The Declining Significance of Sonny Hill and the Resulting Loss of Social Capital

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Sonny Hill at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Founded in 1968, the Sonny Hill Community Involvement Basketball League uses basketball as a foundation for teaching life skills. For thirty years or so, the Sonny Hill league reigned as the undisputed best summer high school basketball league in America. The Holcombe Rucker League in Harlem is also highly regarded. But, the talent in Hill League was unsurpassed. Gene Banks (Duke), Lewis Lloyd (Drake), Clarence Tillman (Kentucky/Rutgers), Mo Howard (Maryland), Pooh Richardson (UCLA), Nate Blackwell (Temple), Dallas Comegys (DePaul), Lionel Simmons (LaSalle), Kobe Bryant (NBA), Rasheed Wallace (North Carolina), Rip Hamilton (Connecticut) and Alvin Williams (Villanova) are just a few of the great scholastic players that laced ‘em up in the Hill League.

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Gene Banks

The concentration of talent was incredible. You could walk in McGonigle Hall on Temple University’s campus and catch the incredibly strong Rico Washington (Weber State) battling the powerful low-post force, Brian Shorter (Pitt) on the blocks. If you were more attracted to guard play, the wizardry of Michael Anderson (Drexel) was on full display as he went against consummate Philly point guard Howie Evans (Temple), the blindingly quick Bruiser Flint (Drexel) or the explosive Steve Black (LaSalle). Summer basketball in Philadelphia was truly something to behold.

The Sonny Hill League was an outgrowth of the Charles Baker League. In 1960, Mr. Hill founded the Baker League as place for professional basketball players to work on their craft during the off-season. The four-team league that began playing outdoors on the concrete court of of North Philadelphia eventually grew to attract some of the biggest names in basketball. Over the years, Wilt Chamberlain, Guy Rodgers, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Bill Bradley, Earl Monroe, Darryl Dawkins, Joe Bryant and World B. Free were regulars in the Baker League.

Wilt

Wilt Chamberlain

It’s all gone!

The Baker League no longer exists and the Sonny Hill League is a just shell of what once existed.

Recently, I received a phone call early one morning from St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. He asked, “Del what happened to the Hill League… I’m reading the box score from a college league playoff game and I only recognize one name – Biggie Minnis.” The Hill league no longer attracts the best high school and college players in the area. There can be no denying the fact… The Hill League has fallen off… That conversation with Martelli stuck with me for a few days. I brought the topic up with Bruiser Flint, Ashley Howard and Geoffrey Arnold. They coach at Drexel, Villanova and St. Joseph’s respectively. I asked each the same thing Martelli asked me: What happened to the Hill League?

The focus of the conversations was on  two distinct questions: 1) Why did the Hill League become insignificant? And, 2) What have we lost as a result?

There is a consensus that the rise of AAU and shoe company teams contributed mightily to the demise of the Hill League. However, the more interesting question becomes: Could the outcome have been any different?

Brian Shorter

Brian Shorter

Mr. Hill’s tenacity and drive enabled him to form and maintain a youth sports league that is nearing it’s 50th year of existence. Perhaps, these same traits rendered him a unable to adapt and become more flexible when the AAU movement crept into Philadelphia. Rather than accommodate the schedules of the biggest AAU tournaments, Mr. Hill forced players to choose. Over time, the lure of jet travel across the country, stays in fine hotels and playing in front of 200-300 college coaches was too much for Philly’s best ballers to resist. Gradually, more and more began to play exclusively for prominent local AAU programs like Team Philly (Adidas), Team Final (Nike), WeRone (Under Armour) and Philly Pride (Under Armour).

The kids, however, being from Philadelphia needed an outlet to settle their neighbor “Ball-Beefs.” Rahim Thompson’s popular Chosen League has emerged to satisfy that thirst for local school yard competition in the summer. Thompson, ingeniously, decided to work around the schedules of the biggest AAU tournaments which take place during NCAA live periods. In this way, he has been able to have the very best scholastic players in Philadelphia participate in his league. The Chosen League has surpassed the Hill League as the place to see the best local players during the summer months.

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Philly Schoolboy Legend Rysheed Jordan in the Chosen League

What have we lost? The best answer I could come with is: We have lost a great deal of “Social Captial”.

For Mr. Hill and his colleagues Claude Gross, Tee Shields, Fred Douglas, Vince Miller and James Flint the Sonny Hill League was about far more than just basketball. The Sonny Hill League Community Involvement League is an organization that not only includes roughly four dozen youth basketball teams, but also features career-counseling and tutoring programs.

It’s been that way since the beginning… “During that summer of ’68, gang warfare was a big problem all over the country,” Hill said. “Kids were dying. Neighborhoods were being torn up. So I decided to put my name on a league that would get some of kids who would be in gangs to focus their efforts on basketball… I talked to people all over the city. We got truces established. If a kid was found crossing a rival gang’s turf and he said he was going to play in the Sonny Hill League that got him a pass. At first it was a diversion for those kids. Now over the years we’ve grown into a program that gets kids off the streets, gets them learning and gets them a chance to lead productive lives.”

That’s Social Capital!!

lionel-simmons

Lionel Simmons

The basic premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”]. Through the Sonny Hill League, Philadelphia’s Basketball community was awash in social capital. Shit… were were wealthy in that regard.

Social capital emphasizes a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and, at least sometimes, for bystanders as well. Think of all the trust people had in John Hardnett, Claude Gross and Tee Shields. Think of all the information the administrators of the Sonny Hill League possessed and shared with participants and bystanders.

The Sonny Hill League fostered and facilitated information flows (e.g. learning about scholarships, learning about coaches looking for players, exchanging information about players with college coaches, etc.). This was social capital.

The Sonny Hill League established norms of reciprocity (mutual aid). Alums to this very day do for one another. For example, I have called on Lionel Simmons to help kids pay for SAT prep materials and tutoring. The Sonny Hill League network connected folks who were in similar in-groups. The League facilitated connection among individuals.

Rasheed

Rasheed Wallace

The Sonny Hill League facilitated a broader “Philadelphia” identity and solidarity among Philly ballers. The Sonny Hill League helped translate an “I” mentality into a “we” mentality.

When the group of men keep an eye on one another’s players in the streets, that’s social capital in action. When a tightly knit community of youth coaches recommend players from other teams for scholarships, that’s social capital in action. Passing the hat to get up money to get a kid down south for school was social capital in action. Social capital can be found in friendship networks, neighborhoods, churches, schools, bridge clubs, civic associations, and even bars.

The Sonny Hill league has declined in significance. Philly’s basketball community is poorer as a result. We have lost a great deal of social capital.

The elite shoe company sponsored AAU programs will take care of the best 50-60 players… The Sonny Hill League would take care of 800.

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The MYTH of the “Bad” AAU guys

I HATE AAU basketball!
I hate it!!
I hate it!!
I hate it!!
Because it’s just a lot of coaches exploiting kids to try to get a payoff one day.
Robert Horry

Robert Horry is wrong…

On far too many occasions prominent basketball athletes and coaches have come out and bashed AAU basketball.  The criticisms are knee-jerk and reveal a lack of intimate knowledge about what good AAU programs actually do for young people. They have a bad experience or see some bad things occur within one program and condemn the AAU/grassroots circuit based on very limited interaction. It’s just not a fair assessment.

Over the past six months, I have had the pleasure of working with several young men and women as they sought to meet the increasingly stringent NCAA eligibility guidelines. In each case, these young people were referred to the Assist Project by their AAU coaches or program director.

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Deja Reynolds holding the Championship trophy with her Imhotep teammates

Here a brief list of just a few of the young people that came through this year:

Deja Reynolds (Girls), Philly Triple Threat/Imhotep High School – Temple
Kimar Williams, Team Philly/Constitution High School – Florida International
Samir Doughty, Team Philly/Math, Civics & Sciences High School – VCU
Derrick Jones, WeRone Hoops/Archbishop Carroll High School – UNLV
Mike Watkins, Team Philly/Math, Civics & Sciences High School – Penn State
Horace Spencer, NJ Gym Rats/Findlay Prep High School (NV) – Auburn
Eric Cobb, Heart & Hustle/ St. Francis HS (MD) – South Carolina
Malik Ellison, WeRone/Life Center Academy (NJ) – St; John’s
Traci Carter, WeRone/Life Center Academy (NJ) – Marquette
Charles Brown Philly Pride/George Washington High School – St. Joseph’s

CarterCarr

Traci Carter and LaSalle Basketball legend Donnie Carr

In each case, a representative of the AAU program identified an issue that could cause eligibility issues and sought out assistance in addressing the problem. Some kids needed to take additional core course. Some needed to replace poor grades in previous core courses. Some needed tutoring for the SAT/ACT exam. Some just needed encouragement. What they all received was a very clear explanation of their academic situation.

Once they understood what they needed to accomplish to meet NCAA eligibility standards, a plan was put in place. The AAU guys made sure the kids had the SAT/ACT study books. The AAU guys transported the kids to tutoring sessions. The AAU guys stayed in contact with the parents to make sure the kids stayed on track.

Watkins and Newbill

Mike Watkins and Penn State great D Jay Newbill

Rick Barrett and Horace Spencer made sure little Horace knew what he needed to do when he was in the 11th grade. They brought the young man in and we reviewed his academic record together. Eric Worley asked me to reach out to Deja Reynolds. Once Philly Triple Threat made the referral, Kamillah Durham made sure her daughter made it to at least 10 tutoring sessions. Eric always checked in and checked up in her progress. Lonnie Lowry and Kamal Yard cast aside their competitive energies and both grabbed Samir Doughty by his collar and made sure he did what he needed to do. Terrell Myers literally harassed Derrick Jones about his course work and SAT scores. Donnie Carr did the same for Traci Carr.

Yesterday, Philly Pride/Triple Threat arranged an academic “team meeting” attended by a highly regarded school psychologist, two Triple Threat coaches, a player, his parents and myself. The aim was to review the rising 9th grade player’s academic record and explain the NCAA requirements to the player and his family. As we approach the first year with new NCAA standards in place, this is exactly what AAU programs need to be doing.

Let me repeat that… this is exactly what AAU programs need to be doing!

Derrick

UNLV freshman and WeRone/Archbishop Carrol product Derrick Jones

I was touched… When I received the call to arrange the meeting, I realized that my message has been getting through. Despite the negative chatter circulating about the role played by AAU programs, I am here to tell you… I have seen these guys save kids… I have seen these guys inform and empower parents… I’ve seen these guys support parents intimidated by the recruiting process… I’m telling you… these guys do a good job and you can catch their players on TV this fall as they suit up in the Big East, C-USA, AAC, A10, Big10 and SEC conferences.

Rick Barrett – NJ Gym Rats

Kamal Yard – Philly Pride

Eric Worley – Philly Triple Threat

Lonnie Lowry – Team Philly

Terrell Myers – WeRone Hoops

Rob Brown – Team Final

Rod Harrison – Baltimore’s Finest

Bay Frazier – Team Melo

Omhar Carter – Mississippi Basketball Association

Even at the middle school level, guys like Marvin Stinson (Bottom Ballers), Howard Hudson (Philly Triple Threat) and Paul Gripper (Team Phenom) have established rigorous academic standards for participation in the respective programs.

Are there problems in some AAU programs? Of course… just like there are problems in some businesses, congressional offices, college athletic departments and every other type of organization.

Bottom Line… If your AAU coach or program director hasn’t asked you for report cards or transcripts… You need to find another program. The end game is to prepare student-athletes for life after high school. You can’t do that if you don’t even know how he’s performing in school. If you need a referral to a quality AAU program just reach out an ask… I’ll give you at least 3 recommendations.

A Tough PHILLY Guard: The Recruitment of Traci Carter

Traci Carter, like so many great and very good South Philadelphia ballers that came before him, studied under the master.  He was a skinny somewhat shy 7th grader when I first encountered him in 2010. There he was in the excruciatingly hot gym at the Marian Anderson Recreation center running and running while Claude Gross was fussing, cussing and, most importantly, TEACHING every moment of the practice. Gross is a Philadelphia schoolboy legend. He was the MVP in 1952 while leading Ben Franklin High School to the Public league Championship. An unflinchingly honest and acerbic man, Gross doesn’t tolerate foolishness or bad basketball. Both are likely ignite a stream of profanity that would make Richard Pryor blush.

Claude and MustfaClaude Gross ‘instructing’ South Philly’s Mustafaa Jones immediately after he hit a game winning shot to defeat St. Joseph’s

Lionel Simmons, Geoffrey Arnold, Donnie Carr, Nate Blackwell, Maurice Lucas, Dion Waiters, Biggie Minnis and Mo Howard are just a few of the players that have benefited from the uniquely delivered instruction and unconditional love offered by Gross over the past six decades. Traci is the latest fruit from the Claude Gross tree.

This particular day, I was there with another of Claude’s proteges, Rashid Bey. Rashid was winding down an illustrious playing career that included being twice named Big 5 MVP, leading St. Joseph’s to the Sweet 16 and playing in Europe for more than a decade. Always restless, Bey was in the gym everyday with Claude’s South Philly ‘Developmental’ and ‘Future’ teams in the legendary Sonny Hill League. These are kids in grades 6-8.

Watching the practice, I asked Rashid “who can play… which one has a chance?”

He immediately called Traci over and introduced us. At the time Traci might have been 5’7″ and weighed maybe 125 lbs.

Traci-Carter-vs-Westtown“This is Del… He’s my guy… you need to stay in touch with him. I think you can play college basketball and he can help you with the academic part.”

Chewing on the collar of his shirt, Traci mostly stared at the floor. We exchanged numbers and, because Claude and Rashid asked me to, I have stayed in touch with him since then. Our conversations very rarely center on basketball. Indeed, I have seen him play exactly two times in six (6) years. Once at the Reebok Invitational Tournament and again last week at Life Center Academy.

Nonetheless, I was never worried about his basketball development. He has always been in good hands, Traci is a child of South Philly. Former LaSalle great Donnie Carr has assumed primary responsibility for Traci’s athletic, social and emotional development. With Donnie, Rashid and Claude in his corner, Traci can’t go wrong. The basketball foundation was simply too strong.

My role over the years has been to badger him and monitor his academic development. A few times a month, I would check in or he would call me. Occasionally we would sit a classroom and together calculate his core GPA. I always wanted to make sure he understood exactly what he needed to accomplish. Traci would text me a picture of his grades whenever he received his report card. I steadfastly attempted to keep him on track academically. It would be challenging because he experienced quite a few bumps in the road outside the classroom. The way he has dealt with the circumstances makes him much more likely to succeed at the next level.

As a freshman at Prep Charter, in South Philly, Carter was expected to be an instant contributor and lead the school back to prominence in the Public League. Before he could play a game, he suffered a knee injury which required surgery… Out for the season…

Tracicarter romanAs a sophomore, Traci expressed a strong desire to be in more rigorous academic setting and play in a stronger basketball program. So, he ended up transferring to Roman Catholic High School. Playing his first year of scholastic basketball, he was named 3rd team All-Catholic while helping Roman Catholic reach the Catholic League semi-finals where they lost to St. Joseph’s Prep.

All was well… Until Carter violated the disciplinary code at Roman and was forced to find a new school…

Genuinely remorseful about his indiscretions, Carter and Donnie Carr reached out to Pervis Ellison, the Head Coach at Life Center Academy. Pastor Dave Boudwin and Ellison agreed to take Carter and he moved to Burlington, NJ. Teaming with Trayvon Reed (Auburn) and Malik Hines (UMass), Traci had a good junior year. His backcourt running mate was Pervis’ son Malik Ellison, another highly rated college prospect. Heading into the summer, Traci was widely considered one to the top 100 players in the country.

Malik & TraciTraci & Malik, Life Center Academy backcourt mates

And then it happened again… Another knee injury… Another surgery… Traci missed the entire summer AAU circuit… He recruiting came to a virtual standstill…

He was despondent. I went to visit him and his leg was immobilized and his spirits were down.

“Traci, you have to remain focused. You have to maintain your discipline with regards to your academic pursuits. Don’t let this injury affect your grades.”

“I got you Del.”

Slowly, but surely he regained his strength. But then his partner went down. Malik Ellison broke his leg. Traci would have to start his senior season without his main man running alongside him. Predictably, Life Center struggled immensely. Eventually, Ellison would return and once again the basketball community began to buzz.

Traci dribblingEvery day, there were different coaches in the gym… Pat Chambers (Penn State), Steve Lavin (St. John’s), Jim Christian (Boston College), Rick Pitino (Louisville), Kevin Ollie (UConn), Chris Mack (Xavier), John Giannini (LaSalle) and Fran Dunphy (Temple) are just few that made it to Burlington for glimpse of the ‘Traci Carter’ Show.

Rebecca Boudwin, an adviser to Life Center students raves about Carter. “He’s been such a wonderful addition to our learning and spiritual community. We love all of our basketball players, but Traci is special. We see how hard he works on and off the court. We’ve seen how he handled adversity. Through it all he has remained focused on his academics. We are extremely proud of Traci.”

With his grades in order and a qualifying score under belt, Carter is set to begin visiting different colleges. He says he wants to take all 5 of his official visits.

TRaci ShepTraci and Shep Garner at Penn State with Coach Chambers

Carter says, “The coaches have been so respectful to me during the recruiting process. I have grown to really like several of them. I feel like I need to go see and feel the campuses in order to make an informed decision.”

As far as official visits, he says will probably go to 5 from among The University of California, Marquette, UConn, NC State, Memphis and Xavier. Unofficially, Carter will take trips to see Penn State, Temple, LaSalle and a few others.

“I just want to find a place where I can continue to learn as a student and a basketball player. I want an opportunity to compete for playing time as a freshman and I want to graduate from college.”

Donnie Carr and the rest of South Philly have done an exemplary job guiding the young man this far, no reason to think they won’t continue making good choices.

Be on the look out for Traci Carter, he’s one tough PHILLY guard!

 

PA, NJ and DE College Hoops Power Rankings

As of 12/23/2014 at 4:43 pm…PA, NJ, DE College Hoops Power Rankings-page-0

Three things I know for sure…

1. Villanova is the best team;

2. DJay Newbill is the best player;

3. Shep Garner is the best rookie….

Let’s get the league games started!!

 

 

 

 

So, when did you fall in love with the Big 5? Alton McCoullough to Temple, 1978!!

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Guy Rodgers (center), Naismith Hall of Famer

For me it was 1978.  College wasn’t the norm around my way.  I grew up in the southern section of Darby Township, PA a small rigidly segregated town bordering Southwest Philadelphia, about 2 miles from the Philadelphia Airport.  In the mid to to late 1970s, the southern end of Darby Township consisted of a cemetery, three traffic lights, Eddie’s Hot Dog stand, about 7 or 8 churches, 2 bars and a populations  of around 3,000 sports crazed Black people. Demographically similar to nearby Philadelphia and Chester, PA with an Apartheid-like political and social structure straight out 1960‘s small-town Mississippi, Darby Township was a wonderful place to grow up if you enjoyed sports. For most, however, the athletic journey ended with high school.

Looking back, it seems we punished opponents on fields and courts, at least in part, because we exercised very little political, economic and social power in Delaware County.  The Northern, predominantly white, section of Darby Township held, and continues to hold, political power through a permanent 3 (white) -2 (Black) representative structure on the Township Commission.  The political deck was and is stacked against Blacks in the southern end of Darby Township.  However, within the athletic realm, more or less, the playing field was fair.

In September 1977, I was 12 and like virtually every one of the other 200-225 boys in Darby Township Junior-Senior High School, I wanted to play for one of the Darby Township Eagles varsity squads. That was the long-term goal.  There wasn’t much else to do other than march with drill teams or go to bible study.  Being rhythmically challenged and a certified sinner, I chose basketball.  This was before the advent of personal computers and home video games. There was no cable television. Cell phones were something on the Jetson’s cartoon. Crack cocaine had yet to be invented and disseminated within poor and working class Black communities. There was no AAU circuit.  No programs sponsored by sneaker companies.  It was truly a different and far less complicated time.

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Jim Williams, Led Temple in scoring and rebounding from 1963-66

For most boys, there was but one outlet.  In Darby Township you went to school and after school you went to practice. Then, when you came home, you played some more.  Finally… when the games came around, you tried to punish the opposition. That’s all I knew.  I didn’t realize that Darby Township, along with Chester and Darby-Colwyn were considered to be on the lower-end of the county’s socio-economic scale.  I just knew when the horn blew, Darby Township came to play.  Expectations were high and justifiably so.

In 1975, when I was 10 Darby Township won the State Class A Basketball title. Two years later in 1977, an undefeated Darby Township squad was knocked out of the PIAA playoffs by eventual state champion Elk Lake. That spring, DTHS finished second in the PIAA small-school track championship.

In the fall of 1977, I entered the Darby Township Jr-Sr High School. I was truly blessed.  This was the Golden Age of Darby Township Athletics. A period when Darby Township produced some of the greatest scholastic teams and individual performances in Delaware County history.  This was time when the dream of college became a reality for me and so many of my teammates and classmates.

CHANEY ALLEN ROBINSON

John Chaney

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the building was Cardall Baskerville. While the rest of the nation beyond Darby Township focused on Walter Payton, Franco Harris and Tony Dorsett, Baskerville was my football hero. In my mind, he was the greatest running back on the planet. He averaged 6.9 yards every time he toted the rock. You had to see it in person… He would run through a lineman and linebackers like they made of goose feathers and popsicle sticks. Once beyond the line of scrimmage, he would cut sharply, start running upright, change gears and leave defenders smelling fumes for huge chunks of yardage.  Damn… He was good!

How good was Cardall? Darby Township’s coach, Alonzo Covert, said at the time, “He has everything a coach could ask for in a running back.” Covert coached the Eagles to the school’s first undefeated, untied season that year.  Baskerville’s exploits were recognized throughout the area.  The Philadelphia Eagles Alumni Association named Baskerville Delaware County’s Player of the Year. On December 18, 1977 during halftime of the Eagles vs. Jets game at Veterans’ Stadium Baskerville was introduced to 56,000 fans.  In my 12 year old mind, this was huge… I thought the whole world knew about Cardall.

Every day, I would be in awe just watching him walk through the halls.  The future seemed so secure.  Surely he would go to college and then off to the NFL. Shit… I knew he would win the Heisman like Bonner’s John Cappelletti and go on to NFL glory. He was the best in Darby Township, that meant he had to be better than a guy from Bonner.  There were no naysayers… There was no doubt that he was good enough… “This is just the beginning of what Delaware County is going to hear about Cardall Baskerville,” said Covert. “I have received many inquiries about him from colleges that play major college football. They always ask if he can be a Class A college player. I tell them he can be a Class A-plus player. I believe that he could play for Nebraska or Oklahoma or Southern Cal and I’m talking about next year.” You would hear whispers that Syracuse and Penn State were in the school to see him… Man, I was impressed.

Unfortunately, his football career ended at Darby Township High School. Like so many extremely gifted, record setting, young Black Darby Township athletes, Baskerville did not qualify academically to play collegiate sports. He never played beyond scholastic level.  To this day everyone that saw him play remains convinced that the nation was cheated because Cardall didn’t get to keep toting that rock at the collegiate level.  His life would end tragically when he committed suicide a few years later.  It didn’t make sense… How could he be that good and NOT go to college?

Marck Macon

Mark Macon

That really shook me up. How could the best player on the best team in the area not go to college. I tried unsuccessfully to make sense of this situation… I was young, impressionable and did not possess adequate analytical tools… All I knew was… Nobody could stop him. They never lost a game. This didn’t make any sense. Was the system rigged?  I had no understanding of SAT exams and the college admissions process.  It just didn’t seem fair… He was better than everybody.  I felt doomed.  If Cardall couldn’t make it, I had absolutely no shot!

Could anyone actually make it out and play in college out of Darby Township?  At 13, I knew a couple of DTHS alums like Leroy Eldridge (Cheyney St.) and Chris Arnold (Virginia St.) had went on to star at historically Black colleges, but even they were very few and far between.  Moreover those guys graduated in the 60s and were pretty far removed from me… What about the guys I went to school with?  Was college a possibility?

Alton McCoullough and Vince Clark, Baskerville’s extremely talented running mate, would answer those questions for me when they enrolled in Temple University in 78 and 79 respectively.

A key player on the undefeated 1977 Darby Township basketball that lost to Elk Lake in the Final Four, McCoullough led Darby Township to the State Championship game in 1978 where they lost to Father Geibel.

But most importantly, Alton went onto Temple University. At that point in Darby Township, this was a gigantic accomplishment. A kid from Darby Township was playing basketball at the highest collegiate level. While we were all from the “wrong side of the tracks”, “Big Al” was from the “Center.” The Center is a Delaware County Public Housing Development… It’s what some call “the projects.”  At the time, my family was living in another subsidized housing development a few blocks from the Center.

aaron-mckie

Aaron McKie and John Chaney

If “Big Al” could go from the Center to Temple, we all could go to college.  Immediately, I loved Temple.  I spent the next four years buying newspapers just to see the box scores. There was no ESPN, no Comcast Sports, if you wanted to follow college sports you had to exert a little effort.  Big Al went on to have a very solid career at Temple. Over four years (1978-192) he would score 1,051 points and grab 673 rebounds while playing on one NCAA tournament team.

However, his biggest accomplishments, his most important feats did not take place in McGonigle Hall. They took place down the Center court.

In a way, I’m sure he never fully understood, Alton brought Temple University to Darby Township and influenced a generation of young Black boys.  He didn’t bring the bricks and mortar.  He didn’t bring the books.  He brought the “idea” of Temple to Darby Township. Al and his teammates were real live Temple ambassadors in Darby Township.

Every summer, Al would bring Rick Reed, Kevin Broadnax and Neil Robinson to play in the Darby Township Summer League. While Lynn Greer, Sr., Leroy Eldridge and other highly regarded players competed as well, the buzz was most intense when Big Al and the boys from Temple were up next.  I was never disappointed.  It during those moments that I began to grasp the difference between high school and NCAA Division 1 athletics.  Broadnax was the first person I ever saw extend his arm parallel to the court while dunking with enormous force.  He jumped that high.  Robinson was one of the tallest players in the league and one of the better ball-handlers.  This did not make sense to my 13 year old mind.  Rick Reed was just the man.  I remember it like it was last week.  Temple Basketball was part of Darby Township, Darby Township basketball was Temple basketball as long as Al was on the team.

The games were played at the “Center” court.  This court was a “bottle throw” away from the projects. I know this because  my man “Peep-Sight” proved it when he hurled 4 or 5 beer bottles from the projects into the jump circle from the projects during one hot summer night when they wouldn’t let him play.

They simply swept up the glass and kept it moving… Darby Township had it’s share of “issues.”

The college boys from Temple, for me, represented what was possible.  They let me believe I could overcome the whatever issues presented themselves.  They gave me hope.  Al and the other Temple players were incredibly accessible. They spent hours hanging and talking with the younger guys and, of course, made time for the young ladies that gathered on the fringes of the court every night.  Temple, from 1978 to 1982, became Darby Township’s team. One of my friends and teammates, Robert Carter, became so enamored with Rick Reed’s game that he literally adopted the moniker “Rick Dunk” which stuck throughout his own illustrious playing career.

Temple University gave young Black boys in this small community hope.  By adopting Alton and Vince, Temple let us know that we were good enough. Temple wanted us. Temple respected us.

eddie_jones_1994_02_20Eddie Jones

In 1979, Baskerville’s running mate, Vince Clark, would set a state single game rushing record by piling up 438 yards against Yeadon. Clark, like McCoullough the year before, would accept a scholarship to play at Temple. He would go on play two years seasons for the Owls carrying the ball 35 times and gaining 167 yards. That same year Jim McGloughlin from neighboring Collingdale also agreed to play at Temple. St. James’ Donny Dodds would also join the Owls shortly after.

For young kids, Black and White, from the “wrong side of the tracks” Temple University seemed like the only place that would welcome us. In retrospect, once Alton and Vince “made it” to Temple, one could sense a change among young poor Black boys in Darby Township. College was now a very real option. The question was no longer if, but where, would you go.

I fell in love with the Big 5 basketball and Temple University in 1978 when Alton McCoullough enrolled at Temple University. That love was reinforced in 1979 when Vincent Clark moved to North Broad Street.  Until then, I really didn’t know anyone other than my teachers that had attended college. By embracing Alton and then Vince, Temple broadened my horizons.  By bringing Temple basketball to Darby Township every summer, Alton provided a lot of guys with role models, inspiration and a a clear example of what was possible.

Doug Ambler and Rick Pergolini were young guidance counselors at Darby Township during this period. They often cite the period of 78-82 as the Golden Age of Darby Township Athletics. According to them more Black boys from Darby Township went on to college during that era than at any other time in the history of Darby Township. It all started with Big Al going to Temple.

I know that idea of college wasn’t “real” for me until I saw Big Al, Reed, Broadnax and Robinson playing ball down the “Center.” If those guys could make it to Temple, I knew I was smart enough to go to college.

Ten years later, I had fellowship offers from schools like Michigan, Ohio State, California-Davis, Delaware, and Maryland-College Park. They wanted to pay my tuition and pay me to attend their respective graduate programs. Not bad for a kid raised by a single Mom on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Not gifted enough to be a Division 1 athlete, these schools were recruiting me to “study and perform research.”

The idea, the notion, the thought that I could really attend college grew from seeing Alton McCoullough and Vince Clark, my DTHS heroes go on to attend Temple University.

Tyndale_400

Mark Tyndale

Since then, I have followed Temple basketball closely.  I appreciate how Temple continues to provide young poor students and student-athletes an opportunity to improve their life opportunities.

For a quarter century, I watched John Chaney carve out a Hall of Fame coaching career at Temple’s, all the while loudly proclaiming that he was giving opportunity to the less fortunate among us. I bore witness to the example Coach Chaney set by confronting racial discrimination in a most direct and forceful manner. For instance, in January 1989, Coach Chaney emphatically declared, “The NCAA is a racist organization of the highest order… On this day, it instituted a new punishment on black kids who have already been punished because they are poor. Any time the NCAA, which is 90 percent white, considers the youngsters in Division I basketball and football, it discriminates, because 89 percent of the kids are black… I wonder what message they are sending. It’s another hardship for black kids made by white folk.”

That, for me, is Temple University.

Throughout my lifetime, Temple has represented the vanguard for racial equality and opportunity for advancement for Blacks in college sports.

Temple hired an African-American football coach when people were still wondering if we could play the quarterback position. Temple gave Dawn Staley, a product of the Raymond Rosen Housing Development in North Philly and her first opportunity to coach at the collegiate level. Right now, Temple has one of a few major college athletic programs headed by an African-American.

More than any other University in the region, Temple has provided opportunities for young poor and working class Black students and student-athletes.

xmas

Dionte Christmas

It’s hard to understand how Temple alums that came of age during the aforementioned eras allow a handful of alums and Temple sports fans to publicly spew bitter and racist vitriol aimed at the community surrounding Temple and it’s residents.  That’s NOT the Temple way.

Temple featured a Black back court of Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear in the mid-1950s. Jim Williams led Temple in scoring and rebounding in 1963-64, 1964-65, and 1965-66.  John Baum did the same in 1967-68 and 1968-69.  Ollie Johnson starred for the Owls throughout the early 1970s.

In 1978, Temple reached out grabbed a poor Black boy from Darby Township and gave him a chance to perform on the big stage.  As a result, the rest of the town embraced Temple and scores of young Black boys would go on to play sports and graduate from college.  At 13, I old took notice and embraced the dream of attending college and beyond.  Throughout my twenties and thirties, I wholeheartedly embraced everything John Chaney and the Temple basketball program represented.

As I approach 50, it pains me to see some Temple alums adopting perspectives that would have absolutely killed the spirit of that impressionable 13 year old boy.

But what hurts even more is the apparent unwillingness of the majority of Temple alums to confront racist, bigoted and homophobic statements in a way that affects change.  It needs to cease.

Hopefully, good will prevail and those articulating negative ideas will be made to feel uncomfortable.

One can only imagine what would have been written on a Temple message board when Rodgers and Lear played in the 1950’s.  Would Temple fans support the aforementioned position and statements of Coach Chaney?  I prefer to believe that the Temple community, as a whole, would have embraced their Black students and student-athletes.  After all, that’s the image Temple has cultivated over the course of it’s distinguished history.  It’s a legacy that is both admirable and valuable.

To a large extent, the impressions of contemporary high school students and student-athletes have of colleges and universities are driven by television and social media.  Thirty-seven years ago, my understanding of what Temple University represents was forged by extensive direct contact with and first hand observation of young men from the University’s athletic department.  I wanted to be like those guys.  I wanted to play college basketball.  As I got older, I wanted to follow the example set by Coach Chaney and confront bigotry, racism and discrimination head on.  I remain committed to that task.

To me… that’s the Temple way of doing things.  Maybe things have changed more than I thought on North Broad Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You Treated Fairly?”: Open Letter to Philly’s Grassroots Hoops Community

Milk crateThe 1st hoop for many, many Philly ballers!!

If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto
Don’t ever come to the ghetto
‘Cause you ain’t understand the ghetto
And stay the fuck out of the ghetto…
“Ghetto Bastard” Naughty By Nature

Basketball is THE inner city game. It is the game played in the ghetto, ‘round the way and in the ‘hood. Every year black communities and neighborhoods many consider off-limits to outsiders are invaded by representatives of multi-million dollar college athletic departments. Wave after wave of college coaches regularly venture into places most white people avoid after sundown. The trained eye can spot ’em a mile away.  You see ‘em roll up in rental cars fresh off the private jets looking lost in public housing developments.  The team logo and that of their shoe company sponsor featured prominently on a new golf shirt or sweater if it’s a lil’ chilly outside.  The over-sized Conference Championship ring is dripping with ice.

Rucker_parkAcross America in cities like Philly, Motown, NYC, Chi-town, LA, B-more, DC, ATL, and H-town representatives of America’s increasingly wealthy athletic departments come in search of beautifully sculpted Black bodies. They are looking for the young men that will lead them to the “promised land” or at least the “Sweet 16.”  This search brings to them to the projects, Section 8 homes and other low-income Black neighborhoods one after the other.  Representatives of the Math department, Chemistry department and History departments never seem to make their way down.  In much of the non-sports mainstream (mostly white) discourse, urban centers are derisively described and as isolated pockets of dysfunction, deviance and despair to be avoided and in some case obliterated, if the opportunity for gentrification presents itself.

The athletic department reps, the coaches, the recruiters are there for a very specific purpose.

These colleges and universities are vying explicitly to extract a valuable resource from these impoverished communities. They want young athletic Black bodies.  They want to co-opt the labor of our young men and use it to increase the economic status of the University President, Athletic Director and Basketball coach and other athletic department employees. They want our Black boys to serve as cheap labor in the multi-billion dollar enterprise known as collegiate athletics.  Now, it should be noted that along the way he may earn or be awarded (see recent UNC scandal) a degree in some obscure major with limited earning potential.

As bad as this situation sounds, it’s infinitely better than being one of the 72% of Black boys that fail to graduate from HS on time every year in places like Philly and NYC.  These young men are headed for a lifetime of low wage earning or they will participate in the extra-legal ‘hood economy and likely end up in prison. In the ‘hood, collegiate athletics is a possible way up and out of poverty.  But having dealt with college programs over the years, you know others benefit to a much larger extent.  The fates of the gifted low-income urban Black male athletes and wealthy white university athletic department employees are inextricably intertwined.

A situation has emerged whereby Black boys and the struggling grassroot basketball community from which they emerge are dependent upon billion dollar sneaker companies and college athletic programs with $100-$150 million dollar athletic budgets. The existing situation breeds economic success and financial security for Presidents, AD’s and coaches. In many ways, the existence and sustenance of grassroots programs is dependent on the their connection to college programs and the college program’s continued economic gain in dependent upon struggling grassroots basketball programs. Born out of this arrangement is a sort of mutual dependency.

Dr JJulius “Dr. J” Erving in a Harlem, NY Playground

High skilled urban Black male basketball players sell their athletic labor in return for athletic scholarships while the college athletic programs generate millions of dollars selling their performance to alums and the general public.  Coaches are paid million in salaries, bonuses and perks.

As the heads of the AAU/grassroots “farm system,” what are you getting? Are you treated fairly? Do the coaches, boosters and fans respect you?  Over and over, I hear that you guys are “killing” amateur basketball.  It’s bullshit.  AAU/grassroots basketball long ago superseded scholastic basketball as the premier development arm for collegiate hoops.

In Philadelphia, basketball is king among amateur sports. College basketball occupies a unique space in Philadelphia’s sports milieu. There are six (6) NCAA Division 1 Basketball programs in the Philadelphia area representing some highly competitive conferences. Villanova (Big East), Temple (AAC), St. Joseph’s (A10), LaSalle (A10), Drexel (CAA) and Penn (Ivy) all play in tough leagues with nationally recognized competitors.

Anyone that watches the games will notice some common themes regarding these teams and others in their respective conferences. A significant percentage of revenue is generated by basketball programs with a high percentage of urban Black male athletes.  The boys from ’round the way are getting it in.  North Philly’s DJ Newbill is the star at Penn State.  Jabril Trawick, hailing from the Westside, is the headliner for Georgetown.  Another North Philly native, Rysheed Jordan in manning the point guard spot in Madison Square Garden for St. John’s.  Chester’s Rondae Jefferson is back for a 2nd and perhaps final season at Arizona.  Black males from ’round the way are making a lot of money for these schools.

sidewalk hoops

The over-representation, employment and production of Black males in revenue-producing sports (basketball and football) is well documented. Black males represent a mere 5.8% of the total U.S population. Black males comprised 45.8% of major college football rosters and 61% of major college basketball rosters in the 2009-2010. The numbers for the pros are even higher. Over 67% of NFL players are Black and 78% of the NBA in 2011-2012. Collegiate and professional football and basketball organizations consistently scour the ‘hood when seeking talented players.  In many cases, you stand ready and willing to serve your players up to the hunters. I want ask you some important questions.

Are your AAU/grassroots programs sufficiently benefiting? Do you feel like college programs respect the role you play? Do college coaches and fans appreciate your tireless efforts getting these guys ready for the next level?

Is it enough for these programs to just come year after year and take the most talented and highly gifted without considering the plight of those left behind?

Do the City 6 programs work with you when your kids can’t afford the $200, $300 or even $400 price of their camps? Do they give you balls? Do they donate equipment?  Do they make sure you “eat” when you bring your players to visit their campuses? Do they provide tickets to your organization so the younger kids can see the older kids play “live”?  Or, do they just come through, pick the ripest fruit and get back in the German luxury sedan?

Baltimore BoyPuttin’ in work…

Let me know… I’m really curious.  Remember, you have leverage.

If they tell you the kids have to “pay” full price, let everybody know… Tell the other AAU/grassroots coaches how you were treated…  Share information about your experiences…. In my opinion, Black boys have already paid. Let me show you how.

Young men from the ‘hood currently participating in revenue-generating sports (football and basketball) far exceed their white counterparts and other races. Keep in mind football and basketball make virtually all the money supporting all the other white dominated collegiate sports. Think about this fact, less than 1 percent of the total collegiate student-athlete population generates more than 90% of NCAA revenue during “March Madness.” Of the 1 percent, well-over half were Black young men from ’round the way.

Over the past decade (2004-2013), the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has triggered more than $6.88 billion of national TV ad spending from 269 different marketers. Ad revenue in 2013 was $1.15 billion, up 3.8 percent from the prior year.  Less than 1% of college student-athletes generate this staggering amount of revenue, the overwhelming majority are young Black men from the ‘hood.

Guys from the ‘hood played, started and produced more than their non-Black teammates. Locally, Black players scored 73.9% of Temple points last year. Blacks accounted for 83.5% at St. Joseph’s, 87.3% at Villanova, 98.3% at Drexel, 87.1% at LaSalle and 65.7% at Penn.

Wilt Claude

The 1953 Christian St YMCA, National Champions, featuring Philadelphia school boy legends Wilt Chamberlain (standing center) and Claude Gross (seated 2nd from right)

The local colleges and universities want and need Black athletic talent. Their labor is undeniably needed to sustain massive inflows of revenues in athletic departments. Make no mistake colleges, universities, Presidents, Athletic Directors and coaches are making money off the labor of young men plucked from the ‘hood.  The players get an “opportunity” to earn a college degree as long it doesn’t conflict with their athletic obligations. Alums, boosters and fans root for and are entertained by the performances of these young men.

Ask yourself: How do the university’s alums and fans really feel about the young men in the ‘hood? I know they shake your hand after your boy gets get 20 points  and grabs 10 rebounds against a rival. I know they cheer loudly and passionately for your boy when you’re seated next to them at the Wells Fargo Center, Liacouras Center, Hagan Arena and Gola Arena. But, how do they really feel about you and yours?  How do they talk amongst themselves?

Do fans of the local schools respect the communities that spawn the athletes that help them win games? How do they refer to the neighborhoods that border their respective institutions?  You have been there your entire life.  They are guests passing through while pursing a college degree.

One way you can get a feel for this is by perusing the local team message boards. It’s an absolute must for those desiring a peek behind the curtain of cordiality extended to your face during actual games and “official” visits to campus.  There behind the veil of a screen name, keyboard tough guys unleash their true feelings about the ‘hood and those who hail from there. They are talking about your Grandmom that refuses to move from the house she paid off years ago. They are talking about your cousin that is struggling to work 2 jobs to pay that Catholic school tuition. They are talking about your homie that’s remodeling the house his parents left him in their will. They talking about your Aunt with those hot ass plastic furniture covers on her “good” living room set.  They are talking about your uncle in the halfway because the police lied and fabricated evidence against him.

What are they saying? Far too often, they say “Fuck the community!” Far too frequently, they argue that they should “bulldoze your family’s homes!”

MinstrelTurn of the Century “Minstrel” Poster

Then 10 minutes later they argue that your son, grandson, godson, nephew, or youngbuck averaging 32 ppg for the public school ‘round the way should come to their school. They call President Obama and Attorney General Holder “minstrels.”  Meanwhile, the same person puts forth an argument why “Junior” should come, bust his ass and sack quarterbacks for their alma mater next year.  It’s a truly weird dynamic to observe. They make no apologies.  Indeed, the proudly claim they are speaking “truths”.  Many of them despise and hate the ‘hood, while simultaneously yearning for the big beautiful Black bodies walking down it’s narrow avenues.

I say Fuck ‘em!

I say keep track of these public discourses and hold the programs accountable.  I say ask the coaches and athletic directors to disassociate themselves from the most egregious offenders. If they choose not to, I say educate our young men from the ‘hood about the way SOME of the alums feel about them, their families and their neighborhoods.

Let’s not ignore those that wish you and yours harm.  Of course, MOST alums and fans are respectful and always decent in public and behind a screen name.  I say call on them to check the racist tendencies of the vocal minority within their family.  These boards have moderators.  If offensive language it left up, one can safely assume is is acceptable within that cyber-community of the school’s alumni.

Read for yourself. View this stuff for yourself. Make sure you let young people understand the parameters of public discourse surrounding their families and their neighborhoods.

The time has come to make sure our young people and their families are fully informed before they make the very important decision to earn money for a particular university.  If one or more of the local schools is offering your players a scholarship he will likely have other options.  If he doesn’t hit me up and I’m sure we can find a school that will pay his bills.

If you feel disrespected, if you feel unappreciated by local programs and their followers and they are offing your players scholarships you have options.  Exercise them.  Buyer beware!

It should be noted that it’s a very specific segment of the largely white male middle class fan and alumni base making the most vile statements.

Message boards are largely populated by white male alums of the schools. Recent surveys have identified the characteristics of message board posters. The data indicated that the vast majority of message-board users were male (87.8% of total, 92.2% of subscribers), White (90.8% of total, 92.4% of subscribers), and married (62.1% of total, 63.0% of subscribers); had least an undergraduate degree (76.0% of total, 79.3% of subscribers); and were current residents of the United States (97.4% of total, 98.1% of subscribers). Most respondents indicated that they were alumni of their message board’s school of focus (59.0% of total, 60.6% of subscribers). A total of 77.4% of survey participants indicated they were at least 30 years old, with subscribers tending to skew slightly older than non-subscribers. Also of note was the finding that 25.5% of all users were age 50 or older.

Let’s not send our young men where they aren’t welcomed and embraced. These are the internet addresses of message boards for the City 6 basketball programs.

St. Joseph’s Basketball – http://saintjosephs.scout.com

Temple Basketball & Football – http://temple.scout.com/

LaSalle Basketball – http://explorertown.proboards.com/

Villanova Basketball & Football – https://villanova.rivals.com/forum.asp

Drexel Basketball – http://www.caazone.com/boards/forums/drexel-dragons.7/

Penn Basketball – http://boards.basketball-u.com/showforum.php?fid/43/

Judge for yourself.

 

PA, NJ and DE D1 BBall Budgets 2012-2013

Image

School

Basketball Budget

Pittsburg (ACC)

7,344,213

Seton Hall (Big East)

6,401,383

Villanova (Big East)

6,398,678

Penn State (Big 10)

5,056,643

Rutgers (AAC)

4,366,444

Temple (AAC)

4,080,845

Duquesne (A10)

3,891,806

Saint Joseph’s (A10)

3,089,503

Drexel (CAA)

2,633,240

Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC)

2,320,904

LaSalle (A10)

2,046,119

Bucknell (Patriot)

1,860,056

Delaware (CAA)

1,731,722

Delaware St (MEAC)

1,640,546

Monmouth (MAAC)

1,523,983

Lafayette (Patriot)

1,523,418

Rider (MAAC)

1,518,322

NJIT (Indep)

1,417,199

Wagner (NEC)

1,396,966

Lehigh (Patriot)

1,382,178

St. Francis (PA) (NEC)

1,368,916

Robert Morris (NEC)

1,356,722

St. Peter’s (MAAC)

1,170,516

Pennsylvania (Ivy)

1,082,006

Princeton (Ivy)

994,108

How much do local colleges and universities spend on Men’s basketball?  What is the difference between “big-time” programs and mid-majors?  Utilizing the chart and table listed above one can compare the financial commitments of PA, NJ and DE colleges to their respective Men’s Basketball programs.  There are a few surprises.

A few things immediately jump out when comparing the basketball budgets of PA, NJ and DE Division 1 programs.  Seton Hall has not been getting an adequate bang for their buck. But perhaps most surprisingly, Lehigh with one of the smallest budgets has the highest academic record, the 5th highest number of average wins and a lottery pick in last years draft. Drexel’s basketball budget is larger than two of the Big 5 programs (LaSalle and Penn).  Fairleigh Dickinson’s budget is very high given their very low average wins and poor academic performance.  Delaware State, a historically Black (MEAC) school is in the middle of the pack budget wise.