Open Gym: Archbishop Wood

Catholic League Champions ✓

State Champions ✓

Top 25 Nationally ✓

Archbishop Wood, under Head Coach, John Mosco had one of the great seasons in recent memory.  The 2016-17 season was the greatest in the history of the Wood program. That team featured 5 or 6 Division 1 basketball players.

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Wood Assistant Chris Roantree addresses the team at the end of workout

What’s up with this years version? While they return 4 bona fide D1 prospects in the senior class, there are some questions… They lost the “maestro”… As good as the other Wood players are, everyone that watched them realized that Collin Gillespie made each and every one of them better. Alas, he has moved on to bigger and better things… his “big games” are no longer in the Palestra… He now plays in the Wells Fargo Center and Madison Square Garden.

His probable replacement is a prodigy… Rahsool Diggins has a game well beyond his years. He has a tight and smooth handle. He is equally adept pushing the rock with either hand. His court vision is excellent. His willingness to attack belies his youthful appearance. In an era where 16 year old bearded freshman are commonplace, Diggins looks like a fresh-faced middle schooler. His much older teammates have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. It is readily apparent that they respect his game.

Still…

One wonders: How will he hold up against Kyle Thompson and Darius Kinnel (St. Joseph’s Prep)? Will Chris Ings and Noah Warren (Neumann-Goretti) be able to get in his head? Will Allen Betrand, Lynn Greer and Hakim Hart (Roman Catholic) be able to push him around? Will scoring guards like Patrick Robinson (Conwell-Egan) and Isaiah Wong (Bonner) force him in to mismatches? Will Antwuan “Booty” Butler be able to “youngbul” him?

The answers to these questions will very likely determine the fate of this years Wood team. Mosco and his assistants may have to take a page out of the hockey playbook. Prodigies like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby needed space to operate. The “tough guys” on the team made sure they were accorded the necessary space.

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Tyree Pickron (Quinnipiac Commit) & Andrew Funk (Bucknell Commit)

Junior forward Julius Phillips, along with senior guards Tyree Pickron (Quinnipiac commit) and Andrew Funk (Bucknell commit) are very tough and gritty basketball players. If they can combine with 6’11” senior center Seth Pinckney and 6’7″ senior power forward Karrington Wallace to give young Diggins some space on offense and support him on defense, Wood can reclaim their place at the top of the Catholic League.

It’s gonna take a team effort to replace the maestro… Diggins exhibits all requisite skills but he is just a kid and he has played ZERO (0) varsity Catholic League games. Watching him today, I realized he will be problem as sophomore, junior and senior. The boy is nice!

If the seniors take a page out of the hockey playbook and make sure the kid has the space and support he needs as he adjusts to one of the toughest high school leagues in the country, Wood will be right back at the Palestra in front of a standing room only crowd of 9,000+ this winter.

Yo Johnny Mos… The Flyers phone number is  215-218-7825!

 

 

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Tribulations of a Basketball Junkie: Martin L. King Let Me Down!

I confess… I am an addict… I am a degenerate basketball junkie…

I drive all over the Greater Philadelphia Region and beyond in search of my fix…

I NEED to see good competitive, well played basketball games! My addiction is full blown!

In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve been to Baltimore, Bensalem, Bryn Mawr, Malvern, Souderton, 54th and City Ave., 33rd and Walnut and tonight Solly Ave in Northeast Philadelphia chasing… I’ve seen Division 1, Division 2, Division 3, JUCO and high school contests.

All in search of a really good fuckin’ basketball game. Sometimes I come across that good, good…

For example, last Thursday, I watched Martin L. King take mighty Imhotep, ranked 6th in the nation, to the brink of defeat. It was really, really UGLY, but it was GOOD… In a hard fought defeat, King controlled the game throughout much of the first three quarters before falling 53-49 in overtime. Photo below (PennLive/Daniel Gallen)

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That game was full of missed shots, fouls, turnovers… It more closely resembled a bare-knuckle backyard brawl than a basketball game. Shit… I kept waiting to see Kimbo Slice emerge from the King huddle and check in the game. Even though he never appeared, I got my fix… I did witness Wil McNair, standing 6’10” and weighing about 250 lbs team with 6’6” 225 lb Elijah Kiah-El to meet Imhotep’s extraordinary athletes at the rim time after time. Repeatedly, Donta Scott, Dave Beatty and Koby Thomas tried to go over and through the King bigs. Over and over, they were turned away, shots rejected. Repeatedly, they regrouped, reloaded and came back to challenge the big boys somewhere near or over the rim.

This was “good basketball”… Not pretty, not elegant, not fluid… But good…

In the end, Imhotep’s lightning quick superstar Daron “Fatts” Russell was able to impose himself on the less experienced King guards and will Imhotep to the Public League title. Fatts is dat dude! The Pub’s best player on the best team got it done. Nonetheless, I was impressed with King’s performance and their effort.

For a few days, at least, my urges were satiated…

However, the monkey soon reappeared on my back… I was unable to resist the pull of the Palestra, the Catholic League Championship was calling me…

“Gonna be some GOOD basketball” (photo by Zamani Feelings)

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The matchup featured the Philly player having the greatest high school career, Quade Green, going against the player having the greatest high school season, Collin Gillespie. Had to be there..

We all know how that ended… Green and Neumann-Goretti jumped out early and took control of the game. He was able to impose his will and Wood was down 13 at the half, with Gilllespie limited to a mere 2 points… Things looked bleak…

Truth be told… an informal survey among several media members (Randy Miller, Amauro Austin and myself) at halftime gave Wood less than a snowball’s chance in hell to comeback and win… But…

Collin Gillespie is a BAD MUTHAFUCKA!

He finished with 24 points and Wood wins going away.

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This set up what seemed to be an intriguing matchup tonight. Big, bruising, intimidating, aggressive Martin L. King versus the Wood basketball orchestra conducted by Maestro Gillespie.

Now… we all know junkies don’t think straight… Why should I be any different?

Listen to this dumb shit…

I told several of my friends, I think Martin L. King might be able to win. After playing to a full house of 9,000+ in the majestic Palestra, the tiny gym on Solly Ave. couldn’t be an exciting venue. After defeating Neuman-Goretti, Quade Green and Carl Arrigale for the second time this season, Wood had to ripe for a let down. Right? McNair and Kiah-El would be problematic for the competitive, determined and rail thin Seth Pickney. Right?

I envisioned a scenario where the bigger, stronger King players would impose themselves on Wood and cause the symphony to miss a few notes for a change. No way Wood would be able just pick apart Sean Colson’s staunch defense. After all, King just hit mighty Imhotep with body blows, upper cuts and right crosses for four full quarters before finally yielding in overtime.

King’s toughness would be problematic for Wood’s precision… Right?

Fuuuuuuuuuuck no!

How bad was the beat down? Let me try to explain… Let’s put it in a comparative context…

Those of you of a certain age might remember the “body bag game” between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins 27 years ago. The score that Monday Night was 28-14. A defeat for sure, but nothing epic is reflected in that score. To get a true sense of the magnitude of that particular beat down, one has examine the injury report.

Buddy Ryan’s defense knocked NINE (9) Redskins out of the game with injuries… Nine players left the game and did not return… Simply stated, it was a complete ASS Whuppin…

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I really hadn’t thought about that game until riding home from the Wood-MLK game trying to think of an adequate comparison for what I just watched. How do I convey the extent to which the Catholic League champ crushed the soul of one of the Public League powers?

There I sat, in the balcony with bleachers at full capacity… Good thing the Fire Marshall’s kid wasn’t playing… eagerly anticipating a “good game”…

I was ready…

I needed my fix… I needed a good, competitive and hard-fought basketball game…

Man… Let me tell you… King let me down… Right out the gate…

After 3 minutes of play, the score was Wood 16 – Martin L. King 2.

From there, shit went downhill.

The maestro was in his bag…. Weaving in an out of the King defense, Gillespie dribbled effortlessly right around the King bigs until he located one of his snipers standing, feet set, elbows cocked and ready to rain 3’s.

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The net was barely moving. One after the other, Cerruti, Pickron and Funk hit the back of rim and the ball fell straight down. You could see it developing, Gillespie created space… off a screen, crossover or an in and out dribble absconded his defender… on the loose, he came straight at the King bigs, head up, surveying the entire court… As soon as defenders committed he made a no look and extremely accurate skip pass to Cerruti, Pickron or Funk… for 3…. Splash!

After 4 minutes of play, Wood 21, MLK 6…

It’s worth noting, the Wood wings weren’t the only ones having fun… Seth Pickney and Julius Phillips caught the occasional Wood miss and slammed the ball back through the rim with tremendous force. Hanging on the rim, like second graders discovering monkey bars for the first time, they severely tested the springs in the breakaway mechanism.

With 38 seconds left in the 1st half, Wood 43, MLK 24…

I’m almost ashamed to admit I couldn’t shake my junkie tendencies… I kept hoping and believing the King team I watched against Imhotep would somehow make an appearance. I waited for a run… I pleaded for several consecutive stops on the defensive end… I wanted to see some “good basketball!”

I was trippin’…

With 4:08 left in the game, Wood 81, MLK 43…

Alas, I had to deal with the fact that I wouldn’t get my fix tonight… I had to face facts… King let me down…

No good basketball on Solly Ave… Just a good ol’ fashioned “Ass Whuppin”…

Yo… What time Booty play Quade tomorrow?

Collin Gillespie: Catholic League Champion

They both wear number 1…

Quade Green has the bigger rep. He’s a Team USA Gold Medalist… He’s a McDonald’s All-American… He will play in the Jordan Brand game… He killed Nike’s EYBL last summer… He will travel to the land of “One and Dones” when he joins the vaunted Kentucky Wildcat program in the fall.

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Collin Gillespie, on the other hand, was a nice Catholic League guard… Last year, he tended to defer to another nice Catholic League guard, Tommy Funk. Funk ended up at West Point, where he was named to the Patriot League All-Rookie team. Nice stuff… But… Light years away from the land of “One and Dones.” Unlike Quade who shined on the brightest summer stage at the Peach Jam, Collin plied his trade on the equivalent of the AAU “Chitlin’ Circuit”. As a member of Nike Team Final’s “B Team” he played in Spooky Nook, King of Prussia and Neptune, NJ. As late as December, Collin was sitting on scholarship offers from Basketball powers Albany and Maine.

Then over a period of about 8 days, he received offers from Rider, Drexel, Delaware and Hofstra. All of sudden, he was becoming “sexy”… The word was getting out…

He was the darling of mid-majors… His performances were becoming impossible to overlook… 25 in a win over suburban power Abington… 27 in blowout over Scranton Prep… 27 in a tough loss to Father Judge… 29 in win over 2-time defending Catholic League and State Champion Roman Catholic… All this while playing the role of a traditional pass-first point guard.

If you paid close attention to the crowds at these games, there was always a well-dressed guy lurking on the fringes of the crowd. He tried to blend in, but it was tough. He was always surrounded by friends and passionate Philly hoop heads peppering him with question after question… Ashley Howard, Villanova Assistant Coach, was stalking Collin Gillespie.

Unlike so many other college coaches, Ashley Howard trusted his own eyes. Like his mentor, the legendary Claude Gross, Ashley determined on his own that Collin Gillespie could really fucking play basketball. He never had to ask: “Who else is recruiting him?” He watched him closely game after game after game… He concluded that Gillespie could play at Villanova. Based on that determination alone he brought his boss, National Coach of the Year, Jay Wright out to see what he had been witnessing for weeks.

They sat together during the first matchup between the two number 1s… They were not disappointed. Mr. Green put up 30 points in a valiant effort. The night, however, belonged to Mr. Gillespie! He poured in 42 points while playing a flawless floor game to lead Wood, a football and girl’s basketball school, to the top of the Catholic League standings.

Those who were there, knew what they witnessed. It was now undeniable… Gillespie is a bad muthafucka! Heard it in the gym… Heard it in the parking lot… Heard it over the phone on the ride home… But… in the rematch, you had to like Green’s chance to redeem himself and the Neumann-Goretti juggernaut.

Well… they played tonight before an overflowing crowd of 9,000 plus. The Catholic League Championship was on the line. All the familiar faces were in the building… St. Joseph’s greats like Brian Warrick and Rashid Bey. Temple alums Lynn Greer and Levan Alston sat courtside. Representatives from every media outlet in the region clicked away on MacBook Pros. College coaches from near and far glad-handed their way through the thick crowd. In the end, everyone agreed, Quade Green is a magnificent high school player. But… After the game, they were all saying the same thing…

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Collin Gillespie is a “Bad Muthafucka”! Heard it in the gym… Heard it in the parking lot… Heard it over the phone on the ride home…