The “Best” Guard in the Region: DJ Wagner is Sitting in the Big Chair

The reign of Camden High’s DJ Wagner has commenced, but there are several really talented kids vying for the throne.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

You never know if a player is gonna jump up and stake a viable claim to the top spot. We’ve seen it several times in recent years, guys come outta nowhere and attempt to stage a coup d’etat. For example, Collin Gillespie (Archbishop Wood) leapt from the bushes waged a relentless and highly successful campaign in 2017. Last season, Hysier Miller (Neumann-Goretti) stalked Rahsool Diggins (Archbishop Wood) until his quest was cut short by overzealous Catholic League coaches acting like Detective Columbo. In the end, one of the most anticipated playoff matchups in recent memory never came to fruition… A FUCKIN SHAME! Nonetheless, from a fan’s perspective, the anticipation, discussions, disagreements and arguments are essential components of each high school season.

DJ Wagner

God willing, we will be able to watch it all play out on the hardwood this year.

Of course, it’s a debate that is never quite settled… Every year, as August comes into view, the parameters start to come into focus. Contenders are identified and “street” publicists, lawyers and agents start to build their cases.

With intense passion positions are staked and fiercely argued by loyal partisans:

“Lynn Greer is, by far, the best guard in the area.”

“You buggin… Lil’ Sool is that dude.”

“Wooga… Wooga… and then Wooga, those are my top 3.”

“Fabb is the best… Do you watch the games?”

For hoop heads hailing from Southern, Midwestern and Western parts of the country, the question is typically framed as follows: Who’s the best “Philly guard”? They lump Camden, Chester, Trenton, Coatesville, Norristown and even Wilmington into one big “Philly” regional basketball region.

To me, the expansion of the concept makes a great deal of sense.

It’s not as simple as it was when Andre McCarter (Overbrook) and Mo Howard (SJ Prep) were wreaking havoc in the early 1970s.

Andre McCarter

Things are very different these days…

“Philly guards” aren’t necessarily from Philly any more. For present purposes, the category is conceptualized much more loosely than in the past. “Philly” is conceptualized in more of a cultural than geographic sense. Indeed, since Black Cager Sports was founded in 2013, we have steadfastly held that zip codes are almost irrelevant these days. Kids come from near and far to play in the Philadelphia’s Public League, Catholic League, Inter-Ac League, Friends League, South Jersey and Delaware.

Moreover, shoe company sponsored basketball clubs like Philly Pride, Team Final, K-Low Elite, WER1 and the NJ Scholars have further blurred the lines as they have drown the most talented players from far and far.

That’s not to say there isn’t disagreement on this issue… There is…

Chester is always gonna feel that it is separate and distinct. Same with hoops hotbeds like Camden, Reading, Trenton and Coatesville.

I get it… I really do… But when discussing scholastic and grassroots basketball, I just prefer to be inclusive… Especially, when performing comparisons and ranking of the elite players.

Larger sample sizes result in smaller margin of error. After all, the goal as I understand it, is to actually unearth and recognize the finest players.

I was introduced to basketball in the small proud community of Darby Township, population around 3,000. My high school teammate, Geoff Arnold, found himself in this discussion in the early 1980s. Bruiser Flint (Episcopal), Howie Evans (West Philadelphia), Mike Anderson (Engineering & Science), Nate Blackwell (Southern), Troy Daniels (Lamberton) and Pooh Richardson (Ben Franklin) were some of the elite guards in the region during that era. Geoff, from Darby Township, was right there with them.

Thus, it made never made sense to me to exclude great players like Penn Wood’s Rap Curry, Chester’s Jameer Nelson and Norristown’s Marqus Green when discussing the area’s finest guards during their respective careers. They were some bad muthafuckas! They had to be considered in any discussion of the very best guards.

Recent years have seen some really memorable tussles for the Big Chair.

Rysheed Jordan

Neumann-Goretti’s Tony Chennault, Strawberry Mansion’s DJ Newbill and Bartram’s Tyrone Garland vied for the throne. They were followed by Maurice Watson, Jr. (Boy’s Latin) and Steve Vasturia (SJ Prep). Imhotep’s Brandon Austin and Vaux legend, Rysheed Jordan waged some unforgettable battles. Of course, Jaquan Newton, for many observers, ruled his era. Tony Carr (Roman) and Samir Doughty (MCS) ruled for a year or so. Then Fatts Russell (Imhotep) and Booty Butler (Del-Val/O’Hara) were at the head of the pack. The debates surrounding Neumann-Goretti’s Quade Green and Archbishop Wood’s Collin Gillespie were especially intense. Meanwhile, the legend of Lonnie Walker (Reading) came to be in Berks County. Isaiah Wong (Bonner-Prendie) came in from Jersey and held off Lynn Greer (Roman) and the rest of the challengers for a couple years.

Collin Gillespie

AJ Hoggard (Carroll) appeared to be the heir apparent and then he took his ball to Huntington Prep in West Virginia after his sophomore season. Down in Delaware, Bones Hyland (St. George’s Tech) was dropping 50s left and right. His feats were not adequately appreciated at the time. Gillespie’s successor, Rahsool Diggins (Wood) came forth, held off a worthy challenge from Neumann-Goretti’s Hakim Byrd and sat firmly in the big chair.

This past season, Wooga Poplar (MCS) and Hysier Miller (Neumann-Goretti) really challenged Diggins for the big chair. It must be noted that yet another Berks County legend, Stevie Mitchell (Wilson West Lawn) emerged and forced himself squarely into the conversation. Unfortunately, one can only imagine how good it would have been to settle things on the basketball court.

Hysier Miller

In what will go down as stain on the history of scholastic basketball in Philadelphia, Miller’s majestic season was cut short after it was determined that one of his teammates played 1 or 2 games over the limit in California before returning to the Catholic League. As a result, the fans were denied an opportunity to see Diggins and Miller compete for the Catholic League Championship.

So, what now… Is Wagner firmly entrenched in the big chair?

Of course, there is no definitive answer… It’s all speculation… But, damn it’s fun!

Man your battle stations!

Last year, when I publicly argued that Miller, Diggins, Mitchell and Poplar were the premier scholastic guards, it caused an unexpected and severe backlash in some quarters. The supporters of Camden basketball and the prodigy felt that an act of blasphemy had been committed. This whole “comparison” exercise made no sense. This was a settled matter. God created Eve from Adam’s rib and DJ Wagner, at the tender age of 15, was the “best” guard in the region. If you didn’t agree you were either a “hater” or crazy.

Rahsool Diggins

By then, Wagner had emerged as the consensus number one player in his class. A gifted and complete basketball player, he was definitely worthy of inclusion and full consideration in any discussion of the best guards. Shit… I have argued that he was worthy of inclusion in the discussion at 14.

However, the question remained: Was Wagner at 15 already a better guard than Mitchell (Marquette), Diggins (UConn), Miller (Temple) and Poplar (Miami) at 18? After careful consideration, I concluded that he had not yet surpassed these high major prospects.

Not at 15… He was very close… He was knocking on the door… He nipping on their heels… But, he had not yet lapped them.

I soon realized that with that pronouncement, unbeknownst to me, I had entered into the realm of religion. I was questioning the Camden basketball Gods. It was as if I challenged 9 of the 10 Commandments. I was excommunicated. It became very clear that Black Cager Sports was no longer welcomed in bible study (practice/workouts) and church services (games). I discovered there was zero room for any discussion that did not begin from a point where young Mr. Wagner was already ensconced as the premier guard in this region.

I began to realize that Black Cager Sports mattered a LOT more than I ever thought it did.

So…. What about this year? Is it a settled matter? Are there others worthy of consideration?

In my opinion, Wagner has ascended and now sits in the big chair and, yes, there are others worthy of consideration. We have some things to talk about.

Chance Westry

Harrisburg’s Chance Westry (Hillcrest Prep) is an elite, savvy and mature 6’6” point guard with countless high major offers. He has elite vision, a tight handle and the ability to score in bunches. Is the 18 year old Westry as good as or better than Wagner right now? To me, that’s a fair question. It’s timely as we are in the midst of the EYBL season with Peach Jam coming up this week.

For some, by daring to pose such a question, I am confirming what they already suspect, I am a heathen. For the true believers, I am an unconverted member who is failing to acknowledge the God of the Bible.

Zion Cruz

Is Wagner better than Trenton’s Zion Cruz right now? To me that’s another fair question. Cruz is a very accomplished, athletic and highly coveted guard.

Is Wagner better Justice Williams right now? Williams has returned to the region after a year at Montverde Academy. He has committed to play for Will Wade at LSU in the SEC.

Is Wagner better than Derek Simpson right now? Simpson is another high major guard prospect in the region. Simpson has scholarship offers from A10, Big 10 and ACC programs. He is a very smooth and cerebral player with a very high upside.

Derek Simpson

Let me be clear… I am a fan of DJ Wagner.

Without a doubt, he is the most complete guard around these parts. He plays all aspects of the game very well. He is an excellent defender, rarely commits turnovers and makes big shot after big shot. Moreover, he respects the game and he respects his opponents. On the few occasions, I have interacted with him, I have come away amazed at how well he handles all the shit that comes with holding down the number 1 slot in his respective class.

Wagner is a great player, and more importantly, he is a highly intelligent, mature and thoughtful young man. He represents his parents, grandparents and the City of Camden extremely well at all times.

Indeed, he is probably finest guard in the area right now. I could easily see one making a case for putting Wagner in the big chair today.

I fully understand those argue he is the guy right now… I do…

What I don’t understand why they feel it’s blasphemous to put forth guys like Westry, Cruz, Williams or Simpson as contenders for the throne today. There has to be space for arguments and counterarguments. There has to be room for dissension.

Otherwise, we are in church.

If we all agreed, it wouldn’t be any fun.

I’m just trying to watch high school basketball. Check ball… The high school season is fast approaching and this debate will be settled on the hardwood. Or, maybe it won’t…

Next year, fans of Zxavier Brown (Roman), Deuce Jones (Ryan) and Ahmad Nowell (Houston) will be pushing for their guy and Wagner supporters will push back with vengance… As they should.

SEC Bound: Camden High’s Taquan Woodley Leaves for the University of South Carolina

So… I was in attendance at one of Charles Monroe’s legendary All-City Classic Events a few years back. This was an 8th grade game and one of the kids jumped out at me.

He was relentless…

He seemed to grab every rebound and block half of the opponents shots. What I really liked was the honesty and purity of his effort. He did not care at all how he looked… He didn’t try to look pretty or smooth… He was very raw offensively, but he was, by far, the most impactful player on the court…

He played with reckless abandon and a singular focus, just get shit done and win the game.

After the game, I approached the young fella and asked, “What’s your name?”

Taquan Woodley

“Where are you from?”

“Camden”

“My office is in Camden, I’m in Camden everyday. I’m gonna follow your high school career… You are a damn good basketball player.”

“Thanks”

From that moment on, I’ve been extremely impressed with Woodley’s intellect and his development on and off the basketball court. But, it is worth noting it hasn’t been a smooth ride. There have been plenty of ups and downs along the way.

A couple months later, before the High School season starts, I’m in the fabled Neumann-Goretti gym talking to Saints Assistant Coach Pat “Socks” Sorrentino and Head Coach Carl Arrigale. I see Woodley running around and I say “you guys got the best freshman in the city.” Carl just smiles and lets me know that he is fully aware of the talent that Woodley possesses.

I made my way to several Neumann-Goretti games that year. Woodley doesn’t start for a typically loaded Neumann-Goretti club. But he is often the first player off the bench. Marcus Littles was the starting big for the Saints that year. Coming in at 6’9” and about 270 lbs, Littles was massive physical presence in the low post for Neumann-Goretti.

But when Arrigale inserted Woodley in the game… Shit changed! Every single time… Woodley is an explosive leaper with exceptional timing. He took great delight in punching the shots of opposing players all the way to the concession stand or trying to push them through the backboard. His blocks were the most humiliating type. Most of the time, kids chose not to test him for the rest of the game.

The only thing that seemed to give him as much pleasure as blocking shots was dunking extremely hard on, through and over opponents.

Woodley was, clearly, the best freshman in the Philadelphia Catholic League in my opinion. I assumed the Saints would have him patrolling the paint for three more seasons.

Then one of my Camden buddies pulled me to the side. Jerome Brewer let me know that he was bringing his son, Jerome Brewer, Jr. back to Camden for his sophomore season after spending his freshman year at West Catholic Prep. Brewer didn’t stop there, he was talking REAL heavy… He told me that he was working hard on some things to help bring Camden back to national prominence and told me to stand by. Like I said… Brew was talking heavy!

Next thing I know, Lance Ware transfers into Camden from Life Center Academy and Taquan Woodley leaves Neumann-Goretti to come home and play for the High.

Oh shit… Camden is Back! Ok… Brew, I see what you were saying…

The first year was a transition year… Led by then Head Coach and current Camden Mayor, Vic Carstarphen, Camden was a good team, but not a great team. The passion had returned… The community was once again in full support of the program… But they just couldn’t get over the hump.

After the season, Carstarphen decided to pursue a much larger calling and began his political career. This opened the door for Rick Brunson.

Brunson is a stern task master and he immediately imposed a great deal of structure and discipline within the Camden High program. An outstanding high school coach and a John Chaney disciple, Brunson’s arrival also coincided with that of DJ Wagner. Young Wagner is 3rd generation basketball royalty in Camden. His father, DeJuan, and his grandfather, Milt, were High School All-Americans at Camden. Both played High Major college basketball at Memphis and Louisville, respectively. Both also played in the National Basketball Association.

Under the direction of Brunson, with Woodley as the anchor of the defense, Camden High went 42-1 over the past 2 seasons. Ware would emerge as a top 50 player and earn a scholarship to play in the SEC for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. DJ Wagner is currently the consensus number 1 player in the class of 2023.

Those guys were the stars…

Woodley was the glue… He was the heart and soul of the program… His longtime AAU Coach, Harold Mackey Boswell understood what Woodley brought to the table… The Director of the WER1 basketball club, Terrell Myers understood Woodley’s value as a basketball player… Mackey and Myers were convinced early on that Woodley was a high major prospect.

However, casual basketball fans overly emphasizing scoring stats and mixtape highlights had no clue.

He never averaged more than 9 points per game. In an era where people think you have to shoot your way to a Division 1 scholarship, how did Woodley end up in the SEC with such low scoring output?

Then South Carolina Assistant Coach, Perry Clark came to Camden to evaluate Lance Ware in December 2018. I explained to Clark that Woodley, then a sophomore, was the toughest, nastiest big in the region and asked him to take a hard look at him as well. While observing practice, Clark took note of Woodley and also offered him a scholarship on the spot… South Carolina was the first to offer.

As he entered his junior season, Black Cager Sports had Woodley listed as one of the top 2 PF/C prospects in the Greater Philadelphia region. The clear cut number 1 big was Jalen Duren, then a sophomore at Roman Catholic High School and currently the number 1 HS player in the nation according to Rivals and 247Sports.

Nonetheless, several of the top local programs were a little bit circumspect about recruiting Woodley. The rumors were rampant… He was a “head case” and he had “questionable grades.” Each and every time those issues were raised, I would ask the coaches to talk to the kid themselves… Get to know him… Some were put off by the rumors and just wouldn’t consider him as a potential recruit. It was their loss.

I knew one coach that would take the time to evaluate the young man for himself, then Penn State Head Coach Pat Chambers. Coach Chambers came to see Woodley go against Duren in the High School game of the year. We sat along the baseline and I provided narration and play by play each and every trip down the floor.

“Pat… Duren’s not gonna get to the rim against Quan…”
“Coach… Quan ain’t goin’ for that shit coach…”
“Pat… He don’t need no help down low…”

As usual, Woodley did an outstanding job defending the low post, rebounding and just executing the game plan for Coach Brunson. Before the final buzzer sounded, Chambers let me know what he thought…

“Will he be eligible?”

“Yes coach… I’ll stay on his ass to make sure he’ll be eligible.”

“Well… I’m gonna offer him.”

“Good shit coach! Thanks!”

A few weeks later, I take Woodley up to Penn State for an unofficial visit. Chambers and his Assistant Keith Urgo know how to do visits… I’m watching closely observing the body language and the interaction with the staff and the players… Woodley really liked Penn State. We leave at halftime of the football game to head back to Camden.

We weren’t in the car 3 minute before Woodley says, “Del, I wanna come back and do an official visit.”

To me, that was a strong indicator that he was leaning Penn State. We had spent over 8 hours on campus and all he could think about was coming back for a 3 day official visit.

Shortly thereafter, Woodley committed to Penn State and Coach Chambers. During this period, Woodley became especially close with Assistant Coach Urgo. Coach Urgo was constantly calling/texting to make sure Woodley was on the right track academically. Although, there was clear path toward meeting freshman eligibility requirements, it was not a given. If Woodley wanted to play Division 1 basketball, he would have to get much better grades than he had gotten up to that point.

It was a good marriage. The coaches were excited and supportive of Woodley and he truly looked forward to playing in the Big 10 for the Nittany Lions. It was all good.

Then it wasn’t…

Chambers was forced to resign in the aftermath of allegations made by a former player. All of a sudden everything that was settled was completely unsettled.

After rescinding his commitment to Penn State, Woodley asked me one day “Do you think I’ll get some offers.” Part of me wondered why this immensely talented young man, a kid that had been committed to a Big 10 program, would have such concerns. But then I recalled the issues raised and strong reservations several local coaches had regarding Woodley’s character.

Would he have a problem finding another suitor?

We needed to find a coach that could appreciate the nuance and subtlety of Woodley’s game. I needed a program that wasn’t focused solely on kids with big names and big reputations. We needed a school that would give Woodley a fair chance and a real opportunity.

One name immediately came to mind… Frank Martin, Head Coach at the University of South Carolina.

On Monday, October 26, 2020 at 10:16 PM, I texted Frank Martin and his Associate Head Coach, Chuck Martin and let them know that Woodley had just de-committed from Penn State.

Less than a month later on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, Woodley signed a Letter of Intent to attend the University of South Carolina.

The outbursts, the technical fouls, the skirmishes, the school suspensions… All those episodes from when he was 14 and 15 years old had scared off all of the local programs, except one. LaSalle University’s Ashley Howard recruited Woodley hard. He took the time to get to know the young man and he made an aggressive and persuasive pitch. Woodley really liked Coach Howard and La Salle, but in the end he wanted to get away from Camden, live in another part of the country and compete at the high major level.

After Camden sailed through an abbreviated COVID-19 season with an undefeated and unchallenged record of 15-0, Woodley’s focus turned to academics. He’s worked extremely hard, he had to overcome some poor performances in the 9th and 10th grades. Because, he was limited to distance learning, Woodley had to exercise a tremendous amount of self discipline. He had to log in everyday. He had to independently complete his assignments. It was all on him.

The Camden Ol’ heads, Mayor Carstarphen, Arthur Barclay and Denny Brown were always there encouraging and cheering him on. His mentor and surrogate parent, Tracey Hall, simultaneously stayed on his ass and loved him up. Ms. Hall did yeoman’s work ensuring that this day would come.

Eventually, with the love and support of his Camden village, Taquan Woodley cleared all the hurdles.

This morning, Woodley said good bye to his girlfriend Ameerah Lindsey and packed his belongings into an SUV. His proud adoptive parents, Willie and Mae Woodley were well-rested and eager to drop their son off to Frank Martin and the South Carolina Gamecocks. His new “Auntie”, Women’s Coach Dawn Staley will be busy the next month or so coaching the USA’s Olympic Womens basketball team. But, when she returns to campus she’ll have a new “supporter” from Camden at all of her games.

The energetic young boy they adopted when he was three years old will be on TV this winter going against Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Auburn.

The kid that so many declared “wouldn’t make it” is an SEC scholarship basketball player.

Taquan Woodley, I’m proud to call you my friend and a Black Cager Youngin… Let’s Go Gamecocks!!

Get Your Popcorn Ready! Camden vs Roman Catholic Part II

If you have access to the internet, you will have access to the first HUGE high school basketball game of the 2021-2022 season. You don’t have to wait ’til December either…

Friday night… It goes down at the Philly Live HS Live Period Event, Session 2.

Camden High vs Roman Catholic… Sheeeesh…

This game features the top player in the nation for the class of 2023, Camden’s DJ Wagner ’23. Young Wagner, a third generation national hoops phenom never disappoints. This kid is truly different… Friday night will be no exception. The most impressive aspect of his game is his fierce competitiveness.

DJ, Milt and DeJuan Wagner, Camden High Basketball

His grandfather Milt and his Dad DeJuan scored, what seemed like, a combined, 8,783,873,921 high school points between them to those of us old enough to remember their historic schoolboy performances. Like his Pop and Pop-Pop, Wagner also gets buckets in bunches.

But that’s not what separates him from his peers across the nation. The defining characteristic of young Wagner’s game is his unyielding will to win. You almost feel like he playing for his meals… You wonder if he’ll be allowed in the house if he loses.

He gives his all on both ends of the court. Wagner relentlessly seeks out the best opposing player and makes it his mission to ensure that the top guy will not beat him. His lateral quickness and willingness to play defense with his chest are extremely rare a the high school level. He plays the passing lanes extremely well and when he steals or deflects passes he is now finishing above the rim on a regular basis.

With the exit of Rashool Diggins (UConn), Stevie Mitchell (Marquette) and Hysier Miller (Temple) from the scholastic stage. One is left to wonder, where can we find a good local matchup for Wagner?

Well thanks to Andre Noble (Imhotep Head Coach) and John Mosco (Archbishop Wood Head Coach) hoop heads, sportswriters and, most importantly, High Major D1 college basketball coaches will get to see the best possible matchup.

Roman Catholic’s Xzavier Brown ’23 has emerged as the finest pure point guard in the Greater Philadelphia region. When the coaches last saw Brown in person he stood about 5′ 10″ and weighed, maybe 145 pounds. Sixteen months later, he comes in at 6’2″ and about 170. While he has not received the national attention that Wagner has garnered, high major college coaches have absolutely fallen in love with his cerebral game.

Xzayvier Brown ’23, Roman Catholic PG

A starter from the moment his parents dropped him off at Broad and Vine, Brown plays with level of maturity and saavy that far exceeds his age. Quite simply, defenses are unable to speed him up. He goes where he wants and does what he wants. Every single time I’ve watched him play, he’s made his teammates and coaches look good.

Brown is an old-school Philly point guard with a modern skill set. He has the floater… He has the handle… He has the vision… He has the knockdown three ball… A complete point guard.

Since he’s donned the Camden uniform, Wagner has lost a grand total of on (1) basketball game. That lost came at the hands of Brown and his Cahillites in one of the most anticipated high school games in recent memory. Muthafuckas literally climbed through windows to get into the extremely overcrowded gym. It was a fire marshall’s worst nightmare.

I know… I know… Some will think to themselves, this game doesn’t really count… It’s just a summer matchup for the HS Live Period…

If that thought crossed you mind, you are FUCKIN’ buggin! Each and every time the kids in these two proud and nationally respected programs put on their jerseys, they play for keeps…

Friday will be no different… Unfortunately, fans will not be allowed in to watch the game. Quite frankly, that’s a good thing. St. Joseph’s Prep, as it will be configured, could NOT begin to accommodate the 1,500 – 2,000 dedicated Camden High basketball fans that would surely converge on the compact Girard Avenue campus for this matchup.

All is not lost… Just click on this link…

http://recruitingaccess.info/phillyliveses2/

…and get your popcorn ready…

I haven’t even mentioned the 9 or 10 other Division 1 players that will be on the floor during this game…

Real rap… This is as good as it gets.

On behalf of all the degenerate hoop heads in the Delaware Valley, I want to publicly say thanks Andre and John!

Appreciating Embid, Camden High & Philly Live…

It’s great time to be a hoop head in the Greater Philadelphia region. We are truly blessed with an abundance of basketball talent at all levels. A deep 76ers playoff run, featuring the supremely gifted future Hall of Famer Joel Embid, is well underway and there’s a sh#tload of really good high school basketball taking place in gyms all across the region.

Finally… After a long 16 months or so, basketball feels like it’s turning a corner. Things are turning to whatever the new “normal” consist of…

So far? So good for Philly area basketball fans.

The Philadelphia 76ers, number 1 seed in the east, are very well positioned… It looks good for the Sixers. They are making considerable noise and represent a strong candidate to take the World Championship. They are methodically working their way through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Most impressively, however, Joel Embid is demonstrating why he is a generational talent.. We really haven’t see his kind before… Embid is a unicorn.

Joel Embid, Philadelphia 76ers

Seriously…

He doesn’t get nearly the level of attention he deserves. When healthy, he’s one of the top 3-4 players on the planet. Yet, in most instances Embid is not the focal point of Sixer fan discussions.

That’s unfortunate.

The local obsession with Ben Simmons inability and/or reluctance to shoot the ball has captivated the fan’s attention. This focus on Simmons’ shooting woes has contributed to the greatness of Embid being underappreciated.

When considering great Sixers bigs, it’s Wilt, Moses and Embid. That’s the discussion going forward… I can’t really think of anyone else that warrants inclusion. Caldwell, Dawkins, Giminski, Mahorn, Ratliff, Motumbo… Embid has surpassed them.

I know… I know… Ben`can’t make his free throws…

Really… I know.

I’m just saying… Embid is a magnificent basketball player and the Sixers are right where they wanna be.

That said… let’s talk about the youngins. The number 1 and number 2 players in the Class of 2022 play for Team Final (Final). The number 1 and number 40 player in the Class of 2023 play for the NJ Scholars (EYBL) and Camden High. The Philadelphia Catholic League is resetting with another crop of Division 1 prospects. The PUB has some dudes.

The real energy is at the scholastic level.

This month its high schools and next month its AAU/Grassroots clubs.

This Friday, for the first time in 16 months, Division 1 basketball coaches will be evaluating high school prospects in person. The Philly Live event put together by Imhotep Head Coach, Brother Andre Noble, and Archbishop Wood Head Coach, John Mosco has emerged as the premiere event of it kind. In 2019, Noble and Mosco had over 200 D1 coaches in attendance each day of the live period. That translated into a slew on scholarship offers for Philly area kids.

Andre Noble, Imhotep Head Coach

The number of attending coaches Philly Live is likely to increase this year. Coaches from every NCAA conference have made arrangements to attend. Programs representing the Big 10, SEC, Big 12, PAC 12, ACC, AAC, A10, Mountain West, Ivy League, MEAC, MAAC, CAA and all others will be there.

Plainly stated, Noble and Mosco have established Philadelphia as the place to be during the High School Live Period for nearly every program in the nation.

Nicely done! Respect…

John Mosco, Archbishop Wood Head Coach

Facing live evaluation of their players, high school coaches are doing everything they can to get their guys ready. The pressure is immense for players that have yet to catch the attention of college coaches. Time to show and prove… High schoolers have not been in front of D1 coaches in a year and half.

That’s a long time… A lot changes in 16 months…

Some kids have grown 2-3 inches. Some have gained 15 or 20 pounds. Others have significantly improved various aspects of their game. One thing for sure, a lot of offers will come when coaches directly observe kids for the first time in 16 months. For example, Camden wing Cornelius “Boog” Robinson came to the Rider campus and played exactly one game in Coach Kevin Baggett’s Team camp. His toughness and willingness to defend immediately impressed the Rider coaches. Similarly, St. Frances forward Cortez Johnson exhibited a great deal of explosiveness and athletic ability. Finally, Archbishop Wood Point Guard Justin Moore displayed poise and patience while running the young Viking squad. All three were offered scholarships by Baggett on the spot.

Cornelius Robinson, ’23 Camden Wing

This is what you can expect over the next two months. As soon as many of these Philly area prospects play in front of college coaches, the offers are going to start flying.

Area high school players and coaches fully understand… Hence, they are working extremely hard in preparation for the Philly Live. The plethora of exciting scrimmages/games result in a Philly hoop head nirvana. There are great matchups everywhere… A diligent hoop head, can find some contests featuring elite programs and some of top nationally ranked players. For instance, Post & Pivot is hosted a very strong slate of games at West Catholic this past weekend featuring Neumann-Goretti and Imhotep.

But by far, the finest event leading up to the HS live period has been “Baggett’s Court Vision” Team Camp on Saturday, June 12. Organized by Ben Kay, Rider’s Director of Player Development, the camp featured 70 or so high school programs, including nationally ranked Camden, Patrick School, Imhotep, St. Peter’s Prep, St. Frances and many others.

While the entire slate was highly competitive, Kay slipped a bona fide classic NJ battle in for the hoop heads in attendance. Positioned discretely on a schedule featuring 71 other games, at 10:00 am in the Rider Basketball Practice Gym, Camden High played the Patrick School.

That is truly as good as it gets locally. Thanks Ben Kay… #RealShit

This was a low key affair. Only hoop heads and few parents were in attendance. Maybe 150 people saw some of the finest prospects in the nation compete and lay everything on the line. There were ten (10) D1 kids on the floor throughout most of the action and they played with the intensity of a state playoff game.

Sorry… You had to be there… There’s no video.

Indeed, those in attendance had to agree to not publicize the game beforehand. There was an explicit effort to keep attendance artificially low. Camden High’s team is the hottest ticket in the region. When they show up, so does their loyal, passionate and knowledgeable fan base… in droves.

Through word of mouth a Camden/Patrick School matchup will attract an easy 500-1000 fans anywhere and anytime. With 71 other games going on, Rider wasn’t equipped to deal with the full thrust of Camden and Patrick School supporters. The fire marshall would have had to shut it down… Real Shit!

But… The game itself, was a homage to the basketball gods.

This was one for the culture. In case, you haven’t paid close attention through the coronavirus crisis, Camden High School basketball reigns supreme. The paradigm has shifted, Camden is the epicenter of the high school basketball universe in the Greater Philadelphia region.

With a lineup featuring two projected NBA players, Camden is the undisputed top dog. DJ Wagner is the number 1 player in the class of 2023 and Aaron Bradshaw can’t be more than a couple slots below him. At the current historical juncture, the Camden High School basketball program is beyond what folks typically describe as elite. It may very well be the finest traditional public high school program in the nation.

Shit… The point guard is the Mayor and his backcourt mate is the School Board President…

(l) Camden Mayor, Vic Carstarphen, (r) Camden School Board President, Wasim Muhammad

On the basketball court, Camden High has lost exactly one game over the past two years. That isolated loss to Roman Catholic, led by Jalen Duren and Justin Williams, is the only blemish on Rick Brunson’s record.

Fortuitous circumstances have resulted in 2 lost opportunities to win highly coveted state championships. In March 2020, the Panthers were literally minutes away from a playoff game when the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus. This past season they were limited to 15 local games with no playoffs. Almost all of these games were lopsided victories.

In the grand scheme of things, there are only two questions that matter to the Camden Basketball program.

1) Will the Panthers win two consecutive state championships?

2) Will the Panthers lose a game?

Those are the questions…

Queries like: What is the best team in the Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey area are settled…

Camden is the top high school team in the region… Period.

This winter, Camden High basketball moves into a brand new state of the art gymnasium holding a raucous 2,000 Panther faithful.

It’s about to be crazy…

But that’s the not ’til the winter… Let’s get back to this past Saturday morning, Ben Kay gave us an elite scholatic basketball matchup, Camden vs Patrick School.

We wish we could share some highlights… However, unlike the other 71 games played that day, video recording was prohibited. This prohibition was rigidly enforced.

Camden won a tight contest 60-55 after trailing for much of the game. But when the game was on the line, Wagner and Bradshaw came through with big plays.

BOX SCORE

Camden
DJ Wagner 18 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast, 1 stl
Boog Robinson 13 pts, 11 reb, 7 off reb, 1 stl
Aaron Bradshaw 6 pts, 5 reb
Cian Medley 12 pts, 4 reb, 1 ast

Patrick School
Zion Cruz 17 pts, 4 reb
Chance Westry 14 pts, 2 reb, 4 ast
James Moore 10 pts, 6 rebs, 3 off reb, 3 blk

Aaron Bradshaw, ’23 Camden PF/C

Beginning Friday, Division 1 college coaches will be evaluating high school players face to face for the first time in a year and a half. They want to see games like the one Ben Kay gave us Saturday morning.

Noble and Mosco are providing just what college coaches are are looking for…

For the month of June, Philadelphia is the epicenter of college basketball recruiting.

It really is a great time to be a hoop head in Philadelphia.

Return of the “Live Period”

In June, for the first time in 16 months or so, Division 1 college coaches will conduct live evaluations of high school prospects. Over the past 1.25 years, Division 1 college basketball recruiting has been completely transformed.

We are about to experience a small bit of normalcy.

Coaches have not been able to evaluate players in person. Zero live evaluations… None at all…

As a result, some kids have grown significantly since the last time coaches saw them. Others have greatly improved in one area or another. Still others, have come onto the landscape very recently.

One thing for sure, college coaches know next to nothing about these kids. They haven’t been able to watch them play. Compounding the problem, coaches were not able to host kids for unofficial or official visits.

Sixteen (16) months… Dead Period! They don’t know a lot of these kids.

A typical college basketball recruiting process over the past 16 months consisted of a zoom call or 2 accompanied by 40-50 phone calls/texts/DMs with current college players in the transfer portal.

That’s it… That’s all… A few programs dibbled and dabbled with high school recruiting, but the focus overall shifted to the transfer portal.

In June, good old-fashioned – eyeball on the kids – college basketball returns. Coaches will be standing, hopefully 6 feet apart, at NCAA sanctioned Scholastic/High School events across the nation on the following dates:

June 18-20

June 25-27

In 2019, Philly Live organized by Imhotep Head Coach, Andre Noble and Archbishop Wood’s, John Mosco was the best High School Live Period event in the nation. Over 200 D1 college coaches were in attendance for every session. A plethora of offers were extended, with some kids receiving more than 10 during the period.

It’s the most important recruiting period for high school kids looking to grab a D1 scholarship. What is the top programs program doing to prepare? Will the “new” teams be cohesive? Will freshmen and sophomores be ready to step in? Are the juniors and seniors ready to lead? How do the best programs stack up against the other top programs in the mid-Atlantic region.

The Black Cager High School Live period “Warm UP” allows HS coaches to prepare for NCAA HS Live Period. The Warm Up takes place on the following dates:

Thursday, June 10

Tuesday, June 15

Black Cager stives to provide high school coaches with structured, competitive games. We facilitate evaluation of players and overall preparation for the NCAA HS Live Period.

That’s just a fraction of the HS Live Period Warm Up mission.

More than anything else, the Warm Up is an introduction of some of the best young players in the region.

Some of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s top-ranked high school basketball teams will come to Charger Nation for a dynamic, Scholastic Pre-Live Period event June 10 and June 15, 2021. Black Cager Sports, a Camden, New Jersey based, sports media outlet, will serve as the event’s title sponsor, and the entire event will be available to college coaches on-demand on both BlackCagerTV.com and the Black Cager YouTube Channel.

“We are excited to continue our support of high school basketball student-athletes and their families by sponsoring the Black Cager High School Live Period Warm Up” said Delgreco Wilson, Founder, Black Cager Sports Media. “Previous Black Cager Scholastic events were successful, and we look forward to seeing the best high school basketball teams in the mid-Atlantic compete again in June.”

Part 1 of the Warm Up takes place on Thursday, June 10 and continues with Part 2 on Tuesday, June 15 at Charger Nation Sports Complex in Morrisville, PA.

Scheduled with Division 1 coaches in mind, The Warm Up features some of the best teams and players in the mid-Atlantic region.

As in previous Black Cager Scholastic Events, the Warm Up will feature several of the top-ranked teams in the mid-Atlantic Region, Both Part 1 and Part 2 feature 16 High School teams. Several of the teams are nationally ranked, St. Frances Academy (MD) is a Baltimore Catholic League powerhouse. The Panthers and the George School (PA) will both face Philadelphia Catholic League juggernaut Archbishop Wood (PA) and Neumann-Goretti (PA).

Black Cager Sports will make video of each game available to the following Division 1 programs:

Black Cager Sports will make video of each game available to the following Division 2 programs:

Limited slots are available for Part 2 on June 15, 2021.

Contact: blackcager@gmail.com

Positioning Delaware State University Basketball: An Open Letter to President Tony Allen

April 4, 2021

Dr. Tony Allen, President

Delaware State University

Dear Dr. Allen:

Just a few thoughts on Delaware State University and where it fits in today’s version of Division 1 college basketball. These are truly some challenging times. I have paid close attention to college basketball and college basketball coaching hires for more than 30 years. My focus has been primarily on the mid-Atlantic region. I am convinced that Delaware State can make good decisions and compete for MEAC championships in a relatively short period of time.

Dr. Tony Allen

The Shifting College Basketball Landscape
The mid-Atlantic region’s rich college basketball tradition has experienced a massive and consequential paradigm shift. Things are very different than they were just a few years ago.

A mere cursory glance reveals that college basketball recruiting has been radically transformed. President Allen you face a serious challenge. You have to identify a coach whose values align with those you are instilling within your administration and all across campus. You also need a coach with skill sets and deep relationships that will translate to a significantly upgraded roster in a relatively short period of time. You want a winner. You want to bring pride and passion back to the storied Hornet Hoops program.

I got you…

I know a guy…

You find yourself asking: Exactly where does the Delaware State Basketball program fit in this vexing and fast changing NCAA Division 1 context? And, who would be the best leader of the program going forward?

The recent history has been rather bleak. The last 2 Delaware State Coaches have combined record of 58-163.

Let’s win some games… Let’s win some championships…

Rider Assistant Geoff Arnold is, by far, the most qualified and battle tested candidate to improve that record and lead the Delaware State program into battle against the BIG BOYS and highly competitive MEAC foes.

Rider Assistant Coach, Geoffrey Arnold

Where DSU Basketball Stands: Encircled by the BIG BOYS
The present discussion will center around Delaware State Basketball, but the logic is applicable to Division 1 college basketball in general. Let’s focus on the strategy of encirclement deployed by Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany and it’s deleterious impact on the recruiting of mid-Atlantic mid-major basketball programs such as Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Drexel and the regions only Division 1 HBCU, Delaware State.

The Big 10 is in the midst of a well-funded and sustained basketball invasion of the mid-Atlantic region. They have effectively encircled Delaware State and the region’s other mid-majors: Rutgers to the north, Penn State to the West and Maryland to the South.

Former Big 10 Commissioner, Jim Delany

Big 10 programs are attracting top HS recruits that would otherwise serve as reinforcements for Delaware State and other mid-majors. At first glance, one might view that as problematic. However, in the current context, it represents tremendous opportunity. Those same top prospects and recruits are now widely available in the transfer portal… Just gotta get ’em… Every program in America is monitoring and recruiting the transfer portal.

Things are very different now. Delaware State, with the right coach in place, can compete with every mid major program in the mid-Atlantic region for the top prospects.

We are feeling the effects of decisions made a while ago. So… how did we get here?

In what can aptly be described as as stroke of genius, Delany added Penn State to the Big 10 in 1990, twenty-four years later he added Maryland and Rutgers. With the latter two additions, encirclement was firmly in place. Delany has publicly stated how significant the mid-Atlantic presence is to the Big 10’s long-term plans. “I don’t think people should evaluate this in the short term. But in a 25-year or 50-year period, I think they’re going to be very competitive. They are added value. And if the Big Ten had stayed at 10 and not taken on any of the risk associated with expansion, we probably would be tied for the fourth-largest conference.

Delany further added, “Rutgers is a fabulous institution, as is Maryland. And the corridor they occupy with Penn State might be the most important in the Western world — great students, political institutions, financial institutions. So we’re not only recruiting students to play basketball but students overall.”
“If you don’t venture out,” Delany said, “you never gain anything. I don’t want to go back and read all the articles about (criticism for) the Big Ten Network or instant replay or expansion. You have to do what you think is right. And if you make mistakes, you course correct or you double down.”

The Big 10 doubled-down and it is now reaping the rewards.

DJ Newbill, John Johnson, Shep Garner, Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostic, John Harrar, Mike Watkins, Izaiah Brockington, Kyle McCloskey and Seth Lundy were Philly area Penn State Nittany Lions that may have found their way to Delaware State or other local mid majors under the old paradigm.

Five of Maryland’s top 6 players played with grassroots clubs based in the Philadelphia region.

Fifteen years ago, coaching staffs spent countless hours in HS gyms evaluating and building meaningful relationships with prospects and their families. Trusting the bond they had formed with these coaches during this process, prospects were far more inclined to commit to HBCUs and other mid major programs. Those days are gone. The shift is real… Coaches haven’t been allowed to evaluate prospects in-person for over a year. Nonetheless, recruiting is more intense than it has ever been.

Zoom-based recruiting is paramount. It is the new normal.

Positioning Delaware State Basketball
Many mid-major athletic programs remain entrenched in the outdated paradigm. They have yet to fully comprehend the extent of the paradigm shift. Plainly stated, they are not up on transfer portal recruiting. They do not have deep and trusting relationships required to successfully integrate transfer portal recruiting into the overall roster management strategy.

Zoom video conferencing is a key aspect of college basketball recruiting going forward. During the pandemic, Arnold formed a Zoom-based professional development group called “12inches Over”. A weekly gathering that brings in guests who share their professional evolution stories with NBA, college and high school coaches. Through storytelling, Arnold has developed a distinct brand of professional development for basketball coaches and enthusiasts. Dawn Staley (South Carolina), Rod Baker (Philadelphia 76ers), Bruiser Flint (Kentucky), Kevin Broadus (Morgan State), Karl Hobbs (Rutgers) and Drew Gladstone (Northern Illinois) are among the 60-80 coaches that tune in weekly.

Arnold and Delaware State are uniquely positioned to take advantage of and leverage massive changes in the college basketball recruiting industry.

These days, you can dramatically reshape your Men’s basketball program in a relatively short period of time.

The recruiting process has been highly compressed. Zoom-based transfer portal recruiting is as important as traditional high school recruiting. For many college programs it has become the primary recruiting vehicle. College basketball recruiting, to a large extent, consists of a zoom or two and a few days of texting/calling. Scholarship offers and commitments are taking place between transfers in the NCAA portal and college coaches at a breakneck pace. You need an experienced and discerning coach to navigate this new highly fluid transfer portal era.

This is the new reality in college basketball.

The challenge you face is to identify a coach that can be aggressive in the market for elite players while maintaining a commitment to the core values of your administration. You need a coach that gonna get it done and represent Delaware State University in a dignified manner at all times.

President Allen… Geoff Arnold is that guy. He will identify talented high school student-athletes and deftly integrate the transfer portal into his roster management strategy.

Hire Geoffrey Arnold… Black Cager Sports enthusiastically and unequivocally endorses Geoff Arnold for the Head Men’s Basketball Coaching position at Delaware State. Arnold ranks among the top 3% of college basketball coaches I have encountered.

As the Founder of the Arline Institute, Black Cager Sports Media and the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame, I have developed working relationships with some of the top basketball coaches in America. On a regular basis, I deal extensively with coaching staffs at the following colleges and universities:
Temple
St. Joseph’s
Maryland
Penn State
South Carolina
North Texas
Morgan State
Howard
Maryland, Eastern Shore
Washington
Marquette
Rutgers
Seton Hall
La Salle
Drexel
Delaware
Northern Illinois
Georgia
East Carolina
Syracuse
St. John’s
Fairleigh Dickinson
Yale
Pennsylvania
Mt. St Mary’s

Coach Arnold ranks among the very best in all areas areas when compared to his peers at these institutions. He is an outstanding recruiter, blessed with an extraordinary ability to relate equally well to players, parents and grandparents. He has a solid grasp of all NCAA rules and regulations and scrupulously adheres to the letter and spirit of regulatory guidance.

He teaches the game with a passion that is rare and his players reap the benefits. He has coached several players currently in the National Basketball Association, Langston Galloway (Phoenix Suns), DeAndre Bembry (Toronto Raptors) and Charlie Brown (Minnesota Timberwolves) were recruited and trained by Arnold during his stint with St. Joseph’s.

Nov 29, 2016; Queens, NY, USA; Delaware State Hornets guard Devin Morgan (22) reacts after scoring a three point basket during the second half against the St. John’s Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena. Delaware State Hornets won 79-72. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Leveraging Existing Relationships

College Basketball Recruiting in 2021, especially the increasingly important transfer portal version, is all about who you know and who trusts you. Arnold has established a vast network of deep relationships in the mid-Atlantic region. Black Cager Sports enthusiastically and unequivocally endorses Geoff Arnold for the Head Men’s Basketball Coaching position at Delaware State.

In sum, President Allen, Black Cager Sports pledges to tirelessly assist you, and should you hire him, Coach Arnold and the Delaware State Athletic and Admissions Departments in their efforts to identify, recruit and enroll talented and qualified students and student-athletes.

You will soon hear from scores of Athletic Directors and Coaches extolling the virtues of Coach Arnold… They are right…

Let’s have a Hornet Basketball Renaissance!

James Nelson-Stewart: My Final 5 Thoughts on the Scholastic Season

State Champions, Reading High School

One

READING!!! What can you say about this team that has not already been said? The Underdogs from Berks County shocked the nation by beating the 7th ranked Archbishop Wood 58-57 in the 6A finals. For most fans, observers, scouts and writers (including yours truly) thought that this game was going to be a coronation of one of the great teams of the recent Philadelphia HS basketball era in the 7th ranked undefeated Archbishop Wood Vikings, who normally started 4 players that have scored over 1,000 points and signed Division 1 basketball scholarships. But somebody forgot to tell the Red Knights of Reading and Coach Rick Perez of this coronation party. Let me say the group of players and parents of Reading High were confident and excited for the opportunity to prove the masses wrong and did they ever. For Reading High to even be in this position to play for a State Championship was an incredible journey. From having Coach Perez suspended before the beginning of this season to now having the 25th ranked team in the United States in America shows you what the power of perseverance can overcome. The community rallied behind this team from the very start and had the look of possibly having a special season. But best believe it was not going to come without challenges and their one main challenge was Wilson West Lawn HS, led by their special generational player Stevie Mitchell. Reading, who finished with a record of 27-2, played Wilson four times this year and they split those games. But Reading won the most important game of the four and represented District 3 in the State Playoffs. With the restrictions brought on by COVID, only one team would represent a District in the State Playoffs. Each game brought a “Win-or-Go Home” mentality that Reading thrived in. By defeating the only team that beat them this year to get the playoffs, Reading was confident of their ability to win the title. But to achieve that feat, they had to overcome a team that had not lost all year and played in the undisputed best league in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Catholic League). But again, after conquering first their own school board and then Stevie Mitchell and Wilson, they had no fear of vanquishing the formidable Wood team, led by future HOF Coach John Mosco. Incredible season for this group led by Coach Rick Perez and Sr. 6-6 F Moro Osumanu (West Chester), who had 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Title Game. But here is the scary part for the rest of the state, Reading High only had 2 Seniors on their roster (Osumanu and Rene Rodriguez), the rest are underclassmen led by 6-4 Jr Wing Daniel Alcantara, 6-0 Jr G Joey Chapman (who had the game sealing steal), 6-1 Jr G Xavier Davis, 6-1 So Amier Burdine (Starting Varsity QB) and 6-1 Star So Ruben Rodriguez Jr. Reading may be around for a while!!!

Philadelphia Catholic League Champions, Archbishop Wood

Two

Can’t talk about Reading without talking about the team that they beat Archbishop Wood and the season they had. While the disappointment over the last game with linger with some, you can’t take away the run the Vikings had in this 2021 Season. Wood, led by 2 Time Back-to-Back PCL MVP & MaxPreps’s PA POY Rahsool Diggins, had a season that most programs would dream of. From being as high as #7 in the nation, to running through the PCL undefeated (14-0), to winning the PCL and District 12 Titles, this team was nearly perfect. This team had 4 1,000-point scorers and 1st Team All- Catholic in All Time Leader Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd, Jaylen Stinson and Marcus Randolph. They boasted a 2nd Team All Catholic 6-6 Sr F Muneer Newton, who could have been the most indispensable player on the team and other players like 6-4 Jr F Mike Knouse, 6-6 Sr C Rob Jackson and 6-2 Jr G Tyson Allen, who stepped up as injuries bit the Vikings late in the season. This group had a very successful 4 year run as they were the 2021 PCL Champions, 2-time PCL Regular Season Champs, 3 Time District 12 Champs and 2 Time State Finalist with a 3rd one probably stymied by COVID in 2020. Salute to those young men and Future HOF Coach John Mosco for an incredible season.

State Champions, Allentown Central Catholic

Three

District 11 has ended its streak of 36 years without a State Title with its incredible win on a last second layup by Jr PG 6-0 Tyson Thomas that lifted Allentown Central Catholic to the 4A State Championship. Led by Coach Dennis Csenstis, Allentown Central Catholic made their historic run to their state title by beating District 1’s PJP, who had a great run itself and District 12’s Archbishop Carroll, out of the PCL. This team is also primed for a run in 2022 with their best players being Guard Tyson Thomas and Jr G-F 6-6 Liam Joyce and some up-and-comers such as Fr F 6-6 David Fridia. This one is very personal as last year I was part of the Team Final Red Organization from Allentown and these 3 players are also part of that organization. Thomas, son of Team Final Red co-founder Marlon Thomas, was also named Co-MVP of his conference this year.

Destiny McPhaul, West Catholic

Four

District 12, while still the most powerful District in the State of Pennsylvania, left the Boys Basketball season with ZERO state titles but did leave the Girls Basketball Season with 3 state titles. The Boys went 0-3 in title games with losses by Constitution, Ryan and Wood. The Girls did just the opposite by going 3-0 in title games with wins by West Catholic, led by Destiny McPhaul, Cardinal O’Hara and Wood led by Ryanne Allen. With the State Tournament held in this format, teams like 6A Roman Catholic, were not able to participate. But it also shows that parity is growing throughout the state on the Boys side.

Five

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention how much different it could have been if 4A Neumann-Goretti or 5A Undefeated Imhotep were able to participate this year. This is not to take anything away from the Champions of those 2 classes because those schools still had to play very good teams and would have had a chance to beat either team. But for these teams not to have the chance to compete is just not fair. I’m not going into why they were not able to play but they both deserved better.

Philly Pride Basketball Tryouts March 21, 2021

Philly Pride is one of the most respected AAU/Grassroots programs in the Nation. In recent years, Pride alums have played in the NBA, G-League, Big 10, Big East, A10, MAAC, MEAC and several other NCAA Division 1 conferences. Pride competes on the highly competitive Under Armour Association Circuit where they won the 16U National Championship in 2019.

Click on the links below to register for the appropriate session:

15U Tryout Link, 10:00 am – 11:45 am
https://go.teamsnap.com/forms/261299

16U Tryout Link, 12:15 pm – 2:00 pm
https://go.teamsnap.com/forms/261375

17U Tryout Link – 2:15 pm – 4:00 pm
https://go.teamsnap.com/forms/261378

5 Things About Eastern PA/South Jersey Boys Basketball for the Season 2021

By James Nelson-Stewart

One

In this year of the “COVID”, where teams had to miss period of times due to the virus, one of the biggest and most controversial stories is that of the defending Philadelphia Catholic League Champions, Neumann-Goretti Saints. As a lover of all sports and a die-hard basketball fan, this story concerns me in many ways. In the Year of the Pandemic, where people fought for children to play sports, I find the rule of students “transferring for athletic purposes” seems to be hypocritical and biased due to the fact some of the reasoning of playing sports through this Pandemic were adults saying that playing sports helps with the child’s mental health. But playing for a coach that doesn’t support your vision helps the child’s mental health. I digress but the sad situation of Neumann being disqualified from defending their title seems unnecessary and unwarranted. In this year of so many twists and turns, rules should have been a little more lenient and Neumann should have had a chance to defend their title. It truly is disappointing for the Neumann Family of Coaches and Players but we know they will regroup next year and will be ready for all comers.

Rahsool Diggins, 21 Archbishop Wood

Two

The Area’s National level players especially the strong and deep classes of guards really performed up to their lofty standards and then some. Three of the top guards even broke school records in their abridged seasons. 6-2 Marquette Signee Stevie Mitchell of Wilson West Lawn went over 2000 points in his amazing HS career that came to close with a loss in the District 3 Championship Game to Reading High School, led by Rick Perez. 6-6 Villanova Recruit Jordan Longino also closed his career out at Germantown Academy as the illustrious school’s All-Time Leading Scorer by passing legend and former NBA player Alvin Williams. Longino probably would have also surpassed the 2,000-point total but the Inter-Ac League only played a small slate of games this season. 6-3 Rahsool Diggins, the defending PCL MVP and future U-Conn Huskie, also added Wood’s All-Time Scoring title to his growing list of accomplishments that he can still add on to. Definitely one of the favorites to capture the league’s MVP again, he also has a chance to win a Catholic and State Title to his substantial resume of Accomplishments. While those 3 guards have definitely been newsworthy, there has been a plethora of incredible guard play this winter. Hysier “Fabe” Miller, Neumann’s fantastic Guard and incoming Temple Owl, fascinated fans with averages that steadily stayed in triple double range and definitely was in the conversation as the Catholic League MVP. Miami Commit and MCS Star “Wooga” Nisine Poplar, has definitely picked it up after a slow start to the season. Out in District 11, Sr 6-5 Sniper Jevin Muniz has Executive Charter looking at different heights for this season and continuing with his strong and steady play. Last but not least is the #1 ranked 2023 player in the Country D.J. Wagner, leading his Camden Team to an undefeated record while also winning NJ POY. Hard to believe the area has 2 more years of this Phenom. He has filled the big shoes left by his father extremely well. Some other noteworthy guards have been 2021s Florida St. Bound Jalen Warley (Westtown), High Scoring 2021 Guard Bernie Blunt (Rocktop Academy), Jaylen Stinson (Wood/James Madison), Carl Schaller (Garnet Valley/U of Chicago), Rahdir Hicks (Malvern Prep/Towson), Wisler Sanon (Paul VI, NJIT), Matt Compas (Wissahickon), Quadir Miller (Constitution), Griffin Barrouk (Rustin/Hofstra), Freddie Young (Trenton Catholic/Lincoln), Jameel Burton (Chester), Fareed Burton Jr. (Chester), Robert Bell (Abington) and Joe Jackman (CB East). Some notable 2022s have been Jameel Brown (Haverford/Purdue), Khalil Farmer (Roman Catholic), Jeremiah Bembry (Executive), Justin Moore (McDevitt), Saleem Payne (Cheltenham), Tyson Thomas (Allentown Central Catholic), Nate Ellis (William Allen), Argel “Ivy”Pettit (Devon Prep), Jacob Beccles (Constitution) and Derek Simpson (Lenape). Some notable 2023s have been Xyavier Brown (Roman Catholic), Rah Burno (Imhotep), Ruben Rodriquez (Reading), Chauncey Presley (MCS), Earl Stout (Wissahickon), Moe Scro-Dones (North Penn), Shawn Purvy (Souderton), Mark Butler and Keith Gee (Penn Charter).

Three

Will National Ranked Archbishop Wood (Maxpreps #9) finally capture the titles that eluded this group thus far. With the strong starting 5 of Diggins, Daeshon Shepherd (Lasalle), Marcus Randolph (Richmond), Jaylen Stinson (James Madison) and the underrated but extremely athletic and versatile F Muneer Newton and big man Rob Jackson (Cincinnati-Football Scholarship). The majority of this group has been playing for titles since their Sophomore years together. (Randolph came as a Jr.). They lost a heartbreaker in the 5A State Title game to Moon Township in 2019. Then in 2020, this group lost in the PCL Semifinals to Roman Catholic and lost the bid to win the state title due to COVID. They are on to the PCL Title game on Monday 3/15/2021 against the last team that beat them in Roman Catholic. This Roman team is much different from the team that beat them. No longer is 2022 #2 overall player Jalen Duren defending the basket or Guards Lynn Greer III or 2022 Justice Williams manning the backcourt. Now it’s the great backcourt of 2022 Khalil Farmer and Super Sophomore 2023 Xzayvier Brown and 2022 6-5 Daniel Skillings and 6-7 Radunovic up front. This Wood team is the most balanced team that the area may have seen in a while. All 5 starters should be definite 1st or 2nd team All-Catholic. Let’s see if the Catholic and State Titles are within their grasp this year.

Justin Moore, ’22 Bishop McDevitt

Four

The Newcomers really have made their mark around the state whether it was through transfer or the Class of 2024 players making their mark. The Catholic League has seen players such as Zaahir Williamson (Neumann), Christian Tomasco (Ryan), Daniel Skillings & Khalil Farmer (Roman), IV Pettit (Devon Prep), Justin Moore (Bishop McDevitt) make big noise this year. While players such as Jeremiah Bembry (Executive), Jameel Burton (Chester) and Trent Middleton (MCS) has their teams looking for State Gold. The freshman has made their mark throughout the area. Malachi Palmer (Central Dauphin East), Michael “Deuce” Jones (Trenton Catholic) and Nick Coval (Parkland) led the 2024’s but others such as Moses Hipps (Carroll), Robert Wright (Neumann), Elijah Duval (Bonner), Ron Brown (SCH), Jacob Cumminsky (CB East) and Jayden Colzie (Plymouth Whitemarsh) made some waves in the area. 2024 seems to be a strong and deep class throughout the region.

Jeremiah Bembry, ’22 Executive Education

Five

Is this the year the District 11 wins a state title? Executive Charter, coached by former D1 player Ray Barbosa and led by Jevin Muniz and Jeremiah Bembry have to be considered among the favorites in the 3A bracket along with 4A Allentown Central Catholic, led by Tyson Thomas and Liam Joyce and coached by Dennis Csensits. William Allen led by 2022 guard Nate Ellis would be considered a long shot, but the chance is still there. There has been a drought but the time may be near for that to end but I know MCS in 3A and Pope John Paul in 4A are ready to keep that drought going on further.

All-Catholic and All-Area teams will be out later this week.