unfair to the high major players and more or less useless.

Jones is right..

With aforementioned data one can compare and contrast any two guards. If we limit ourselves to a “simple” compare-and-contrast analysis, in which the data is weighed equally, we make a HUGE assumption that needs to be made explicit.

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Tommy Funk, Army/Senior

We assume that all D1 games are equal. That is simply not the case. In this regard, I agree with Jones.

However, the far more interesting and difficult question becomes: Exactly, how heavy should the thumb be?

Let’s walk through two examples. For illustrative purposes, we can conceptualize and measure “impact” per game by simply add the average number of points, rebound, assists and steals per game. This will result is a score for each player we call the Division 1 game “impact” number.

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The results are different than our earlier comparison of scoring averages alone. If one compares the resulting impact numbers, Ryan Daley overtakes Sam Sessoms as the leader and Josh Sharkey (Samford) overtakes Tommy Funk (Army). Taking overall performance into account, Daly’s ability to rebound at a significantly higher rate than the others explains his jump in the rankings. Same thing with Sharkey’s ability to steal the ball. Stevie Jordan’s strong overall performance across categories throughout his career at Rider keeps him near the top of the list.

With this data one can compare and contrast any two guards in terms of their performance in NCAA Division 1 games. However, as noted earlier,  if we limit ourselves to such a “simple” compare-and-contrast analysis, in which you weigh the data equally, we make a HUGE assumption that needs to be made explicit.

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Quade Green, Washington/Junior

We assume that all D1 games are equal. I agree with Jones, that is simply not the case.As a result, the rankings of Doughty, Quade Green (Kentucky/Washington) and Collin Gillespie (Villanova) suffer.

This brings us back to the question at hand: Exactly, how heavy should the thumb be?

Here we make explicit exactly how much the “thumb” weighs in two different examples. Varying weights assigned to the “thumb” result in significant variations in the rankings. In the first example, we use following multipliers to account for the effect of playing in more competitive leagues/conferences:

We multiply the Impact score times 1 for Low Division 1 leagues.
We multiply the impact score times 1.25 for Mid-major Division 1 leagues.
We multiple the impact score times 1.50 for High-Major Division 1 leagues.

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Fresh Kimble, Louisville/Graduate Student

In this way we recognize that it is tougher to be a productive player in the A10 Conference than in the America East Conference. This way of accounting for “League Competitiveness” also recognizes that the SEC Conference is tougher than the A10.

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When the strength of the conferences is taken into account in this assessment, Doughty makes the biggest jump in the rankings. He goes from 8th to 3rd. Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) moves from 6th to 4th.

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Fatts Russell, Rhode Island/Junior

But, this still would be insufficient for some observers. Consider this argument Jones unflinchingly adheres to, “no matter what context you put it in [Doughty] is a better player as a role player and as a primary. More efficient, better defender, better athlete, and is a center piece of winning. I been said the context matters. Meaningful basketball is different. You put it into stats I told u… That [Doughty] is better. You talked about situations and I still told u why. And if you was starting a team and u took any of them players before him you’d prolly [sic] get fired.”

But how does one convincingly substantiate the position that Doughty “no matter what context you put it in [Doughty] is a better player”? You simply cannot discard performance in games.

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Dave Beatty, La Salle Junior

You have to assume that Doughty has a harder row to hoe…

Statistically, what you have to do is assigned double the weight to every high major point, rebound, assist and steal while holding low to mid-major stats steady. If your rubric assumes that “high major” leagues are twice as difficult as low and mid major leagues, Doughty becomes the clear cut “best” player. See the chart below with such revised Weighted Impact scores.

High major conference impact #s have multiplier of 2. All others have a multiplier of 1. Even when such disparate weight is applied, Daly remains second in the ranking. Passed only by Doughty. Quade Green and Collin Gillespie also surpass all of the low to mid major players on the list.

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I’ll be the first to admit that the Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, PAC 12 and SEC conferences are tougher that the low to mid-major conferences. But I’m not willing to assign a weight to the high majors that is twice that assigned to the A10, Mountain West and American.

Jones is right… “It’s levels to this shit!”

However, the differences between the levels are not as large he would have us believe… Doughty may very well be the best Philly Guard in college basketball, but the discussion is definitely unsettled and ongoing.

Black Cager Sports Media thanks him for introducing some much needed nuance and subtlety into discussion usually driven by personal bias and animosity.

We will revisit this topic every few weeks or so.

 

A Hawk is a Hawk… Right?

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Actually… I am not friends with Lange. I do know and respect his wife from working at St. Joseph’s. I met her when she worked as an academic advisor for student-athletes at SJU… I was tutoring several players…

Arguably Lange is qualified.

His hiring would be perceived as a slap in the face by some that have supported and believed in the “Hawk Tradition” in the Philadelphia community.

Philly College Basketball fans in their 40’s and 50’s grew up on the Hawk. Even the Black guys. Since Blunt wants to have the “race” discussion…

We know about Ramsay, Lynam, McKinney, Boyle, Griffin, Martelli… These are Hawks…

We also know about Clark, Warrick, Costner, McFarlan, Williams, Martin, Arnold and Flint… These are Hawks…

For the younger set it was O’Connor, Bey, Bass, Myers, Davis, Crenshaw, West and Nelson… These are Hawks…

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The Hawk

A Hawk is a Hawk… Right?

Generally speaking, throughout Hawk basketball history, the “best” available Hawk has been given an opportunity to lead St. Joseph’s Basketball into battle.

This is how the position has been filled…

Flint, Baggett, Arnold, Bass and Nelson are Hawks. In varying ways, they are at least, as qualified as Lynam, Boyle, Griffin at the same points in their coaching careers.

Currently, the Men’s Head Coach position at St. Joseph’s is OPEN.

This job, almost always, has gone to the most qualified Hawk.

Jameer Nelson is also qualified.

Hardaway in Memphis, Mullin at St. John’s, McKie at Temple, Ewing at Georgetown are the appropriate comparisons for the Nelson candidacy.

More importantly…

Nelson, more than any other Hawk in my lifetime, has brought honor and glory to Saint Joseph’s. I was there… I saw firsthand…

Saint Joseph’s was at legitimate top 10-15 program for Jameer’s last 2 seasons and peaked with run to the top.

While at St. Joseph’s, Jameer Nelson was the finest player in College Basketball… The very best… I was there…

He has been an exemplary citizen.

Nearly 10,000 points and 4,508 assists in the NBA.

Graduated from Saint Joseph’s!

Committed his son to St. Joseph’s!

The St. Joseph’s University Men’s Basketball Coach position is open. This job has always gone to Hawks, with Phil Martelli being the notable exception. Phil did run point for St. Joseph’s Prep and Phil had been a ten year assistant. Notably, Bass has twice that and he’s a Hawk. Geoff has at least the same amount of experience and he’s a Hawk.

As an aside… I think the Hawk basketball community should include Terrell Myers in discussions about positioning the the “strategic asset”.

His AAU program has won the National 17U Championship on the Under Armour Circuit 3 out of the last 5 years. Over the past few years, players from his program have committed to Duke, Miami, Maryland, UNLV, Villanova and Providence… He is a Hawk… I was there with Terrell as well…

Something is amiss…

Everything that the “Hawk” stands for says that Nelson, Flint, Arnold or Baggett will be announced at the next head coach.

The job is open and they are Hawks…

Just like Ramsay, Lynam, McKinney, Boyle, Griffin, Martelli…

Would you ask Ramsay, Lynam, McKinney, Boyle or Griffin to work FOR Billy Lange at SAINT JOSEPH’S?

John Becker? Dane Fife? Billy Lange?

Huh?

The Hawk is on the clock…

 

 

 

St. Joseph’s… I know a guy…

I know a guy… You’re looking for a basketball coach… right now… You play in the A10…

My guy coached in the A10 from 1996 to 2001… His record in the A10 was 52-28… His last year, he was 11-5 in the A10 and his Athletic Director turned down an NIT Invitation. Overall, my guy won 65% of his A10 games.

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Bruiser Flint, St. Joseph’s Alum

 

From there, my guy went to the CAA… There he won 56% of his games… One year, his team beat St. Joseph’s, Temple, Villanova, Syracuse and Creighton ALL on the road…

Four times, he was CAA Coach of the Year…

For his career, he’s won 331 college basketball games and lost 289 (53.4%).

Please note that my guy has graduated 100% of his four year players and one of his players, Damion Lee, is in the NBA.

My guy is currently an assistant in one of the top 6-7 programs in college basketball… (Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova, Indiana, Michigan St.)

Based of this resume, my guy would be, arguably,  the most qualified alum ever to apply for the basketball coach position at St. Joseph’s…

Jimmy Lynam was 93-90 at Fairfield and American when their alma mater hired him. Jim Boyle took over after Lynam.

Boyle was a St. Joseph’s player, assistant coach and head coach. Boyle had a connection with all of the SJU coaches over the past five, Boyle played for Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay and served as an assistant coach on the staffs of Jack McKinney, Harry Booth and Jim Lynam. Boyle also worked with John Griffin, when they were assistants to Lynam. Then during his tenure as head coach, Boyle hired Phil Martelli as an assistant coach.

Boyle also recruited my guy… My guy played for Boyle…

My guy would seem like a worthy candidate… His Hawk bonafides are in order…

But, one has to wonder how the National Search Firm weighs Hawk bonafides when ranking candidates? Indeed, one has to question if they matter at all… I don’t think they are part of the equation anymore…

The St. Joseph’s AD is from Notre Dame… Not Drexel Hill…

There was a distinct Hawk way of doing things… Local relationships mattered… Status as alum mattered… If you were gonna terminate the employment of a loyal, highly respected 35 year employee you would put significant thought into exactly how you would carry it out…

Increasingly, basketball at all levels has become a business first and foremost… This is especially the case at the NCAA Division 1 level. Administrators, presidents and athletic directors, have tough decisions to make. The other day St. Joseph’s AD made such a tough decision when she decided to move on from legendary Coach Martelli.

How the AD and the President carried out the decision raises the question is there still “a way of doing things”?

Phil Martelli deserved a far more dignified and respectful separation from the University. More forethought could have been applied. Just doesn’t look right… Maybe that doesn’t matter anymore…

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Phil Martelli, Winningest Coach in SJU History

The Hawk community at St. Joseph’s has always been like a family. Clearly, decisions have been made to take a “National” approach to the business of college basketball. I’m sure many are all too happy to discard what they consider “Mom and Pop” approaches.

But… Keep in mind… Ramsay, Lynam, Boyle and Martelli would NOT have made the national search firm short list at the time of their hiring. My guy’s resume is stronger than all of theirs at the time of their hiring and he probably won’t be considered.

Oh well…

All I ask is that you give him full and fair consideration… Don’t act like you can’t see that Hawk standing right there looking all “experienced and qualified.”

Come on with the bullshit… Treat him right during this “process.”

 

Suburban Hoops: James Nelson Stewart on District 1

By James Nelson Stewart

District 1 6A playoffs are heating up. The quarterfinals have 4 interesting games.

#5 Norristown (19-5) at #4 Pennridge(22-3)– 2 teams without a lot of size. Very well coached teams . Navy Commit 6-3 Sr Sean Yoder is the headliner for Pennridge but 6-5 Sr Jonathan Post provides help for Pennridge. Norristown is led by Sr quartet (Mikeel Allen, Tyler Lyons, Marcus Sanford and Xavier Edwards) and 3 Sophomores (Nizer Kinney, Aaron Reddish and Willie Anderson Jr.).

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Sean Yoder, Navy Commit

#6 Chester(18-4) at #3 Lower Merion(22-2) – historically two of the Top teams in District 1. This year is no different. Chester is led by 6-4 Sophomore Double-Double Machine Karell Watkins and 5-11 Sr G Man-Man Smith and they are hot at the right time with a 14 game winning streak. Lower Merion is led by 6-6 Sr Columbia Commit Jack Forrest and 6-2 Sr G Steve Payne.

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Michael Smith, Chester (left)

 

#7 Methacton(21-5) at #2 Coatesville(24-1) – this has a chance to be a classic!!! Methacton, which has already beaten Neumann-Goretti this year is led by 6-3 Sr Dave Duda and 6-9 Jr Jeff Woodward. 5-11 Sr Brett Eberly and 6-4 Jr Erik Timko provides additional shooting for Methacton. Coatesville is led by 5-8 Jr. dynamo Jhamirr Brickus, one of the most electrifying players in the area. But riding along side of him is 5-8 Jr 2 sport MONSTER Dupree Bryant, who is rounding into basketball shape at the right time. Seniors Dymere Miller, Tione Holmes and Aaron Young provide shooting, toughness and defense for Coatesville

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David Duda, East Stroudsburg Commit

#8 Perk Valley(20-6) at #1 Abington(24-1) -2 very different styles in this matchup. Perk Valley who is led by 6-4 Sr Shooter/Baseball Star Tyler Strechay, 5-11 Sr G Zach Krause and 6-3 Sophomore Kameron Parks. They are disciplined and their zone defense can cause many problems. But they have a HUGE task ahead of them. The 2 time defending District champions await them. 6-8 Sr Villanova Signee Eric Dixon and 6-6 Sr Penn Signee Lucas Monroe have both taken their games to the NEXT level. Dixon is the All Time Leading Scorer at Abington and is having a season for the ages. While the Swiss Army Knife Lucas Monroe has just went over 1,000 points for his HS career. But they aren’t alone, Abington’s unheralded Support players have come up Huge in big moments. Sr Darious Brown, Sr Maurice Henry, Sr Derek Sussman and Jr Manir Waller have provided timely shooting and solid defense.

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Eric Dixon, Villanova Commit

 

I see 3 very close Pick-um type games with Abington being the only team that I would say has a clear advantage over the visiting team.

Love to hear people’s thoughts and predictions on these games.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…