There is a huge demand for high quality basketball… Hoopheads want to watch talented players in tightly contested games… On one hand, elite high school programs throughout the mid-Atlantic region are delivering… On the other hand, College programs? Not so much…
In recent weeks, Black Cager Sports has covered some of the finest scholastic basketball America has to offer. We were courtside for Camden vs Roman Catholic, Neumann-Goretti vs Roman Catholic, Reading vs Wilson West Lawn, Archbishop Wood vs Roman Catholic, Neumann-Goretti vs Archbishop Wood, Camden vs Roselle Catholic and Poly (MD) vs St. Frances (MD).
These were wonderful games featuring highly ranked players. Nearly every contest featured a few HIGH major Division 1 prospects and, in some cases, as many as 10 or 11 low to mid-major D1 prospects were on the floor at the same time.
The strong thirst for high level basketball is evidenced by the insatiable demand for tickets to these games. There was, literally speaking, not any empty seat available for any of these contests. The Camden/Roman game, Reading/Wilson game and Philadelphia Catholic League games were sold out within hours of the tickets being made available.
The fact that tickets were NOT available only served as a slight deterrent to dedicated and determined Philadelphia area hoopheads. It merely added an element of creativity to the mission… They showed up anyway looking for a side door, a window, a heating duct… Any possible means of ingress. When all else fails, some deploy a high powered ‘blitz’ that hasn’t been seen round these parts since the departure of legendary Eagles coach Buddy Ryan.
Shit is that serious… Tickets to elite HS school basketball tickets move like Popeye’s chicken sandwiches when they first return to the menu.
I absolutely love packed gyms, highly ranked teams, intense rivalries and good players. This is basketball as it was meant to be played. The high schools have it in abundance.
Philadelphia area colleges, for the most part, are not delivering a product of similar quality. The Big 5 has become almost an afterthought to all but the most dedicated alums. There is one exception of course, Villanova exists on a separate planet. The Wildcats have watched their blood change from red to blue over the last ten years or so. Thier ascent has been accompanied by an ever expanding cadre of front runners joinging the Main Line movement.
The rest are struggling mightily… After a solid start, Temple is 10-9 (2-5) and sit in 10th place in American Athletic Conference. La Salle also had a decent non-conference run and came back to earth once league play began. The Explorers are also 10-9 (1-6) and currently in 13th place in the A10. Last year’s Big 5 champion Penn Quakers are floundering at 8-7 (0-2 in the Ivy League). After seven league games, St. Joseph’s finds itself 7 games out of first place in the A10. The Hawks are 4-16 (0-7) on the season.
Outside of Villanova, the college basketball landscape in Philly barren…
Predictably, fans have been avoiding the Liacouris, Gola and Hagan arenas in droves. Even the fabled Palestra is more than half empty most nights. Meanwhile, true hoopheads have been climbing on top of one another for an opportunity to watch the finest high school teams in the area. As I noted earlier, people really want to see good competitive basketball game between strong and familiar teams featuring good players.
While high school basketball is very popular throughout the mid-Atlantic region, there are some significant and noticeable regional differences worth mentioning. It’s all good, but there are some decidedly different flavors…
Here, I’ll touch on a few variations that exist between elite high school basketball in Baltimore, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
First up, the venues… In Philadelphia, games featuring 10-12 D1 prospects are often played in HS gyms with a maximum capacity of 600-800 spectators. To their credit, school administrators usually turn a blind eyes to those maximum capacity certificates hanging on the walls. As much as humanly possible, they try to accommodate the hungry and thirsty fanbase. They sell tickets til it just not possible to fit more human beings into the gyms. As a result, in most games, there is not a single free square foot of space in the gym that is NOT dedicated to the actual game.
Referees are constantly tasked with gently reminding overzealous and passionate throngs to give the kids just a lil’ space so they can inbounds the ball along the baseline. Fully engaged fans can be found breathing down the necks of the players who can literally discern what fans had for lunch or whether they smoked ‘loud’ or ‘Reggie’ in the parking lot.
It’s an intense atmosphere for sure… For a lil’ over two hours on game days, Roman, Wood and Neumann-Goretti gyms are packed tighter than slave ships traversing the Atlantic in the early 1800’s. The sheer number of excited, energetic and highly emotional humans easily overwhelms the climate control systems in these decades old facilities.
They get HOT as shit. By the 4th quarter, they feel like an oven set on ”HELL!”
Loyal fans happily endure the momentary discomfort… What are they gonna do? Where are the alternatives? Are they gonna go watch college games featuring losing teams with players from countries, counties and towns they can’t pronounce?
Naaaaah… Philly hoopheads wanna see Philly Ballers!
In Baltimore, big HS games are played in Division 1 facilities. Last year, big games were played in Towson’s SECU Arena which seats 5,200. Yesterday, I attended the St. Frances v Poly game at the 4,000 seat Talmadge L. Hill Field House on the campus of Morgan State University
They have it figured out…
In Philadelphia, one constantly hears that you cannot play high school games in Division 1 facilities. In Baltimore, One can constantly attend high school games played in Division 1 facilities.
What gives? We’ll try to clear up the discrepancy and report back to you…
Every single seat was filled well before tip-off at the Hill Field House yesterday. Indeed, there were still hundreds in a line to purchase tickets that wrapped around the arena 15 minutes before tip-off. Just like in Philadelphia, the authorities didn’t pay close attention to that pesky maximum capacity certificate hanging in plain view.
Get this… The price of admission was $20 for a boys and girls doubleheader. Using “old” math skills I learned in the early 1970s, 4,000 times $20 equals a gate of about $80,000. In contrast, Camden High School home games cost $3. If Camden attract 1,000 fans to Woodrow Wilson HS the game will generate $3,000.
Maybe that why high schools in Maryland are able to afford shot clocks…
That’s another major difference between the brand of basketball played in Baltimore and that played in Philadelphia.
The presence of the 30 second shot clock changes the game.
Coaches are forced to really coach down the stretch.
Good defense is immediately rewarded.
Perhaps, most importantly, players learn to play under conditions they will face for the rest of their playing careers.
Indeed, I haven’t seen a persuasive argument AGAINST shot clocks in basketball… Ever…
There’s one more difference between HS hoops in the Philly and Baltimore that’s worthy of discussion. The cultural feel varies considerably…
The very best Philadelphia High School games have an old-school Big 5 feel to them. The hard-core hoophead alums of Roman, Wood and Neumann-Goretti for the most part are middle-aged white males. These guys are fervent supporters of the young men currently playing for their alma maters. It’s a wonderful thing to see diverse crowds coming together to share a scholastic basketball experience.
High quality Catholic League basketball games are, arguably, the most diverse regularly scheduled gatherings in Philadelphia.
It’s a beautiful thing and it portends well for the role that sports can have in building and maintaining a semblance of unity in a city of racially stratified neighborhoods. Catholic League basketball in Philadelphia is truly a multicultural and multiracial phenomena.
The very best high school basketball in Baltimore is much different…
Games featuring the top teams and players have a decidedly HBCU homecoming feel to them. The alums, are Black, the fans are Black, the cheerleaders are Black, the ticket takers are Black, the security guards are Black, the athletic Directors are Black, the coaches are Black, the vendors are Black… Yesterday, there were well over 4,000 people in the Hill Field House and I might have seen a total of 10-12 white people.
It’s a wonderful thing to see Black people coming together to share a scholastic basketball experience. The manner in which people greet one another… The chants… The cheers… The food at concession stands… Everything is different when it’s done by Blacks for Blacks.
Every so often, I would sneak glance at the door… I was waiting for Avon, Slim Charles, Bodie Broadus and Wee Bey... How would they get past the metal detectors? Then I remembered Wee Bey is still upstate with Chris Partlow’s homicidal ass and Bodie is dead. So, I just watched a helluva high school basketball game.
St. Frances, led by their outstanding senior point guard, Ace Baldwin (VCU commit) 13 points, 8 assists and 5 steals, defeated No. 1 and nationally ranked Poly, 57-53. Senior forward Jamal West (South Alabama commit) contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds in the victory over Poly, which was led by Marquette commit Justin Lewis (18 points) and Brandon Murray (15 points).
As usual, the hospitality shown to Black Cager Sports was beyond reproach. Team Melo Directors Bay Frazier, Julian Brown (pictured, above right) and St. Frances Academy Head Coach, Nick Myles always make sure Black Cager Sports feels right at home in the Charm City. The Baltimore HS basketball experience is not necessarily better than that of Philadelphia, but it certainly is different, very different.
Man… If we can get these colleges back on track…