Kamal Yard Discusses Philly Pride and the Summer of 2020

This is a summer like no other…

Usually, by August 1st, college coaches have dropped the cost of a nice off-lease family car on the “books” at various grassroots/AAU events scattered across the country. In March, they would have made it out to the playoffs in the big states for sure. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida would have attracted hundreds of guys wearing golf shirts with University logos embroidered on their chests.

The last two weekends in April would have seen a full-out stampede as Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and the independent circuits would have gotten underway. The very best 15U, 16U and 17U basketball players would have competed in front of hundreds of NCAA Division 1 coaches looking for prospects that help them participate in March Madness over the next few years.

College coaches catching /grassroots AAU action

Venues would have been filled beyond capacity as parents, hoop heads, media members and college coaches shoe horn themselves into small gyms to watch VERY big high school athletes demonstrate their athletic prowess. Shoe company sponsored grassroots events may be the most NON-socially distant activities in all of sports. They are like basketball Mardi Gras. You find yourself saying “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” all day as you attempt to move about the facility.

You can tell what several thousand people had for lunch as you stand/sit hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder trying to catch a glimpse of the next Durant, Harden or Embid.

Peach Jam Crowd

Shoe company sponsored Grassroots/AAU basketball would have inevitably led to thousands of cases of coronavirus being spread among players, parents, fans, media members, coaches, trainers, security guards, workers, etc.

There was literally no option other than to shut down completely…

The last two weeks in June would been a preview to next year’s high school season. Hundreds, maybe thousands of high school teams, would have gotten together to compete in from of hundreds of Division 1 coaches in NCAA sanctioned high school “live period” events.

Unlike grassroots/AAU events, these events give kids an opportunity to play in front of the college coaches with their high school teammates. Kids that may be the 7th or 8th man on shoe company teams are stars on their high school teams. It’s an entirely different look for the kids. Kids deemed not good enough to make elite grassroots/AAU teams also get to play in front of the guys known for making “STRONG ASS OFFERS.” More importantly, they get to play in front of scores of D2, D3 and NAIA coaches looking for hidden gems that can move their program forward.

Coronavirus killed those opportunities this year…

The second weekend in July would have witnessed a shortage of jet fuel as every college coach in America would have made his way to North Augusta, South Carolina and Baltimore, Maryland for the Nike Peach Jam and the UAA Finals, respectively.

Nope… Not this year…

Peach Jam 2019

The weeks of July 20-23 (Monday-Thursday) and July 23-26 (Thursday-Sunday) would have seen two sessions of the 2020 NCAA College Basketball Academy take place at four regional sites.

University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah, WEST).
University of Winthrop (Rock Hill, South Carolina, SOUTH).
Wichita State University (Wichita, Kansas, MIDWEST).
University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut, EAST).

Naaaah… Also cancelled…

NCAA Basketball Academy

Everything was cancelled… Coaches have been relegated to their homes and forced to hone up in their technological skills as they try to recruit virtually.

It’s just not the same… Coronavirus has robbed the kids of the opportunity to prove themselves and earn scholarship offers worth $200,000 to $320,000 over four years.

Kids in the Philly area have been playing nonetheless. It’s what they do. Outside… In semi-structured open runs… In sweaty Church gyms… wherever there’s an available basket, kids have gotten together and played…

Just not in front of college coaches and not with their grassroots/AAU teammates…

Until today…

In a tightly controlled setting, Kamal Yard, Founder/Director of the Philly Pride Basketball Club put together an intimate day of hoops. Highly respectful of the easily transmissible virus that is raging throughout much of the nation, Yard and his associates checked the temperature of every person that entered the facility. The tightly controlled crowd of about 50 spectators was situated behind a net and located approximately 20-30 feet from the playing surface. Social distancing was practiced and masks were in abundance.

Kamal Yard discusses Summer of 2020

While the event began at 9:00 am, I arrived for the marquee matchup between Yard’s 16U squad and the K-Low 16U team sponsored by Adidas. The game got underway around 3:45 pm. Once could clearly see the kids were excited to be playing. They were happy to be in uniform and under the lights. Of course, both team looked the part… The gear, as usual, was on point.

The basketball, on the other hand, was a little uneven. One could tell the kids hadn’t played together that much. The timing was just a little off.

Individually though, Philly Pride is loaded on both the 16U and 17U teams. Every kid fortunate enough to wear the Philly Pride uniform on their national teams this summer is a bona fide Division 1 prospect. Philly Pride has a little something for programs at every level from the high majors down through the low majors.

Looking for poised, controlled, cerebral point guards? The Philly Pride 16 crew has two, Mark Butler and Dylan Blair. These guys play a controlled floor game that belies their youth. Need a big, strong, bruising big man, Mike Walz is your guy. Want some athletic wings and stretch 4’s? Al Amaoudu, Gabe Moss and Dan Skillings fit the bill. In the market for a smooth, athletic shooting guard with a silky stroke from deep? Take a hard look at Khalil Farmer.

Khalil Farmer, Philly Pride

If you have more immediate pressing needs and want to focus on the Class of 2021, the Philly Pride 17U crew is one of the finest grassroots/AAU clubs in the nation. Indeed, this team won the UUA 16U National Championship last summer after being ranked number 1 in the nation for most of that season. They are led by the UUA 16U MVP from last year, Stevie Mitchell. A high major point guard, Mitchell will formally make his commitment announcement next Wednesday. It has been widely speculated in various media outlets that he is headed to Marquette to play in the Big East Conference.

Stevie Mitchell, Philly Pride

Playing alongside Mitchell, is Ed Holland. Holland is a 6’6 wing with range that extends well beyond the college three-point line. Like Mitchell, Holland is also a highly intelligent young man with multiple Ivy League programs vying for his services. Yale, Penn, Columbia and Princeton are prominent among the 20 or D1 offers Holland has received thus far.

If Mitchell is the engine that makes this club run, Rahdir Hicks is the transmission. Yet another in a seemingly endless line of Coatesville guards, Hicks has an incredible feel for the game. His childhood friends and teammates include AJ Hoggard (Michigan State), Jhamir Brickus (La Salle), Duece Turner (Bucknell) and Dapree Bryant (Villanova Football). Hicks is carrying the tradition this year and it’s in good hands. He effortlessly changes paces. Hicks is able to probe and penetrate at will. He makes ball handlers extremely uncomfortable on the defensive end. He will likely end up at a mid-major program and be given the keys shortly after unpacking his bags.

Zach Hicks is a long 6’8 slender shooter. He has drawn attention from SEC, American and A10 programs and it’s say to understand why. He’s capable of creating space for his shot using 2-3 dribble pull-ups, step-backs and in and out dribbles.

One of the most intriguing prospects in the region is Christian Tomasco. Coming in at 6’9, he has excellent length. His dexterity and athleticism are surprising for a kid his size. Tomasco consistently outruns opposing bigs. His teammates look for him on the wing and he able to catch the ball take a few dribbles and aggressively attack the rim. In a half court setting, he displays a nice touch that extends beyond the three point line. While his frame is slight, he’s a willing post defender with very good instincts. He will team with Aaron Lemon-Warren to give Archbishop Ryan a very formidable front court. Ivy, Patriot and CAA league schools will be taking a hard look at Tomasco once the NCAA allows them off campus.

Christian Tomasco, Philly Pride

With very few fans, temperature checks and only one court in play, today’s event was unlike the typical grassroots/AAU get together.

That’s a good thing… This is far from a typical summer…

I respect Kamal Yard for giving the kids a chance to put on uniforms and run up and down the court.

Coaches… If you want to see exclusive video of today’s action, hit up Kamal. I pretty sure y’all can work something out.

Stevie Mitchell: PA Hoops Legend in the Making!

Elite High School basketball in small town Pennsylvania is different… There’s no competition for the attention of Hoopheads… There are no pro teams in Coatesville, Chester, Norristown, Allentown, Lebanon, Scranton and Reading. There are no high major college basketball teams. As a result, all of the considerable basketball energy in these hoop hotbeds is channeled toward scholastic teams. When HS programs are contenders for state championships and/or feature high major college prospects things become especially intense.

Special teams and players are revered… Truly great small town PA high school players are exalted to legendary status before they go the prom. This, I know because I have seen it first hand. As a 12 year old in 1977, I encountered the legend of Bob Stevenson. Larger than life in the small town of Elk Lake, Stevenson was my introduction to small town PA basketball superstardom.

Darby Township High School had beaten Stevenson and Elk Lake in 1975 on the way to a State Championship title. In 1977, an undefeated Darby Township entered yet another do or die playoff matchup matchup with Elk Lake and their feature attraction. This Single ‘A’ playoff game drew a record crowd of 5,100 fans to the Scranton CYC. In an incredibly physical contest, Elk Lake benefited immensely from many trips from the foul line. Darby Township’s imposing frontline (Alton McCoullough 6’9″, Billy Johnson 6’7″ and Mike Gale 6’6″) was effectively neutralized by the referees as Stevenson converted an incredible 26 of his 30 attempts at the charity stripe in an Elk Lake win.


Billy Owens, Carlisle High School 1987

Two year later, as Darby Township made yet another of it’s many runs deep into PIAA playoffs, one would constantly hear the name Sam Bowie from Lebanon Cedar. In the mid 80’s it was Billy Owens and Jeff Lebo from Carlisle. By the early 90’s, Reading’s Donyell Marshall was the man. Lower Merion’s Kobe Bryant and Coatesville’s Rip Hamilton also ascended to legendary status before crossing the stage to receive their diplomas. More recently, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson cemented his iconic status in Chester well before his graduation.

A couple years ago, I actually attended the parade held for the great Lonnie Walker after he closed out his prolific scholastic career at Reading HS with a state title.


Lonnie Walker during Reading’s State Championship Parade

Here we go again…

The last 10 months have witnessed the rapid rise of another small town basketball legend in the commonwealth. Last season, Stevie Mitchell was a very good basketball player for Wilson West Lawn in Berks County. He was ballin’ out… But very few outside of Berks County knew who he was.

He played with a solid AAU club… Team Final-Red has a solid track record of developing area kids, but Mitchell longed to compete on a national stage. He wanted those bright lights that only the shoe companies can provide. Enter Philly Pride, which plays on the Under Armour Association Circuit. These guys get kids the exposure they need… Philly Pride annually produces anywhere from 7-9 Division 1 basketball players.

Some prospects come with little to no fanfare and literally blow up in a matter of weeks while barnstorming with Philly Pride. See for example, current Atlanta Hawk Charlie Brown. After the completion of his senior season at George Washington HS in Philadelphia’s Public League, Brown had exactly ZERO (0) Division 1 scholarship offers. Indeed, he had verbally committed to D2 West Chester which plays in the PSAC. After playing with Philly Pride for a few weeks, Brown had over 15 Scholarship offers from mid to high major programs across the nation. He ended up committing to Phil Martelli and St. Joseph’s. There are many other examples.

John Harrar toiled away in Delaware County. He was known primarily as a high major football prospect. While he was a very good basketball player at Strath Haven, the scholarships offers were few and far between. Big John suited up for Philly Pride, played at a few stops, tossed a few jokers around like rag dolls and next thing you know UConn is hitting him up. Then they offered… Subsequently, the other big boys decided to jump in… Pat Chambers and Penn State fell in love with Big John and on a visit John determined that the feeling was mutual… Done deal… Big John went from a virtual unknown to a Big 10 basketball player courtesy of Philly Pride.

In February 2019, Stevie Mitchell was a small town guard putting up big numbers with a flashy game. He was very productive in Berks County. As is the case with all the small town superstars, upon first glance the question looms: Can he do it against top competition?

Although they never expressed any reservations, its safe to assume that Kamal Yard and Amauro Austin, Philly Pride Co-Directors wondered exactly what they had on their hands. How would Mitchell’s small-town suburban-bred game translate on the super-athletic, fast-paced Under Armour Association Circuit? How would Stevie do against some of the very best players in the nation?


Stevie Mitchell, Philly Pride

Austin notes that any concerns he may have had were quickly allayed when he observed Mitchell’s work ethic. “He absolutely wanted to attend every voluntary workout and open gym we had. Stevie and his parents drove over an hour each way whenever there was a chance to get in the gym and work.”

Mitchell’s character also impressed Austin. “Stevie doesn’t want anything extra. So many kids want sneakers or gear… He just wanted an opportunity to compete.” In an era when so many young people feel entitled to special treatment and extra benefits Mitchell was a breath of fresh air for Philly Pride.

Then they started playing games…

Like thoroughbreds jumping out the gate at Churchill Downs, Mitchell was off and running! Game after game, he would score from all 3 levels and put the clamps on highly ranked opposing guards. He would regularly drop 25-30 points per game and be the very best on-ball defender on the court. The consummate teammate, Mitchell consistently collected 4-5 steals while constantly communicating with teammates on the defensive end. The HIGH MAJOR potential became impossible to ignore.

Offensively, his game is fully loaded… Mitchell can pull-up from mid-range… He can catch and make 3’s from deep. A crafty and shifty ball handler, he create space with crossovers, in and out dribbles and step back moves. While he is capable of getting by his defender at will, Mitchell is a very calm and patient player.


Stevie Mitchell and Aaron McKie

After just a few weeks with Philly Pride, La Salle Head Coach, Ashley Howard had seen enough. On May 1, 2019 he offered Mitchell a basketball scholarship. About six weeks later Temple Head Coach Aaron McKie and VCU would join in the race for his services. By the end of the summer, Mitchell’s offers were well into the double figures.


As the Under Armour Association season came to a close, Mitchell was named the UAA 16U MVP after leading Philly Pride to the top spot in UAA and the number one ranking in the country. The small town kid was officially declared the best 16U player on a major shoe company summer circuit.

Oh… by the way, he also led Philly Pride to the 16U National Championship.


Stevie Mitchell and the Championship Philly Pride UAA 16U Team

As the foliage started to turn yellow and red, what had been a buzz began to transform into a roar. More and more coaches took note of his refined and polished game, his tenacious approach and his burning desire to emerge victorious. The big boys joined in the chase. St. Joseph’s, Marquette, Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Miami and Stanford among others expressed their desire to have Mitchell join their programs.

People started to look closely under the hood… They were pleased to see a very high Grade Point Average and outstanding test scores. What? Wait a minute… He’s an Ivy League caliber student? Are you serious? Yessssssir… Next thing you know Penn and Harvard are making their way to Wilson West Lawn open gyms and practices.


Perhaps more than any other kid in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, Mitchell has a extremely wide range of options. He can opt for high major basketball in the ACC, SEC, Big East or Big 10. Or, he could decide to pursue the academic challenge of playing at Harvard or Penn.

With all of this going on, Black Cager Sports decided to check up on Mitchell and catch his game with heated rival Reading High School. Arriving early at 4:30 pm for a 7:00 pm varsity tilt, the sense of anticipation was palpable. The stands were 80% filled for the JV game. The fans were absolutely eager to get this thing underway.

This is the suburbs… There was no metal detector… The staff at Wilson West Lawn was warm and welcoming. They noticed my cameras and bag. When I noted that I was from Black Cager Sports and ESPN Radio they made sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed to get my work done. Impressive… First Class…

Mitchell sat in the stands right behind the JV bench with a few of his varsity teammates. Whenever there was timeout, he would jump up and stand on the edge of the JV huddle absorbing the coaches instruction.

The consummate teammate…

At halftime, the gym now filled to capacity, coaches from St. Joseph’s, Marquette, Notre Dame, Harvard and Villanova were following Mitchell’s every move. He gets up, stands under the basket, and rebounds for the JV players as they shoot in preparation for the second half. The HS All-American, the MVP of the Under Armour Association, the kid with 20+ high major offers was chasing down errant shots and passing to 14 and 15 year old JV teammates. Mitchell was offering words of encouragement to guys that will not see a minute of time in the varsity game.

The consummate teammate…


Wilson Middle School Students and diehard Stevie Mitchell fans

I’m seated with about 12 of my newfound 6th and 7th grade friends along the baseline. These guys are chattering non-stop about ‘Stevie Mitchell.’ I feign ignorance and ask “Is Stevie really that good?” These kids, all 12 of them were insulted… How dare I ask such a question… I must be from another planet…

I pushed further… “I bet he can’t even dunk”

Within 30 seconds 4 different kids were waving their smartphones in my face with videos of Stevie dunking repeating on the screens.

“Look… look… look…”

“Ok… Ok…”

So the game finally gets underway. The very nice Wilson West Lawn gymnasium with stadium style seating is filled to capacity… Standing room only for the Stevie Mitchell show.

The Wilson West Lawn Athletic Director sees me surrounded by my energetic and boisterous new found friends. He offers me a padded chair, I declined. I drove over an hour for the full experience and these kids were definitely helping me achieve that goal. I had to watch with my guys.

Wilson West Lawn jumps out early 15-3 lead after the first quarter. Stevie is taking his time… Letting the game come to him. His team is well coached. They run their sets and demonstrate a lot of patience. Whenever there is a breakdown in the Reading zone they pounce and get a clean, relatively easy look at the basket.

But, this is rivalry game and, of course, it tightened up. At the 4:13 mark of the 2nd quarter the score is 19-11. Reading is scratching, clawing, fighting every step of the way. It’s an effective strategy. With 2:41 left in the 2nd quarter the gap has closed to 4 points, 21-17.

The Reading game plan is clear. They were determined to prevent Mitchell from going off. He was face guarded end to end. Whenever he beat his initial defender, there was ‘no layup’ rule in place and it was strictly enforced. Reading defenders put Mitchell on his ass each and every time he attacked the basket.

Good ol’ fashioned HARD basketball fouls.

Halfway through, the score was 28-24 Wilson. After the 3rd, Wilson was up 5, 36-31.

Wilson won going away… 54-38


Young boy wearing an authentic Stevie Mitchell autographed basketball shirt


Philly Pride’s Kamal Yard noted that “Mitchell has an incredible ability to put a bad play or a bad game behind him a focus on what’s in front of him. Even though he rarely has a bad moment on the court, when he does he shakes it off better than any player I’ve seen.”

Mitchell would only convert 3 field goals. But he would finish with 21 points because he cashed in on 15 out of 19 free throw attempts.

After the game, Mitchell was surrounded by at least 50 kids seeking autographs.


Mitchell signs autographs after the game

If you still harbor any questions about his legendary status, drive out to Wilson West Lawn and catch a game, they will be erased by the final buzzer. In the Fall of 2021, Mitchell will join a college basketball program. Whoever is fortunate enough to secure his services will welcome an intelligent, selfless, immensely talented, highly competitive champion.

A legend will be on the yard…