Basketball Spotlight’s New Jersey All-State Team 2020

Trenton, NJ – March 20, 2020: Mike Melton, Founder and Director of Basketball Spotlight, the nation’s leading Middle School age basketball organization announced the members of the Basketball Spotlight All-State team for 2020.

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Jamir Watkins, Trenton Catholic (VCU commit)

1st Team
Lance Ware (Camden)
DJ Wagner (Camden)
Jamir Watkins (Trenton Catholic)
Trey Patterson (Rutgers Prep)
CJ Wilcher (Roselle Catholic

Taj-Thweatt

Taj Thweatt, Wildwood Catholic (West Virginia commit)

2nd Team
Taj Thweat (Wildwood Catholic)
Jayden Pierre (Elizabeth)
Will Richardson (Bergen Catholic)
Ben Roy (Manasquan)
Cliff Omoruyi (Roselle Catholic)

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Taquan Woodley, Camden (undecided)

3rd Team
DJ Woodbury (Burlington City)
Adama Danago (Patrick School)
Taquan Woodley (Camden)
Alex Galvan (Manasquan)
Mark Armstrong (St. Peter’s Prep)

 

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The Big 10’s (Successful) Attack on Philly Mid-Majors!

It is ironic that most fans of college basketball are completely unaware of one of the most influential books of the 20th century. Published in 1962 by the University of Chicago Press, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, authored by Thomas Kuhn introduced term “paradigm shift” to contemporary discussions of organizational change and intellectual progress. Fans of Philadelphia’s rich college basketball tradition have, perhaps unknowingly, experienced a massive and consequential paradigm shift.

Thomas Kuhn can help us understand what has taken place over the past quarter century. Kuhn’s work is important because he singlehandedly changed the way we think about mankind’s most organized attempt to understand the world: science. Kuhn focused his considerable analytical acumen on our view of science and scientific progress. However, the power of his analytical approach for lay persons lies in it’s ability to shed considerable light on organizational change in general.

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Wednesdays at 4:00 pm on 610 ESPN Philadelphia

Prior to Kuhn, the standard account saw steady, cumulative “progress” in organizational development. Kuhn, trashed that traditional mode of thinking… Instead, he saw “paradigm shifts” or abrupt discontinuities – a set of alternating “normal” and “revolutionary” phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases – for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics – correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual.

The fact that Kuhn’s version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962, almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how organizational change and intellectual progress did – and should – work.

I strongly anticipate that many will find this application of his framework to subject of Philadelphia college basketball controversial. This essay will directly challenge some powerful entrenched assumptions about Philly’s mid-major hoops programs.

Here, I assert that the world of college basketball has been in an extended period of turmoil, uncertainty and angst for the past decade or so. This revolutionary phase – the transition from a high/mid/low major model to a far more narrowly circumscribed high/low major model – corresponds to aggressive Power 5 Conference geographic expansion and serves the basis for a new succeeding phase of business as usual. In this new phase, the mid-major category or classification will become extinct.

Increasingly, we are left with the BIG BOYS and the rest of us… Ain’t no more middle ground…

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Jim Delany, Former (1990-2020) Big 10 Commissioner  

The present discussion will center around very specific cases in the mid-Atlantic region, but I would argue the logic is applicable to Division 1 college basketball in general.  Let’s focus on the strategy of encirclement deftly deployed by Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany and it’s deleterious impact on Philly mid-major basketball programs, namely: Temple; Saint Joseph’s; La Salle, and; Drexel.

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Quinton Rose, Temple University

Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. Delany and the Big 10 have effectively encircled the Philly mid-majors: Rutgers to the north, Penn State to the West and Maryland to the South. This situation is highly dangerous for the Philly mid-majors: at the strategic level, because the Big 10 programs are attracting top recruits that would otherwise serve as reinforcements, and on the tactical level, because the Philly mid-majors are being subjected to an attack from several sides. Lastly, since the Philly mid-majors cannot retreat, they must either fight to the death or surrender.

Surrender does not appear to be imminent. These programs are gonna fight to the death…

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.

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Philly guys, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, Sr, & Hakim Hart, Jr.

Delany further adds, “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.

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Lamar Stevens, Penn State

 

DJ Newbill, John Johnson, Shep Garner, Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostic, John Harrar, Mike Watkins, Izaiah Brockington, Kyle McCloskey and Seth Lundy were Penn State Nittany Lions that may have found their way to Philly mid-major programs under the old paradigm. Eric Ayala, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott are plying their trade in College Park, Maryland instead of the Wynnefield or Olney sections of Philadelphia.

Shit is real… The paradigm has shifted… But not everyone is convinced…

The alums, season ticket holders and athletic directors of the Philly mid-majors remain entrenched in the outdated paradigm. They have yet to fully comprehend the extent of the paradigm shift. Hence, they are striving maintain a “mid-major” status when the existence of the category itself is tenuous at best.

Collectively, they have pinned their hopes on a “Messiah Model” of intervention.

From their perspective of the “Messiah Model”, status as competitive mid-major program hinges on finding the right head coach. Operating within this model, the competitive struggles of the Philly mid-major programs on the court and on the recruiting trails are attributable to the “poor performance” of head coaches. Hence, Billy Lange replaces Phil Martelli… Ashley Howard replaces John Gianinni, Aaron McKie replaces Fran Dunphy and Zach Spiker replaces Bruiser Flint…

Just gotta get the right guy in there and we’ll be alright… So they think…

In this way, the Philly basketball community has developed a collective messiah complex. There has emerged a state of mind in which the alums, fans and athletic directors hold a belief that the “new coaches” – Lange, Howard, McKie and Spiker – are destined to become a program savior today or in the near future.

They seemingly lack an appreciation of the much more complex and insurmountable sets of problems and issues facing these programs.

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Montez Mathis, Rutgers

For those that understand a paradigm shift that has taken place, it’s just not that simple. For those that have recently ventured into the athletic facilities at Big 10 programs, it becomes immediately apparent that the Philly mid-majors are deficient and at a serious disadvantage. There’s one notable exception… Temple has been able to build and renovate it’s facilities in a manner that renders them on par with Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland.

Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and Drexel are simply not on the same planet. The gap is humongous and ever-expanding.

Then there are the significant differences in travel accommodations and living arrangements. Simply stated, money matters and Delany has delivered ungodly amounts of cash. For the fiscal year 2019, Big 10 athletic departments each received $52,100,000 before they sold a single $88 ticket, $1,000 seat license, $5 hot dog, $20 parking pass or $125 hoodie. The student-athletes travel and live differently in Big 10 programs. Kids and their parents have become savvy comparison shoppers. Private Jet travel, 5 star hotels, luxury apartments are de rigueur in the Big 10 Conference.

Philly mid-majors ain’t playing in that ballpark. People, even 18-19 year old prospects, like nice things…

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Big 10 Commissioner, Kevin Warren

Then there’s the subtle but tremendously important leadership question…The Big 10 has a long history of progressive policies and righteous behaviors in the area of race relations. That means, in addition to tremendous advantages in athletic facilities, travel accommodations and living arrangements, the Big 10 has people in charge that look like many of the top high school basketball student-athletes in America. Jim Delany’s successor as Big 10 Commissioner is Kevin Warren (pictured above). Warren is the only Black commissioner among the Power 5 Conferences.

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Michigan Athletic Director, Warde Manuel

 

Warde Manuel is the 12th athletic director in the 118 years that the University of Michigan has had a formal title for the job. And he’s the second African-American man in that office. Tradition-rich Michigan has a consistently given Black men an opportunity to serve in leadership positions. Michigan has 31 teams and more than 950 student-athletes. The self-supporting department has an annual budget of $197 million and a staff of 400.

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Ohio State Athletic Director, Gene Smith

Gene Smith  currently serves as Vice President and Athletic Director for the Ohio State University. He was named the university’s eighth athletic director on March 5, 2005. The Ohio State athletic department sponsors 36 fully-funded varsity sports with more than 1.000 student-athletes competing for Big Ten Conference and NCAA championships. Smith has additional oversight responsibility for the Business Advancement division of Ohio State which includes: Schottenstein Center, Nationwide Arena, Blackwell Hotel, Drake Union, Fawcett Center, and Trademark & Licensing.

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Maryland Athletic Director, Damon Evans

Damon Evans was named the Director of Athletics for the University of Maryland on June 25, 2018. He oversees a department with 20 varsity sports and 500 student-athletes, a full-time staff of over 200, and an annual budget of $95 million. Evans joined the Terrapins in December of 2014 and served as Executive Athletic Director and Chief Financial Officer. He had overseen all day-to-day operations for the athletic department since October of 2017 prior to his appointment as Director of Athletics.

The Philly mid-major programs have widely varying track records in this area. One has a long and strong legacy of diversity and inclusion. Another has made significant progress over the past few years. The others lag considerably behind in this regard.

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Temple University COO, Kevin Clark

Temple has a long-standing track record of identifying and appointing Black males to leadership positions. Temple currently has a Black male COO, Kevin Clark (pictured above). Temple has a Black male basketball head coach and a Black female women’s basketball head coach. Historically, Temple has had a Black male athletic director, Black male football head coach, 3 Black female women’s basketball head coaches and two Black male basketball head coaches. Without question, Temple University has long valued Black participation above and beyond the playing field.

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La Salle Athletic Director, Brian Baptiste

La Salle University currently has a Black male athletic director, Brian Baptiste (pictured above) and a Black male basketball coach. La Salle has also had a Black male women’s basketball coach. La Salle demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion at the leadership level.

Drexel has had one Black male basketball coach.

Saint Joseph’s has never had a Black male basketball coach. Saint Joseph’s has never had a Black female basketball coach. Saint Joseph’s has never had a Black athletic Director. Currently, Saint Joseph’s has zero Blacks in leadership positions in the Athletic Department.

As my Grandpop used to say, “everything ain’t for everybody…”

Taken together, one could easily surmise that these factors do not bode well for coaches of Philly mid-major programs competing with Power 5 programs for elite basketball recruits. In addition to talent drained off to Penn State and Maryland, Miami (ACC) has successfully recruited Davon Reed, JaQuan Newton, Lonnie Walker and Isaiah Wong from the Greater Philadelphia region. Virginia snatched DeAndre Hunter. Kentucky landed Quade Green and Lance Ware.

Surprise… Surprise… Kids like really nice new things…

And, who would’ve thought? Kids and parents respond to people that look like them in leadership positions.

Alums, fans and the ADs of the Philly mid-majors have convinced themselves that they can overcome these hurdles by simply identifying the “messiah.” Lange, Howard, McKie and Spiker are expected to deliver these programs from the depths of mediocrity they currently inhabit.

Through the sheer force of their personalities, by exercising their exceptional “X & O” knowledge and just working VERY HARD they will compete…

So what the BIG BOYS have NBA arenas on campus… So what the BIG BOYS travel exclusively on private jets… So what the BIG BOY players live in luxury apartments…

Who needs a garbage disposal and washer and dryer in their apartment anyway?

Unfortunately, once one realizes and accepts that the paradigm shift has occurred it becomes apparent that alums, fans and ADs of Philly mid-majors have somewhat grandiose self-images that veer towards the delusional.

Shit has changed! And… It ain’t changing back…

By the standards of a present-day high major/low major rubric, alums, fans and ADs of Philly mid-major basketball programs look misinformed and naive at best. And yet we know they aren’t. They are fervent and passionate supporters of programs with wonderful basketball traditions.

They have no idea they are well behind Towson, Monmouth, Quinnipiac, UMBC, Fairfield and Coppin State in the facilities arms race… They just don’t know…

Kuhn’s blinding insight into the problem at hand comes from the sudden realization that if one is to understand these alums, fans and ADs, one must know about the intellectual tradition (outdated paradigm) within which they are operating. One must understand, for example, that for them the term “mid-major” means a program outside the Power 5 that was truly capable of challenging the BIG BOYS year in and year out on the recruiting trail and on the court.

Those days, I fear, are a thing of the past.

I’m NOT alright… They Killed my Son…

I’m not alright… Actually, I’m fucked up…

Like any thinking, feeling, caring Black man I was already deeply disturbed by the constant drumbeat of Black males savagely ruthlessly slaughtering one another in America’s inner cities. The streets of Chester, Camden and Philadelphia have become literal rivers of blood. Violence comes without warning, there are no heads up. You can be on a basketball court, sitting on front porches, walking your dog or even sitting inside your home… It truly doesn’t matter, the senseless violence can find you.

On an intellectual level, the recurring images of Black males scurrying across the screen in surveillance videos recklessly firing high caliber semiautomatic weapons at other Black males are beyond disappointing. The “cut and paste” news stories featuring “Black male between 20 and 30 shot multiple times” are heart-breaking.

On Monday, March 2, I had very real conversations with the parents of 3 prominent college basketball prospects. This was on the heels 3 Black males being killed over a 3 day period. A former Public League and college basketball player was shot to death after a disagreement escalated during a pick-up basketball game at LA fitness. Another young man was shot to death on a West Philadelphia basketball court. A former Temple football player was shot to death after he emerged victorious in an old fashioned fistfight.
In very frank conversations, my friends, the fathers of some of the best high school basketball players on the eastern seaboard admitted that the proliferation of wanton and deadly gun violence was a significant factor in their college selection process.

I posted the following on social media after those conversations: “Murder is bad for basketball recruiting… IJS”

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On Tuesday afternoon at 4:53 pm, I received a text from a good friend that is a staunch supporter of one of the Philadelphia Big 5 programs.

He wrote, “That post about murder last night was a bad look.”

I was driving to meet my homie Howard Hudson and head to watch Maryland play at Rutgers. I was surprised by my friends response and even more surprised that he would send me the text.

So I called him right away… The conversation got kinda ugly… But it was a conversation between friends. I explained that the “bad look” was the Black men lying dead on the streets, not what I posted on social media. He disagreed. He felt that I unnecessarily connected the murders to college basketball recruiting… I explained that I was merely sharing what was spelled out to me by fathers of kids going through the process.

Moreover, I added that one coach of a Catholic League kid also called on Monday and explained that one of his best players had lost 3 of his friends to gun violence over the past 12 months. The coach asked me to help find the kid a college program anywhere but Philadelphia. In other words, I tried to explain that “murder is bad for basketball recruiting.”

My friend wasn’t moved… See, he loves his alma mater… He wants them to win… He wants them to be viewed as a desirable destination in the eyes of elite Philadelphia basketball players.

My social media rants were getting in the way… So he thought… I really respect my friend, so I made every effort to explain that he and his Athletic Director were middle class white males living in the suburban enclaves safely ensconced away from the barrage of gunfire snuffing out young Black male lives by the dozens on a weekly basis. I also made it clear that I would continue to highlight the senseless violence plaguing our communities.

I told him to “buckle up” because if that social media post bothered him, he would definitely be perturbed by much of what was sure to come. I have a responsibility… I explained that I don’t see any of the others that have an audience of young Black Males discussing the deeply ingrained problem of Black male violence.

“You ‘bout to be pissed at me Bro.”

We left it at that… I met up with Howard in Camden and we rode up to Rutgers for the game. Soon as I hopped in his car, I told Howard about my conversation…

This is “Black people shit… He just doesn’t get it.”

“Shit is fucking crazy on these streets… I’m not gonna stop speaking up.” Howard patiently endured my venting as we made our way up the turnpike.

We got there a little late, because we failed to account for the fact that Rutgers is finally pretty good and there’s considerable interest in their games these days… There was a LOT of traffic getting into the campus…

Once there, we went to the will call only to be told our tickets were around the corner at the VIP entrance… Sweet… I was kinda forgetting about the conversation that had me all riled up.

I was REALLY looking forward to watching Maryland knock off the Scarlet Knights… We made our way to our seats about six rows up right at half court. Maryland played like shit but they were only down 6 at the half. It was around 8:00 pm and Howard went to go get some $20 chicken tenders and fries. I sat there and watched a magician and his assistant put on a pretty good halftime show.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, my stepson, Vernon Mayes, III was standing on a street corner and a sadistic gunman sprayed the corner with a hail of bullets. Vernon was struck in the heart, the back and the leg. He was pronounced dead 20 minutes later at Temple University hospital.

I had no idea…

Maryland continued to play like shit! Rutgers kicked their ass, beginning to end… We got outta there a lil’ early to get ahead of the traffic.

I arrived home and got a frantic phone call from, Ciera, my distraught daughter. “Vernon’s been shot.” That’s all she knew… The next morning I would learn that he didn’t make it…

The headline was nondescript “Kenington Shooting.” The story was just as simple, “A 33 year old man was fatally wounded in a shooting Tuesday night in the city’s Kensington section, police said.”

That was it… I had read similar accounts thousands of times…

This time it was my kid…

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Vernon came into my life when he was 3 years old. He was a beautiful, energetic boy. He loved the teenage mutant ninja turtles more than life itself. Eventually, I was able to convert him into a sports fan. He loved basketball almost as much as I did. I dragged him to countless Big 5 games. He watched just about every home game of Mark Bass’ career at St. Joseph’s. Geoff Arnold, Bruiser Flint and Phil Martelli embraced him unconditionally.

At times, when his mother and father weren’t always on the best of terms, I tried to serve as a bridge to keep the lines of parental communication open. His paternal grandfather, Vernon Mayes would regularly come to pick him up on weekends. His Dad, Vernon Mayes, Jr. introduced him to tennis. I didn’t really understand or appreciate how serious they were about it until one day I accompanied Vernon to a practice.

What the FUCK! Yo man…

The kid looked like Pete Sampras to me… After that, I did what I could to reinforce the lessons his Dads had instilled in him. While I was no tennis expert, I know what a gifted athlete looks like… Vernon was a gifted tennis player.

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It became a bit of a struggle… He wanted to play basketball. He was really good at tennis.
Vernon struggled in school… More accurately, Vernon rarely went to school. He got in some legal trouble while I was teaching at Lincoln University. I went to his hearing and discovered that he had over 90 absences. He was in the streets. His mother was working hard to care for him and he was doing whatever.

He was sent away to Glen Mills. I felt it was best for him at the time. He called me on a couple of occasions and complained that the staff kept “putting their hands” on him. Knowing where he was outweighed any concerns I may have had about maltreatment at the hands of the counselors.

I knew he had a gift… And, after several attempts, I finally reached the tennis coach at Glen Mills. I told him my son was good… But, having received hundreds of such calls from overzealous parents myself, I know he would discount the evaluation from his step-father. So I shifted strategies, I literally begged the man to “hit with him” and call me back after. He reluctantly agreed.

It took a few weeks, but he called me back…

Before he could say a word, I said, “Yo man… I know… I know…”

He said, “Mr. Wilson, he’s really good… I mean really good.”

“Yo man… I know… I know…”

“He’s definitely gonna be by number 1 player.”

“Thanks Bro… I look forward to coming up to watch.”

Unfortunately, Vernon had failed the 9th grade and even though he was only 17, his eligibility for PIAA sports was completely used up.

FUCK!

He just did his time and eventually made it home… He found work as a baggage handler at the airport. He purchased a new Dodge Magnum. He was dabbling in the rap game.
He seemed to be doing well… He met a nice girl, they had a boy, Lil’ Vern.

I was a Pop-Pop.

I had home in North Philly at 26th and Silver. I let Vernon and his friends stay there.

Then I started hearing rumors… Vern “messing with those pills…”

Like too many parents, you hear it, but you don’t HEAR it… I NEVER, not once confronted him about the pills… I am ashamed to admit that…

On one level, I didn’t understand what they were. I could only relate them to my vices. I like marijuana. For years, I smoked weed daily. I competed graduate school, taught in college and did a lot of other things. I figured he could ‘manage’ his vice just like my friends and I managed ours.

On another level, I was just a FUCKIN’ coward! I NEVER, not once confronted him…

I just cowardly ignored the rumblings.

Two days after his death, I sit here dealing with the fact that his presence in Kensington had to be related to drugs. That I know.

What I also know is that my son was a loving, caring, beautiful young man. The soulless savage that fired the bullets that took his life stole a brother, a father, a friend, a nephew, a cousin and a son.

His biological parents graciously allowed me to equally co-parent with them. For that I will always be grateful to Sherry Poole and Vernon Mayes, Jr.

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Now, like untold thousands of other Philadelphians we are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD develops in some who have experienced a scary, shocking or dangerous event. Shit like the murder of your harmless son. Symptoms include re-experiencing the traumatic event (i.e., flashbacks, nightmares), avoidance of thoughts, feelings or places related to the event, feeling tense or irritable, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, or feelings of guilt or blame.

PTSD is real!

Black men in the Philadelphia and many other cities between the ages of 15 to 34 are most likely to die by homicide at the hand of other Black men. I know so many young men that are fighting daily to stay physically alive. Now I find myself among the ranks of those fighting to preserve their mental health and ability to function productively in society.

I shoulda forced his ass to play tennis and go to college somewhere far away from Philadelphia…

I’m NOT alright… They killed my son…

Diamond Johnson Invited to Play in Iverson Showcase!

By Eric Dixon

March 5, 2020

Allen Iverson’s career personified perseverance, creativity and courage. He played all 722 games in a Sixers uniform as if it were his last. For that he is beloved and iconic in Philly. Another reason is that he just gets us. He understands the culture. He understands how emotional and heartfelt our commitment to our basketball community is and nothing showed that more than when he extended a groundbreaking invitation to one of the areas biggest high school stars, Diamond Johnson. She will be the first female player to be given such a platform in a national-level showcase when she suits up to take part in the 24K Showcase event on Wednesday, April 22. Through that she will be given an opportunity to earn a spot in the later game featuring talents from around the country to be held Friday, April 24th. The significance of it was not lost on Iverson or his camp.

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Diamond Johnson (Rutgers Commit) and Rutgers Coach Vivian Stringer

It’s huge. But he didn’t do it to be “huge”. He did it because he felt it was right. He did it because he felt she deserved it. He did it to bring a smile to a young player who has worked her tail off to be one of the very best our city has ever seen and after seeing the egregious snub she received from another All Star panel.

Johnson, who scored 2741 points in HS and ranked as high as the number 6 prospect in her class (2020) by ESPN expected to be invited to participate in the girls high school McDonald’s All-American game. It didn’t happen. Now, it doesn’t matter. Especially after this past Monday afternoon when she received a Facetime call from one of her heroes, whose number she wears partly in homage to him, to personally invite her to play in his event. Against the boys. This is historic and courageous. But it also feels right and typical of Iverson and his team.

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During his 14 year NBA playing career he routinely displayed the brazen, brave and rebellious part of his nature on and off the court. We can all remember him driving relentlessly into the paint amongst the trees and somehow, despite his relatively diminutive frame, he emerged successful. He would do what others couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Although the two had never met, there are connections between them that are appreciated. Johnson, who was born in Philadelphia, moved to Hampton, Virginia as a middle schooler and began her illustrious high school career at Phoebus High School where she established herself as a young phenom, averaging 33 ppg as a sophomore. She played for the legendary Boo Williams, the same program Iverson ran with. Perhaps that is where her affinity for number three took root.

Bobby Bates, Iverson’s business partner, ironically received the call about losing Kobe Bryant just as he was speaking with another partner about the details of possibly including Diamond in the game. The call changed his life. The emotion he felt at that moment led to changes in the format of the game and the event. What didn’t change was the desire to include Diamond.

There are many layers to how she was incorporated. She was intentionally named the 24th player to give her a chance to be celebrated separately from her male counterparts due to the significance of her being the first female invited to such a stage. Her inclusion honors Giana “Gigi” Bryant, a budding female hoop star whose life was cut short with her legendary father’s. None of this has been lost on Iverson, his team or Diamond and her coach.

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As we peel back the layers of her inclusion we see a side of Iverson that is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. He is empathetic and authentic. He loves the communities he calls home and feels an obligation to manifest that love in ways that are part of his unique legacy. That legacy just got a little bigger and gained more substance. We know he is still a part of Philadelphia. We now know he still feels like we are a part of him. He still gets us.

 

The POWER of Pennsylvania Basketball

By James Nelson-Stewart

March 5, 2020

In a year where one of the Top shows on Television is called Power, the 50 Cent produced show on the STARZ network, we have our own version of Power that is tearing up the Suburban Philadelphia Basketball Scene. Now instead of Ghost, Angela, Tommy, Tariq and Tasha being the main characters of this show, the characters of this show on the area basketball courts are named Andrew Carr, Jeff Woodward, Erik Timko, Omar Nichols, Evin Timochenko and Brett Eberly. The producers of this show are named Jason Fisher and Kevin Carroll, coaches of the East Coast Power AAU program and the coaches of a Philadelphia Catholic League team called Devon Prep. The Power show on our area basketball courts has produced the same roaring results as the Television show.

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East Coast Power

Let me introduce you to the East Coast Power AAU Basketball program. The program is based out of the Suburban Philadelphia region, King of Prussia to be exact. The program also has a basketball facility that they can call its own called Competitive Edge, a 5-court gym located in King of Prussia that holds many events such as Basketball tournaments, Volleyball tournaments, Basketball camps, and houses the Level 40 training center.

Back to the East Coast Power program and its increasingly growing profile on the Philadelphia AAU Basketball scene. When people think of the Philadelphia AAU scene it largely starts with the 4 sneaker sponsored teams Team Final (Nike), Philly Pride (Under Armour), WeR1 (Under Armour) and K-Low Elite (Adidas). Each of them excellent programs that have had extended success on their respective circuits and are known to produce Division 1 basketball players at a very high rate. Well quickly the East Coast Power Organization is producing Division 1 players and competing with the big boys without the Sneaker Circuit advantage.

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Justin Jaworski, Lehigh University

Over the past few years, East Coast Power has produced such players as Justin Jaworski (Lafayette, Academic POY in Patriot Conference this year), Matt Faw (Holy Cross), Jon Bol Ajak (Syracuse), Sean Yoder (Navy) and others. Some are saying that they should be the 5th Philadelphia area Sneaker Circuit team with their sustained success at building successful players and extremely competitive teams. That all has led up to this year where the East Coast Power players are leading their teams to lofty heights and for some of the team’s heights that had never been achieved by their respective schools.

Coach Kevin Carroll and Coach Jason Fisher started building this group 5 years ago as this current group was in the 7th grade with the core of Omar Nichols (Friends Central) and Spencer Cochran (Malvern Prep) and the year after they added the duo of big man Jeffrey Woodward and PG Brett Eberly (both of Methacton) and from there they would add on to the nucleus to where it currently is now. The 2019 17U East Coast Power consisted of Nichols, Cochran, Woodward, Eberly, Andrew Carr (West Chester East), Erik Timko (Methacton), Evin Timochenko (Wilson), Zach Lezanic (Conestoga/Hill School), Jack d’Entremont (Radnor), Chris Arizin (St. Joes Prep) and Logan Shanahan (Unionville). This group has had incredible individual success along with teams that have won their league (Malvern Prep-Inter Ac, Wilson-Berks County, West Chester East-ChesMont and Methacton-Pioneer) and district titles (D1 5A West Chester East, D1 6A Methacton, D3 6A Wilson) respectively.

Now as we enter the PIAA State Tournament, a couple of the teams will have a chance to make a long run towards a state title. Cochran, Nichols and Lezanic competed in the PAISAA tournament where Cochran and his Malvern Prep team lost in the Championship game against powerful Westtown. This group has blazed a path for future East Coast Power players to follow.

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Jeff Woodward, Colgate Commit

The headliners of this group are the 6-10 twin towers of Jeff Woodward and Andrew Carr. Both highly skilled big men are Division 1 signees Woodward (Colgate) and Carr (Delaware) and both have led their High School teams to heights that had never been reached before in their school’s history as both Methacton and West Chester East won their 1st District Title in the history of their schools. Their paths to get to these heights has been very different. Woodward was a 6-6 8th grader who became the centerpiece “big” for this East Coast Power team, while Carr only started playing AAU after his Sophomore season, when he grew from 6-0 as a freshman JV player to a 6-6 Sophomore Varsity basketball player.

Both players have been instrumental in building programs at their respective high school and will have some big-time basketball in front of them. The Philly basketball community knows plenty about these young men but may not know that Woodward was a big time Lacrosse player from 5th grade to 8th grade which shows why he is able to move on the court and that Carr ended up with 18 offers before choosing Delaware. Zach Lezanic (Conestoga/Hill School) is committed to D1 Army and Logan Shanahan (Unionville) is committed to D3 Emory University.

Erik Timko is a player that is blossoming in front of our eyes every game. This young man has led Methacton in scoring the last 2 years while scoring over 1,000 points in that span and this year joined the 50-40-90 club. The exclusive club is for players who shoot 50% or better from the field, 40% or better from the 3-pt. line and 90% and better from the free throw line. His teammate Woodward says he is shooting better than 60% from the field. Timko stated that he just started taking basketball more seriously the last 2 years and you see the results. At 6-3, Timko brings a smooth intelligent game and with those percentages, you see he plays a very efficient game.

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Erik Timko, Methacton Senior Guard

As one of the Top Philadelphia-area Basketball Scouts and one of the Directors of the Great Philly Pride Program, Amauro Austin says Timko is AA-stamped as a Division 1 prospect. Joedy Johnson, assistant coach for Pioneer Conference Rival Norristown High School, agrees with Austin’s assessment and says Timko could “definitely” help a Division 1 program. Brett Eberly, the 3-year starting PG for Methacton and the engine of this team, is a very heady guard who presently is hearing from Division 3 teams such as Randolph Macon, Elizabethtown and Moravian. Eberly stated to me that he wants to be on the court in college and wants to play early. Eberly, Timko and Woodward have been playing together since the 4th grade. Evin Timochenko, a 6-6 PF/C for Wilson West Lawn High School, has finally gotten healthy his Sr season after missing much of his Jr season with injuries. He has played a huge part in Wilson’s 27-1 record along with Stevie Mitchell. Timochenko is getting looks from such schools as Cal U, East Stroudsburg, Sheppard and Kutztown (all Division 2 PSAC schools) along with Division 3 schools Lebanon Valley and Desales. These players will be on display during the state playoffs.

Omar Nichols and Spencer Cochran are the 2 players who started this process and they are still available players. Both are PGs and are high academic student athletes. Nichols played in the Friends League and Cochran played in the Inter Ac League. Nichols has been contacted by schools on all 3 levels and Cochran has been contacted by schools right now on the Division 3 level. Chris Arizin is also in the PIAA playoffs with St. Joes Prep from the strong Philadelphia Catholic League and he is getting Division 3 interest along with Jack d’Entremont (Radnor). Please contact Coach Kevin Carroll for any information on these players.

The Philadelphia Basketball Community feels that East Coast Power players have been slightly under recruited for years. Coach Kevin Carroll would not entertain that conversation and basically stated that all the coaches in the program had the mission of helping the children attain their goals whether no matter what level the players go. The core values of teamwork and unselfishness extends far beyond the basketball court for this group. The players are so happy for the success of all of the other players on the team and they share a genuine love that comes with years of working hard in the gym and battling some of the elite AAU programs across the country and beating teams such as the EYBL participants (NY Lightning and The Family from Michigan). So while the television show named POWER has come to an end, the (East Coast) POWER of Pennsylvania Basketball will continue to wild on basketball courts near you for many years to come.

Cahillite Nation… Da Fck?

I go to a LOT of basketball games… High School, college and occasionally an NBA game. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a highly competitive basketball game where there’s some real sh!t on the line! Quite frankly, that’s why I avoid the NBA…

Let’s keep it real… They actually play more regulars season games (82) than players get named to the Philadelphia All-Public Team (81)… Fckin Amazing…

My interest in the NBA starts to get piqued when the NBA playoffs edge toward the conference finals. Until then, it’s usually non-stop college hoops for me. Philadelphia City 6 basketball has been my sweet spot for more than 30 years. Most years, Drexel, Penn, Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple and La Salle provide a hoop head with a wide range of options.

Unfortunately, this season has been highly problematic. Unless you visit the Main line, it’s damn near impossible to find college games where “there’s some real sh!t on the line.”

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Collin Gillespie, Villanova Point Guard

Villanova exists in an entirely different and distinct universe. The gap between the City 6 haves and have nots hasn’t been this cavernous since the boy from Chester was running point and kicking everybody’s ass at 54th and City Ave.

Jameer, Delonte, Barley, Carroll and Jones were clearly head and shoulders above everyone else in the area for an impressive 24-36 month span. Nova’s run, however, is now approaching a decade. Quite frankly, Jay is so good one could convincingly argue he has fcked up the competitive balance of the Big 5. On far too many occasions, it feels like you are watching a 20 year old big brother dominate his 9 year old little brother in a driveway battle for household supremacy.

Moreover and more importantly… There’s no end in sight…

As of today, St. Joseph’s (1-13), La Salle (4-10) and Temple (6-8) have a combined league record of 11-31… They, more or less, stink… Some smell much worse than the others… But they have all been a lil’ pungent this year.

It should be noted that I LOVE these basketball programs! Many of the coaches are my friends and I’ve watched a lot of the players rise through the ranks to reach their D1 goal. I like nothing more than driving to conference tournaments when these teams are in contention and watching them with a chance to play themselves into March Madness…

Again… I LOVE to watch them play with some real shit on the line!

Well this year… There’s a better chance that Mexico will “pay for the wall” than St. Joseph’s, LaSalle or Temple playing themselves in the NCAA tournament by sweeping through their respective conference tournaments…

Real Rap… Stick a fork in ’em… Or, let’s talk about next year…

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Camren Wynter, Drexel Point Guard

 

Drexel has had some spurts… They have, Camren Wynter, one of the best guards in the CAA and James Butler, a double-double machine at power forward. Zack Spiker’s crew had my hopes up for a moment… Maybe… Just maybe I could head out to the CAA tournament. Then they lost 8 of their last 9 games… Da Fuck?

The Penn Quakers, last year’s Big 5 Champion actually DON’T stink… They ahiiiight… Standing 13-10 overall and 5-5 in the league, maybe just maybe they can pull it together and make a run in the Ivy League tournament… But… But… first they have to get in the tournament.

The Ivy Tournament features ONLY the top 4 teams in the league and right now the Quakers are 5th… If they season ended today they would be on the outside looking in… If they sweep their remaining 4 games they would be in good shape… Good Luck… I’ll be paying close attention, because the Quakers are actually playing games with “some real shit on the line.”

Back to Nova… Being from Darby Township, I’m not a Grey Poupon/Main Line kinda guy… While I’m the first to admit that Nova has, by far, the best product on the market, I’m NOT going that far up Lancaster Ave. more than once or twice a year.

Nonetheless, I refuse to give up my quest for games with “some real sh!t on the line.”
So, I have turned my attention to the scholastic ranks… Man, let me tell you… the high school kids didn’t let me down.

I watched a LOT of HS ball this year… Reading vs Wilson West Lawn, Poly (MD) vs St. Frances (MD), Oak Hill (VA) vs St. Frances, IMG vs Poly (MD), West Catholic vs Archbishop Ryan, Roman Catholic vs Roman, SLA Beeber vs West Philadelphia, Lincoln vs MCS, Archbishop Wood vs Neumann-Goretti, Downingtown West vs Coatesville, Academy Park vs Chester and many others.

These kids were BALLING!! These games were intense!! I got my fix…

But yesterday, I damn near overdosed…

I attended what has to be the most special and most significant HS basketball game in America. The Championship game of the Philadelphia Catholic League is played annually in front of capacity crowds in the historic Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

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Blaise Vespe and Warren Eaddy, Neumann-Goretti

This years game was special for many reasons…More than anything else, it’s a game with a LOT of real shit on the line.

First of all, it was a rematch of last years semi-final contest between to the two dominant Catholic League HS programs of the past quarter century.  Roman Catholic knocked off Neumann-Goretti 72-66 at the Palestra last year.

That was last year…

That 2019 Roman squad was loaded. Seth Lundy and Hakim Hart are Big 10 players a year later. Louie Wild is drawing low D1/D2 interest while completing a prep year with Olympus. Gabe Perez is on the roster at D2 Chestnut Hill College. Jalen Duren is the consensus #2 player in the Class of 2022. Justice Williams has emerged as a Top 30 National prospect in the 2022 class one of the top 3 guards in the Greater Philadelphia region regardless of class. Lynn Greer, III is a solid mid-major plus/high major prospect.

Shit!

As expected, Roman won the Catholic League Championship.

Neumann-Goretti’s 2019 squad was also very strong. Chris Ings has been a freshman starter for a good Rider University team all year. Hakim Byrd has committed to join Ings in the MAAC with Marist College. Jordan Hall is headed to 54th and City Ave. to play for the Hawks in the A10. Cameron Young is on his way to Bowling Green and the tough MAC conference. Chris Evans has been drawing interest from low D1/D2 programs and may the best 3-point shooter in the region.

As good as Neumann-Goretti was, it wasn’t enough to get past Roman as the Cahillites won their 4th Catholic League Championship in 5 years.

But graduation took Hart, Lundy, Wild and Perez away. That’s a LOT to lose at one time. Fans and supporters of a typical program would urge caution going forward. The logical thing to do would be to tamper down expectations. Especially, in light of Neumann-Goretti acquiring free agent D1 prospects Hysier Miller (Martin L. King) and Blaise Vespe (St. Augustine Prep) in a busy off-season.

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Hakim Byrd and Hysier Miller, Neumann-Goretti Guards

But… Cahillite Nation ain’t built like that… Their DNA is missing the modesty gene… It renders them incapable to spotting shortcomings and acknowledging weaknesses. Even when they are glaring and easy to spot.

Although they are incredibly gifted athletes, Duren and Williams are just basketball babies, they are mere sophomores. While Greer has been around and been a key part of some wonderful Roman Catholic teams, he was never THE guy. Seth Lundy was THE guy… Hakim Hart was the OTHER guy… Louie Wild did all the little intangible stuff that wins games… They were all gone.

Talent alone is not enough to win games against other talented well-coached teams.

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Cameron Young and Chris Evans, Neumann-Goretti

Recognizing the need to reshape and reformulate his team, Roman Catholic Head Coach, Matt Griffin kept them active year round. Matt is a super sharp guy… He gets it…

Cahillite Nation saw the individual rankings… They saw the high major offers… They heard the incredibly optimistic chatter… They thought people would roll over and play dead because Roman showed up with 3 high major prospects.

The problem is… You have to ACTUALLY play basketball games.

In the summer they went up to Rider and played in a team camp. The competition was fierce. Roman got swept.

Cahillite Nation chimed in… “Team Camp games don’t count!”

Huh? The refs were there… They kept score… Rider coaches were watching…

Coach Griffin knew better…  He put the Cahillites in the best HS Live Period Event on the eastern seaboard. Once again, Roman got swept… Spanked… Embarrassed…

Cahillite Nation spoke up immediately… “HS Live Period games don’t count!”

Huh? Fans were there… Over 200 D1 coaches watched the games…

Fall came around, St. Frances (MD) and Trenton Catholic (NJ) squared off against Roman in The Black Cager Fall Classic in late September… Again… Roman went 0-2.

A pattern was becoming obvious… something was awry… something was askew… Shit wasn’t right… Cahillite Nation was not even slightly concerned… They would just turn it on and run through the regular season.

The capacity crowds that watched the Fall Classic didn’t matter… Like #45, Cahillite Nation insisted “what you see and hear is not actually happening.”

But… Then they started playing regular seasons HS games…

Roman, as always, had a STRONG national schedule lined up… They faced McEachern in Florida and lost… They faced Vashon in St. Louis and lost…

To their credit, They traveled across the Ben Franklin bridge and knocked off Nationally ranked and NJ #1 Camden HS… With that victory, Cahillite Nation was convinced the ship was righted… They forcefully told me so in the aftermath of that particular game.

Then they traveled to Utah and lost to Wasatch Academy and Indiana where they fell to La Lumiere

SMH…

By now you would think Cahillite Nation would exhibit a little humility and grace… Nope! Not a chance…

“None of that matters, we gonna roll through the Catholic League… watch!”

The talk was HEAVY, real HEAVY!

Then Catholic League play started and Friars travelled from Drexel Hill to play Roman in the matchbox on the top floor. Bonner-Prendie spanked ‘em at home… Whoaaa…

Ten days later, they would face Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood in back-to-back road contests… Roman lost both games…

Two weeks after that, they would make their way up to Wyncote to face a tough McDevitt club… Yet another loss…

After spending the entire Summer, Fall and a good portion of the winter losing basketball games, Cahillite Nation proudly declared Roman Catholic the favorite to win the prestigious Catholic League Championship.

“We built for the Palestra” they said…

Roman proceeded to eek out a narrow 2-point victory over Bonner-Prendie in the quarterfinals to make it back to the Palestra for the semi-finals. Then they spanked a tough Archbishop Wood squad in the semi-finals by 10 to advance to the finals.

Under the influence of a 6 game winning streak, Cahillite Nation couldn’t resist the temptation to talk shit.

The Championship became a foregone conclusion in their narrative… They would roll over Neumann-Goretti to retain the title that is their birthright.

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Head Coach, Carl Arrigale and Asst. Coach, Pat Sorrento, Neumann-Goretti

Except they had to actually play the basketball game… Cameron Young, Hysier Miller, Hakim Byrd, Jordan Hall, Chris Evans and Blaise Vespe felt very strongly that they were the better team. During the 32 minute contest, they proved they had the better basketball team.

They proceeded to lead the contest for about 29 or 30 of the 32 minutes. Few objective observers would disagree with the assertion that the Saints were the better team.

As the clock wound down, one of my dear friends and one of the leaders of Cahillite Nation started to leave with a few seconds remaining on the clock. I made sure to get his attention and shake his hand before he could exit.

He extended his hand and said “This game doesn’t matter, we’re gonna win the next 2 anyway.”

Cahillite Nation… Da Fuck?

About Last Night… WOOGA!

So I’m running a lil’ late… I have program that works with incarcerated teenage males in Vineland, New Jersey. These are my guys… They love to read, watch and talk about sports. We were finishing up a discussion on whether or not they could work for Temple University and convince vocal opponents of the proposed Football Stadium to accept it’s placement square in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

They understood the issue of gentrification, they understood displacement and empathized with the position of the long-time residents. They wouldn’t want the traffic, the tailgating, the partying in their neighborhood. The fully grasped the ethical and moral dimensions of the debate.

But, unanimously… For the right amount of money, they indicated that they would work relentlessly to help Temple change the minds of the stadium opponents…

Love my guys… They keep that shit REAL!

So, they tell me to hit the road, they want me to go cover the Public League Semifinals and it’s a 45-50 minute drive from Vineland to South Philly.

Off I go…

I get there a little after 6:00… Late but not too bad… I’ll only miss a couple of minutes of action. So I thought…

Amazingly, I see a car pulling out of the lot as I pull in… PERFECT! A parking spot in the school lot… Cool…

You can feel the energy in the air… Nisine Poplar (Wooga) is playing… as I approach the door, it becomes apparent that it’s gonna take a while to get in… The line is LONG… Well over 100 patrons waiting to catch the action.

So I settle in and inch toward the door… The line is moving slowly but steadily…

The familiar aroma of “loud” lingers in the air… It smells rather enticing I might add… Tempted to ask the youngins where they purchased that particular brand of cologne, I demur…

Not the right time or place…

Finally, my group of ten is prepped for passage through the metal detectors… I hand the school officer my keys and iPhone… I let the young woman with 5 kids go before me, then I walk through the machine… No beep! I’m good… I feel just a lil’ bit safer…

As I enter the gym, it’s PACKED!

It’s also beautiful… The School District of Philadelphia has polished the playing surface. The hardwood is glistening… You can hear the shoes squeaking as the players stop, cut and change directions… The lights are ALL functioning, (almost) no missing bulbs… The stands are fully extended and every available seat is occupied!

The PUB!

As it should be… It feels as though the School District actually cares about athletics… I’m impressed.

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Stacey Dandridge from Darby Township and Chillyock from South Philly

Then I look at the scoreboard… Imohtep is up 15 in the middle of the second quarter… I see my man Stacey Dandridge (Sta-Dan) from Darby Township… Like a lot of Darby Township guys, Sta-Dan has developed an affinity for South Philly and South Philly Basketball. It makes sense to see him sitting in the front row.  He tells me that Imhotep has employed a gimmick “Box and 1” defense against MCS. Wooga and his teammates were having some difficulty adjusting.

To my left, I see my Southside homies… Sam Wylie, Sr., Shon Minnis, Butter and Bunky… I settle in amongst them to watch this thing play out.

Sam, Sr. is watching Sam, Jr. play a GREAT game so we kinda leave him alone… He’s in a zone…

The rest of us watch MCS, claw, scrap and fight their way back into the game.

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Truth be told… It was the “other” guys that got MCS back into the game… Tvon Jones used his incredible athleticism and explosiveness to attack the rim, Naadhir Wood consistently caught the ball and finished when the team needed buckets, Zakee Fleming exhibited and very good understanding of basic basketball principles as he repeatedly got the better of bigger, faster and more athletic Imhotep front court players.

It was a real rumble…

Imhotep star, Elijah Taylor fouled out with Imhotep clinging to a 4 point lead with 1:20 remaining in the contest. Seemed like the Panthers would survive…

After all, Wooga had struggled throughout the game… The game plan was clear from the start… Imhotep Head Coach Andre Noble was going to make someone other that Wooga beat him. The Panthers face guarded Wooga anytime he was not in the locker room or on the bench… Relentlessly…

Still…

With Imhotep clinging to a 3 point lead, MCS had the ball and called timeout with about 11 seconds left in the game…

Everyone in the gym knew who was gonna take the shot… Mayor Kenney knew who was gonna take the shot… President Trump knew who was gonna take the shot… Marcus Garvey knew who was gonna take the shot… Harriet Tubman knew who was gonna take the shot…

Clark Kent had been mild-mannered for 31 minutes and 38 seconds…

If MCS was gonna pull this one out, they needed Superman to find a phone booth and put on his cape…

Well… Look up in the sky MUTHAFUCKA!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

On cue, Wooga ran his man off a Naadhir Wood screen, Marcus Middleton got him the ball… the Imhotep defenders were there… They challenged the shot… It wasn’t a good shot… I was a tough well-defended off balance 3-point attempt…

SPLASH bitches!

Superman is in the building…

Tie game… The overtime was a mere formality after Wooga’s heroics. With that, MCS finally vanquished the mighty Imhotep Panthers.

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MCS Coaching Staff after win over Imhotep

Congratulations to Head Coach Lonnie Diggs and his hardworking staff. Can’t wait til Saturday… The defending PIAA AA State Champions will have their hands full with a well-coached Simon Gratz Bulldog squad.

The PUB!