Eric Dixon on La Salle’s Victory at Neumann-Goretti

By Eric Dixon

January 22, 2019

The LaSalle High School Explorers entered the Neumann-Goretti Saints den last night prepared to defend their undefeated record against an energetic and determined, even if outsized, hostile host. The matchups were the talk of the afternoon. How would the shorter Saints deal with the size of LaSalle’s tall and skilled front line? Would Hakim Byrd continue his impressive play against one of the more underrated, but no less effective point guards in the PCL, Allen Powell?

After some scheduling mishaps, we finally got some answers to these questions and more on a chilly night in South Philly. Both teams were supported by vocal contingents that made their feelings known early and often throughout the contest.

As the game started it seemed as if the frigid conditions outside were affecting the marksmanship of both teams as both shot the ball poorly in the early going. N-G used a physical, energetic style of defense to get LaSalle rattled, creating a couple turnovers that lead to an early 8-4 lead for the Saints. The first quarter ended with the two normally high scoring teams combining for just 19 points with N-G up 10 to 9.

Coach Mike McKee, head coach of the Explorers, explained what he thought the early issues were related to. “(Neumann-Goretti) has a high talent level and you’re not going to be able to just dribble around them.” Once LaSalle started moving the ball with the pass they we were able to get better shots and were able to shake some the frost off their shots.

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La Salle HS Coach Mike McKee

The highlight of the first quarter was the play of Allen Powell and Hakim Byrd, the teams respective point guards who combined for 9 points. Powell showed off his impressive first step and improving jump shot while Byrd used his defensive prowess and finishing ability to stoke his team to a tenuous 1 point lead. In the second quarter the visitors made getting Konrad Kizska going a priority. The 6-7 Princeton commit opened the frame with a three and garnered 7 points in the quarter. Kahlil Diarrah came off the bench to bury two corner threes to expand the LaSalle lead.

The Saints continued to see normally reliable shots fall short or go in-and-out. This offensive ineffectiveness was highlighted by Chris Ings, a Rider University commit and explosive scorer who came in averaging over 19 ppg, totaling just one point in the half. N-G scored a poultry 5 points in the second quarter, to trail 25-15 at the half.

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Chris Ings, Neumann-Goretti, Senior Guard

The third quarter began with Ings and the Saints asserting themselves as they righted their struggling offense, netting more points in the stanza than they did the entire first half. Byrd, who scored 16 for the game, hit 2 threes. Still, with Powell, Titus Beard and Kiszka, who finished with 18 points, leading the effort, the Explorers were able to keep them at arm’s length as they entered the fourth with a comfortable 13 point cushion.

Neumann-Goretti again made an admirable run in the fourth with the charge being led by Ings and senior Ja’Cor Smith, who scored a team high 17 points in the game. However, the comeback was stymied by an untimely technical foul call that would have cut the Explorer’s advantage to 7 and provided some much needed momentum to the home team. Powell, who finished with 22 points, was sensational down the stretch from the line burying 7 of 9 in the quarter. He shot 10 of 12 from the charity stripe for the game.

Afterwards, Coach McKee was reticent in talking about his teams “ pleasantly surprising” 16-0 season thus far. “We are take them one game at a time. We been tested and were again tested tonight.” In his first year at LaSalle, is appreciative of the “veteran group” of players and the resiliency of his team throughout the impressive start.

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Carl Arrigale, Neumann-Goretti Head Coach

Carl Arrigale, the legendary coach with 40 years of experience, is appreciative of the fact that it’s still early enough in the season for his 9-4 team, which now has two league losses, to get back on track. The current PCL landscape with its high degree of parity and lack of a truly dominant team reminds him of his third or fourth season when they had some early struggles and were still able “win the league from 4th place.”

Going in Arrigale wanted to play an uptempo “high possession” type game but McKee’s team was resistant and managed to control the pace and play their game. Coach Arrigale also thought his team’s impatience contributed to first half offensive woes. “We wanted to get inside their length and play inside out, but… they were in a matchup zone, which you have to treat like a man to man, and we got a little confused and lost patience.”

Coach McKee, a well-traveled former college assistant and NBA advance scout, was able to get his team to play with a even temperament and maintain control, even as N-G employed a frenetic, physical style of defense. This style caused the Explorers to enter the bonus before the 5 minute mark of the fourth quarter, when the officials seemed to tighten and penalize both teams for physicality or chippiness.

The star of the game was Allen Powell. He was humble after game, mirroring the even temperament that his team played within the close confines of the crowded gym. Powell noted that he didn’t vary his routine to prepare for his bally-hooed matchup with Ings and Byrd.

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Allen Powell, La Salle Senior Point Guard

“I didn’t do anything (special). I prepare for every game the same,” he said.

Powell is one of the more heralded prospects in the area, but he said that is starting to change. He mentioned that his recruitment is starting to pick up. Although no offers have been extended just yet, he said schools such as Hofstra and California State Bakersfield have been in frequent contact.

“Allen has an impressive first step. Schools are missing out on him,” according to Coach McKee.

A lot of people seem to have overlooked Powell and his LaSalle High School teammates. That’s definitely starting to change.

Lynn Greer and Hakim Byrd: Philly Guards

The ‘Philly Guard’ is a thing…

Throughout the basketball world, especially at the AAU/Grassroots, scholastic, collegiate and professional levels there is a common understanding about what it means to be a ‘Philly Guard.’ Nasty, tough, persistent and willing do whatever it takes to win a basketball contest.

This ‘Philly Guard’ concept has been around for more than 6 decades. John Chaney (Ben Franklin), Tee Parham (Northeast HS), Guy Rodgers (Northeast HS), Wali Jones (Overbrook HS), Walt Hazzard (Overbrook HS), Andre McCarter (Overbrook HS) and Mo Howard (St. Joseph’s Prep) embodied the concept. Among hard core Philly hoop heads of a certain age, these are some of the names that immediately come to mind when thinking about ‘Philly Guards.’

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Maurice ‘Mo’ Howard (center) at University of Maryland practice

Across the country, Earl Monroe (Bartram), Pooh Richardson (Ben Franklin) were probably the best known ‘Philly Guards’ until Kyle Lowry (Cardinal Dougherty) embarked upon his own Hall of Fame level career.

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Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

The Philly Guard tree is a gift that keeps on giving. On Friday, January 18, 2019 about 1,500 Philly Hoop Heads were treated to phenomenal performances by two of the youngest fruit to fall off the tree.

Lynn Greer, III led his Roman Catholic Cahillites into battle against the Neumann-Goretti Saints, led by Hakim Byrd. As always, this was a BIG FUCKIN’ GAME! These two powerhouse programs have dominated the Catholic League over the past two decades.

Of the two, Greer is the far better known and more highly regarded commodity. He was literally born into it… His grandfather Lynn Greer, played on Edison High’s 1969 city championship team, which featured stars Romie Thomas and Reggie Kitchen. He then went on to play for Virginia State in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the oldest Black college sports conference in the nation. Greer was a four-year starter, the team captain (1971-73), an honorable mention All-State (1972), an all-conference standout (1972 and 1973), and a second-team All-State honoree (1973). He was drafted by the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Carolina Cougars and by the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Greer’s father, Lynn Greer, Jr. was a flat-out superstar performer for Temple from 1997 through 2002. Greer left the Owls as the program’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,099 points.  Greer had one of the finest offensive seasons in Big 5 history as a senior. In 2001-02, he averaged 23.2 points, piling up 719 points, while earning first team all-conference, all-district and Philadelphia Big 5 Most Valuable Player honors.

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Lynn Greer, Jr., Temple and Big 5 Hall of Famer

A Philadelphia Public League product (Engineering and Science HS), like his father before him, Greer also set still-standing school records for single-season three-point accuracy (.472) and career free throw percentage (.852).  He is Temple’s all-time leader in games played (137) and was a member of four NCAA Tournament teams, including two Elite Eight trips (1999, 2001), and one NIT Final Four (2002) in his career.  Upon graduation, he played one season in the NBA and went on to a 12-year professional career overseas.

Lynn Greer III, or LG3 as he is affectionately known, was expected to be very good. It’s in his DNA. He was handed the ball immediately upon arriving at Broad and Vine. He had a rock solid freshman season. He turned in a very memorable performance against another highly regarded Philly Guard when he battled McDonald’s All-American Quade Green head-to-head at Holy Family University. But the ‘man’ among Philly Guards that season, by any reasonable measure was yet another Philly Guard, Archbishop Wood’s Collin Gillespie. The rookie Greer, however, would go on to average 11.4 ppg as a freshman while being named 3rd team All-Catholic.

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Lynn Greer, III, Roman Catholic High School

He made huge strides as a sophomore when he averaged 16.8 mpg and helped lead Roman to Catholic League and PIAA State Championships. Over that stretch, Greer’s name became nationally known. He was ranked in the top 100 by most Scouting Services and named to the USA National team. He briefly transferred to a National Prep powerhouse, Oak Hill Academy, for the start of his senior season.

Like Greer III, Binghamton University’s Samuel Sessoms, Austin Peay University’s Antwuan ‘Booty” Butler, Olympus Prep’s Yazid Powell and Archbishop Wood’s Jalen Stinson, Neuman-Goretti’s Hakim Byrd spent hundreds of hours in the hot, sweaty nondiscript crucible that is the James L. Wright Recreation Center while in the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grades. Greer and Byrd were backcourt mates in the Bottom Ballers grassroots program and they teamed up to terrorize middle school programs for the better part of three years.

On Friday, they were opponents, starting point guards in the premier programs in the esteemed Philadelphia Catholic League.  However, one should note that Byrd’s path to gaining control of the point guard position was much rockier than Greer’s. Whereas Greer was named the Roman point guard when the homeroom bell sounded the first day of school freshman year, Byrd had to rumble his way in over 24 months.

So, the Bottom Baller teammates traveled far different routes to their confrontation Friday night. Byrd played JV as a freshman. Coming back from injury as sophomore, he made the decision to split time between JV and varsity.

Seated next to Byrd’s father, Ronald, at one JV game, I asked why was Hakim playing when he was clearly far more skilled than 99.99999% of JV players. His Dad said that he and his son decided that they needed game reps. While he was playing in every varsity game, his minutes were sporadic and he wanted stay sharp especially after missing time with an injury.

Imagine that… No talk of transferring… No sulking… No bitching…

Hakim Byrd and his father wanted to play in games! They were NOT worried about appearances. They didn’t give FUCK what anyone had to say… They were NOT worried about points. They just wanted to stay sharp and get better. That’s the Bottom Baller way! It has paid off handsomely… This year, Byrd has taken control of the reigns for the Saints. He is the Neumann-Goretti point guard deftly running the show.

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Hakim Bryd, Neumann-Goretti point guard

The show came to CCP on Friday evening. There was a palpable buzz in the air surrounding the matchup. After all, Roman has 3 of the last 4 Catholic League Championships and 31 overall. Neumann-Goretti has 20 titles.

But, what many wanted to see was the game within the game. I, for one, eagerly looked forward to the point guard matchup between the two Bottom Baller alums. They did not disappoint. Greer played one of his finest games. His handle was flawless. His jumpshot was locked in. His decision-making was crisp. He put the Cahillites on his back early as they jumped out to a 22-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Then Hakim Byrd turned it on, He exploded for 14 points in the second quarter as Neumann-Goretti came back to take a 38-37 halftime lead. Boy… was it fun to watch. Byrd showed everybody why he needs to be considered for the the title as the best point guard in the Philly. He is lightning quick and it’s damn near impossible to stay in front of him. He can consistently get to the rim despite his lack of height. While he doesn’t have an imposing frame, he compensates with BIG FUCKIN’ BALLS, great heart and athleticism. Byrd plays bigger than he is. One of the best passers in the Philly. He is also an outstanding scorer when its needed. He is capable of starting and finishing the break and taking his man one-on-one. Byrd has improved his jump shot dramatically since his freshman season. He forces defenders to respect his three point shot, a key to his development. He is becoming a very consistent catch and shoot guy. But he makes a killing off the dribble. This kid is extremely efficient in general offensively.

Byrd is, unquestionably, a Division 1 point guard prospect.

So we have two real Philly guards. One with a long family legacy and big reputation. The other a scrappy, feisty, fast, determined, very talented and virtually unknown finally taking control of the ball this year.

It’s only right that they both finished with exactly 27 points. Their high level of play made the game extraordinarily enjoyable to watch. It was a very ‘clean’ game. Very few silly mistakes and blown assignments. The guard play was first rate.

If anyone is unclear what it means to be a ‘Philly guard’, send them a link to this game.

These two, trained in those fierce Bottom Baller practices, are carrying the long proud tradition forward.

Lynn Greer is a national prospect. He’s long been considered one of the best point guards in the nation and deservedly so. You knew that…

Hakim Byrd is right on his ass… Now you know that…

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!

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…

A Great… Sloppy, Mistake-Filled… Catholic League Game

Some prefer to get dressed up and head downtown to one Stephen Starr’s restaurants for what they consider a “great” meal. The white linen tablecloths and the waiters with the European accents add to the ambiance for them. The meticulous presentation of the entree is part of the experience. The carefully cut steak, the perfectly positioned asparagus spears and the pricey bottle of wine… For many, it’s all part and parcel of a “great” meal…

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Me… I’d much rather head throw on some sweats and head over to Mom-Mom’s house… Once there, I grab one to those trays that you use to eat in front of the TV. With my seating squared away, I head for the kitchen… No waiters… No foreign accents… Just a bunch of perfectly prepared soul food… fried chicken, fried fish, ribs, potato salad, potato salad, greens, yams, biscuits… You know the rest… Keep the wine… Welch’s grape juice will do just fine…

Presentation is not a consideration… Just pile it on… Need some of everything… The messier the plate, the better…

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The Neumann-Goretti win of Roman Catholic on Friday night was just like a plate at Mom-Mom’s… It was sloppy, it had a little bit of everything… turnovers, hard fouls, elbows, controversial calls, suffocating defense, poor shot selection, mental mistakes, etc…

It was also good as shit… Just like that plate at Mom-Mom’s…

Let me be clear… Roman Catholic has a very good high school basketball team… Shit… They have four (4) legitimate Division 1 players in the starting 5…

They are also well coached…

The problem is they only use two other players…

If they were playing in Ice Cube’s 3 on 3 format, they would be overwhelming favorites…

However, they are playing 5 on 5 scholastic basketball… And, Neumann-Goretti plays 8 very good players…

Depth was the difference…

At the start of the game and at the start of the second half, Roman was VERY impressive. Seth Lundy, Hakim Hart, Allen Betrand and Lynn Greer jumped out on Neumann-Goretti… In both halves Roman managed to separate themselves a lil’ bit… But inevitably, Neumann-Goretti was able to wear them down…

When Neuman-Goretti goes to the bench, they bring in TaQuan Woodley a 6’6″ freshman phenom… He impacts the game every time he comes on the floor…

Case in point, Neumann-Goretti’s underclassman bench player met Roman Catholic star forward Seth Lundy at the top of white square on a drive… He got his entire palm on the ball and proceeded to throw the ball and Lundy to the ground with force…

Daymmmmnnnn youngfella…

When they go to the bench, Neumann-Goretti becomes a different and in some ways better team…

Roman on the other hand, does not go to the bench… They rely on their four stars to play the entire 32 minutes… On most nights, they will be able to win that way… On this night it was not enough…

Not withstanding the presence of Roman’s four Division 1 prospects, the best player on the floor tonight was Neumann-Goretti’s Chris Ings.

Ings was really messing up everyone’s plate…

The junior point guard harassed Greer all over the court… He forced him rush his shots…

 

He forced him to turn the ball over and turn the ball over and turn the ball over…

Ings finished with 22 points, Greer finished with 7…

Neumann-Goretti also has a significant s”ize advantage in the low post. When Neumann-Goretti was struggling to create a shot in the second half, they made a determined effort get the ball in the low post to 6’9″ center Marcus Littles… He was able to muscle his way to field goals on consecutive possessions. These buckets helped stem the tide for Neumann-Goretti.

Roman Catholic’s Big 4 scored 51 of the team’s 54 points… But on this night, it just wasn’t enough to overcome Chris Ings and his gang of 8.

Sitting with friends, Temple legend, Howie Evans, Philly Pride Coach Howard Hudson and Ron Byrd from down the “Bottom,” it felt like I was at Mom-Mom’s house… Only better… The game was live and not on TV!

That felt like a playoff game… The kids on BOTH teams wanted to win… The pressure was palpable… Some handled it better than others…

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Chris Ings (right) scored 22 points

Chris Ings handled it best… and his team came away with the win as a result.

See y’all at the next one… Bring the sweet potato pie!