Aaron McKie, Tyrone Pitts: From Evictions to Big 5 Success

What do you see in this picture?

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Aaron McKie, Temple ’94 and Tyrone Pitts, Penn ’88

Most people probably see two American success stories… Aaron McKie (left) earned over $50 million dollars over the course of a solid 13-year NBA career. Drafted in the 1st round of the 1994 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers, McKie was a key player for Portland, Detroit and Philadelphia. He finished his playing career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Philly hoop heads will see a Simon Gratz High School graduate. They will recall his prolific three-year career at Temple (1991-92 thru 1993-94). A Big 5 legend, McKie started for all 92 games of his career, averaging 17.9 points per game while leading the Owls to 60 wins, three NCAA Tournaments and a trip to the 1993 Elite Eight.

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Hall of Fame Coach, John Chaney and Aaron McKie

McKie was an honorable mention All-American (1993). He was named first-team All-Atlantic 10 (1993, 1994) and a member A-10 All-Championship team (1993). He balled out in the local rivalry games and was named first team all-Big 5 every year of his college career (1992, 1993, 1994). In addition, McKie was named Atlantic 10 Conference and Philadelphia Big 5 Player of the Year for his performance in the 1992-93 season, when he averaged a team-best 20.6 points per game.

Tyrone Pitts (top right), born and raised in Camden, New Jersey, is the largest minority general contractor in Southern New Jersey. This year, his firm KL Pitts Construction will generate in excess of $20 million in revenue. Like McKie, Pitts made his mark playing in Philadelphia’s Big 5.

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Tyrone Pitts with a picture depicting the balance between books and basketball

A high flying Palestra favorite and an All-Ivy League player, Pitts finished his career at the University of Pennsylvania with 1301 points. After trying out for the Philadelphia 76ers, Pitts embarked upon a highly successful 7 year professional career in several overseas leagues. Once his playing days were over, he returned to the Ivy league an assistant coach with Cornell University.

Longing to return to the Camden/Philadelphia region, Pitts joined Speedy Morris’ staff at LaSalle University. However, his training in Wharton business school allowed him to see business opportunities where others could not. For a while, he tried to maintain his responsibilities as a basketball coach and manage his investments in Camden real estate.

It soon became obvious that he would have to devote his full attention to managing over 100 full-time construction workers on multiple commercial, public and residential projects. Over the past year or so, his firm has totally renovated 175 low-income housing units in Camden and built a 110 unit senior housing complex in Lindenwold, New Jersey.

What you don’t see in the picture…

You don’t see the scared and insecure boys that came home from school to find padlocks on their front doors and their family’s precious few belonging strewn across the sidewalk. “I was in seventh grade when we got evicted from our house,” Pitts said. ”You can imagine the feeling I had. You come out of your house and see your things lying on the sidewalk. That feeling that hit me that day was something that I’d never like to come back to me again. From then on, I was kind of determined to succeed.”

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Belongings on sidewalk following eviction

Addressing a group of children and community organizers at a Philadelphia Youth Basketball Foundation event, McKie conveyed the same feeling. “I came home one day and we were evicted. All I can remember is that there was a big padlock on our door and we no longer lived there. I’ll never forget that feeling.”

Pitts and McKie came of age in the 1980‘s. Cities like Philadelphia and Camden were in the throes of the crack epidemic. North Philadelphia and Camden had long been poor, highly segregated neighborhoods in which a majority of individual adults were either unemployed, had dropped out or never been a part of the labor force. Most of their peers were dropping out of school and many were entry level “lookouts” or “hand to hand” participants in the booming illegal street drug game.

But not these guys…

Pitts and McKie embraced sport as a way to help them develop and become productive citizens by learning life lessons. Despite growing up in the midst of despair and chaos, they were able to develop positive social sphere through sports. Basketball participation offered countless opportunities for socialization activities such as team work, fair play, respect for others and personal discipline.

Forced to deal with evictions and all that goes with that process, Pitts and McKie used basketball to develop coping mechanisms for anxiety, stress, and other factors that make up a low income urban Black male adolescent’s life.

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A street in Camden, New Jersey

They leveraged basketball for access to education…

For McKie and his Temple running mate, Eddie Jones, it was a close call. Both were declared ineligible as freshmen by the NCAA. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer in July 1990, “Sources close to the program said that Eddie Jones, a highly touted 6-foot-6 swingman from Pompano Beach, Fla., and Aaron McKie, a 6-4 shooting guard from Philadelphia Public League champion Simon Gratz, had scored less than the required 700 of a possible 1,600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or 15 of a possible 36 on the American College Test.”

Time out…

Think about this for a minute… In 2013, the average SAT score at Simon Gratz High School was 682. Keep in mind that in 1994, four years after McKie and Jones sat for the test, the nation’s SAT scores were “recentered.” In other words means that every child in America got something like 100 free points added to his score. So… the current Gratz HS average of 682 is equivalent to 582 when McKie actually sat for the exam. That’s an indicator of how poorly the academic program at Gratz prepares students for college entrance exams.

Gratz kids ain’t supposed to make it… Shit… only 26% of Black males graduate in four years from Philadelphia’s woefully under-performing public schools.

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The NCAA has spent thirty years closing the window of opportunity for guys like McKie and Jones. They were fortunate to have John Chaney in a position to give them an opportunity to play collegiate basketball. For that, McKie is eternally grateful…

“This is the university that gave me an opportunity at life when no one else wanted to,” McKie said. “I was a Prop 48 coming in … I’m forever grateful to Temple … I was able to get my degree in 4 years.”

Pitts made the transition from the hardscrabble streets of Camden to one of the most competitive and highly regarded business schools in the nation. He has been able to apply his business education and improve the lives of Camden residents. His firm has been responsible for the construction and/or renovation of thousands of units of low-income and market rate housing. He employs hundreds of Camden residents in high paying construction jobs.

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Recognizing the importance of education, Pitts also co-founded the Arline Institute which provided small-group tutoring to over 6,000 low-income students attending under-performing public schools.

According to Pitts, “Attending Wharton allowed me to develop the skills necessary to apply the theories needed to overcome challenges in places like Camden. It helped me be in a position to make a positive impact.”

Basketball was the gateway for these success stories. When they had nowhere to live, they had their teams. They had their youth coaches. They had the structure that basketball provided. It helped them avoid the fate that befell so many of their contemporaries.

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A Real NCAA Rule Change Casualty

Today, I received a text message from a good friend of mine. He’s highly regarded high school basketball coach. Over the years, he has sent numerous players to some of the best college basketball programs in the nation. He’s known as a stern taskmaster that does things the right way. He’s asked the Black Cager to address his parents and players in the past. We’ve always been happy to oblige.

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Today, he needed help. He needed me to talk to a parent. He asked if I could spell it out for Mom.

Her son, “Javonte” (not his real name) is a “Dead Man Ballin”!!

At 6’8″ 240 lbs, he is a beautiful physical specimen.  He is a high level athlete with a smoothness to his game.  On the court, Javonte has a chance to be very special.  He just turned 17 and is already playing at a very high level for high school. Possessing text book form with feathery touch and excellent release, Javonte grew up around the game. His older brothers were All-State players. As a result, he shows a feel for the game that cannot be learned on the fly. With a strong handle, he is adept at creating shots for himself and can spot up or pull up off the dribble. He is very good at creating offense for his teammates.  Javonte has a tremendous basketball body with a big frame, wide shoulders, enormous hands and long arms.

Big East, Big 10, ACC, Atlantic 10 and SEC coaches have been drooling at the thought of Javonte joining their program. They have been constantly hitting him up on twitter, instagram and snapchat.

None of them have seen his transcript…

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Mom refused to take the coach’s advice. When he transferred in prior to the start of his 11th grade year, the coach told Mom, “Your son has dug a big hole for himself… it’s gonna be tough.”

He had spent his freshman and sophomore years at a Catholic High School. During that period he had taken and completed 12 core courses. His grades were 6 D’s and 6 C’s. He had a 1.5 core GPA.

Coach, very much aware of the 2016 rule changes, stressed the importance of getting straight A’s going forward. Coach hoped the kid would at least get mostly A’s with a few B’s. Kid proceeded to fail English and get a D in Algebra as a Junior.

Coach pleaded with Mom and the kid to go to summer school before 11th and again before 12th grade. Coach explained over and over again that he needed to get those D’s off his report card.

“D’s are GPA killers!”

He would say over and over, to no avail. Mom and her boyfriend wanted the boy to play on the Nike EYBL circuit and summer school would get in the way…

On the first day of school in September, when the homeroom bell rang, the NCAA had him in their sights….

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When the teacher, taking attendance for the first time, called his name…

“Javonte, Javonte?”

The finger was on the trigger… Once he raised his hand and responded…

“Here….”

He was done… Dead Man Ballin’…

His senior year had officially commenced. With that, the poor grades on the transcript depicted above were “locked in”.

He cannot retake or replace any of those grades in an attempt to raise his core GPA to the new 2.3 minimum.

His refusal t0 follow the directions of his coach cost the family anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 in scholarship funds.

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Like a cop after an accident in the middle of the night… Like a military chaplain after a young man steps on a land mine…

It was my responsibility to let his mother know that her son is a Dead Man Ballin’…

Before he plays a single game in his senior year, he is ineligible for a Division 1 athletic scholarship…

This fucked up situation is playing out in High Schools and homes in Black communities across the country… Unnecessarily so!!

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The Re-Emergence of Black Consciousness Within the Sports Community

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The term ‘Black Consciousness’ stems from the great Black sociologist W.E.B. Dubois’ development of the concept of the ‘double consciousness.’ Seeking to make sense of the Black American experience a century ago, DuBois coined the term in an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People.” It was later republished and slightly edited under the title “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in his famous book, The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes double consciousness as follows:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”

Black consciousness among athletes reached it’s zenith in the 1960s.  Perhaps, the most glaring example of Black social consciousness during that era took place on June 4, 1967 at 105-15 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. On this glorious day, Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns), Bill Russell (Boston Celtics), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (UCLA), John Wooten (Cleveland Browns), Jim Shorter (Washington Redskins), Willie Davis (Green Bay Packers), Curtis McClinton (Kansas City Chiefs), Sid Williams (Cleveland Browns) and Bobby Mitchell (Washington Redskins) met with Muhammad Ali and then held a news conference in support of his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967.

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Prominent Black Athletes Supporting Muhammad Ali, June 4, 1967

Twenty years later, John Chaney and John Thompson boldly and brazenly exhibited their Black consciousness by condemning the NCAA’s naked attempt to “close the doors of opportunity to poor Black student-athletes.

“The NCAA is a racist organization of the highest order,” said John Chaney on January 12, 1989. “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.”

CHANEY ALLEN ROBINSON

Hall of Fame Coach, John Chaney

A couple of days after John Chaney excoriated the NCAA, John Thompson, then coach at Georgetown, walked off the court before a Big East Game against Boston College. Thompson said that he would not coach in an N.C.A.A. sanctioned game ”until I am satisfied that something has been done to provide these student-athletes with appropriate opportunity and hope for access to college.”

There can be no doubt that Chaney and Thompson were conscious. They obviously felt their two-ness. They are both American  and Black. In their public pronouncements one can almost literally see their “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

These days we are bombarded with stories of urban Black student-athletes and student-athletes from Africa being declared ineligible by the NCAA. They window is closing… Just as Chaney and Thompson noted nearly 30 years ago, the NCAA has “instituted a new punishment on black kids who have already been punished because they are poor.”

Fortunately, there has emerged a level of consciousness among some prominent Black members of the basketball community. Accompanying this increased consciousness, has been some innovative and exciting efforts to lift up young Black students and student-athletes. Athletes are helping younger Blacks understand what they have to accomplish and they are working to provide the necessary tools.

The greatest example of contemporary Black consciousness among athletes has to be LeBron James giving kids from Akron — ones with challenging backgrounds like his — the chance to go to college for free. Jame has partnered with the University of Akron to provide a guaranteed four-year scholarship to the school for students in James’ I Promise program who qualify. The scholarship will cover tuition and the university’s general service fee — currently $9,500 per year.

The developers of the kwalifī smartphone app are trying to empower and increase the level of consciousness among high school student-athletes and their families. They want to put famileis in position to take advantage of scholarship opportunities. The kwalifī smartphone app makes it easy to track individual progress toward meeting NCAA and NAIA eligibility requirements.

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The kwalifi app has been embraced by some of the most prominent and influential members of the Black basketball community. In cities like Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Washington, DC and Houston, TX socially conscious Black men are working to increase awareness of NCAA rule changes. Conscious Blacks in the basketball community are working to increase the level of awareness among those coming after them.

Seton Hall great Marcus Toney-El (NJ Playaz), Vincent Robinson (Robinson School) and Roland Whitley (NC State) are leading the charge in Northern New Jersey. Kamal Yard (Philly Pride), Rodney Veney (Philly Pride), Amauro Austin (Philly Pride), Eric Worley (Philly Triple Threat), Charles Monroe (All-City Classic) Paul Gripper (Team Phenom), Steve Pina (ASM Sports) Lonnie Lowry (Team Philly), Terrell Myers (WeRone Hoops) and Aaron Burt (Team Final) are educating Philadelphia area student-athletes and parents about the new rules. In Baltimore, Nick Myles (St. Frances) and Rod Harrison (Mount Zion Prep) are trying hep Black kids access college scholarship opportunities.

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Rich Paul, Klutch Sports Group – LeBron James’ Agent

Curtis Symonds has embraced the kwalifi movement after a spectacular career as a Senior Executive with ESPN and BET. He is working to increase awareness of the rule changes in Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, MD. Former McDonald’s All-American Jawann McClellan is working with Houston families.

There is widespread consensus that the recent rule changes will have disparate negative impact on poor Black and African student-athletes. The is also widespread commitment to helping families take control of their eligibility process. The kwalifi app is a tool that empowers individual student-athletes.

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Josh Selby and Bay Frazier, Frazier Sports Management – Carmelo Anthony’s Business Manager

Social consciousness is re-emerging amongst Black athletes. The kwalifī app is THE tool for conscious student-athletes and their families.

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www,kwalifi.com

Dealing with Barriers to NCAA Eligibility: The kwalifī Strategy?

I’m NOT sayin’ it’s a racist organization, but….

Historically speaking, from 1906 through the early 1970‘s the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctioned and supported Apartheid-like Jim Crow segregation among it’s member institutions. For the better part of seven decades, the NCAA perpetuated a system which, more or less, formally excluded people of color from widespread participation. A few exceptional Black athletes like, Paul Robeson (Rutgers), Jackie Robinson (UCLA) and Jesse Owens (Ohio State) slipped through the segregationist cracks in the northern and western parts of the country. In the South, however, big-time college athletics was the exclusive purview of white people.

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Following a massive and sustained struggle for respect, dignity and basic Human Rights during the 1950’s and 1960’s, overt and blatant segregation waned considerably. By 1971, Blacks, heretofore excluded from collegiate athletics at Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina State, Louisiana State and other powerhouse football and basketball programs, became all the rage. Between 1970 and the early 1980’s Black student-athletes became a dominant force in mainstream collegiate athletics. Simultaneously, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) suffered as they steadily lost the most talented Black athletes to wealthier predominantly white institutions.

What was the response of the NCAA to this rapid “tanning” of the high profile revenue generating sports? For some white University Presidents, Athletic Directors and University Donors it must have seemed like an invasion…

Something had to be done… But what?

They couldn’t just contract with Donald Trump to build a “HUGE” wall around football and basketball locker rooms… Nonetheless, they needed a means of stemming the rising tide of Black bodies flooding Basketball and Football programs across the nation…

The problem was that formal segregation was no longer acceptable in America circa 1982-83. It was no longer politically viable to resurrect and reinstall “White Only” signs that had been removed 15 years earlier… A more nuanced and subtle means of denying access was needed. They devised on strategy centered on the development and implementation of “initial freshman eligibility rules.”

I’m NOT sayin’ it’s a racist organization, but….

These eligibility rules were, and remain to this day, discriminatory against Blacks. John Chaney and John Thompson, II throughout much of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, passionately campaigned against what they referred to as  intentionally “racist” eligibility rules. Following eligibility reforms in 1989, Chaney, Temple University’s Hall of Fame Head Coach, unequivocally stated, “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.”

John Chaney

In response to the same reforms, Georgetown University’s John Thompson, II noted, ”I think it’s sort of ironic when they began to integrate the South athletes were the ones used to pave the way, and they were used under the pious assertion that ‘we’re helping these poor kids… Now, apparently someone has said, ‘Enough,’ so they don’t need the kids anymore. They’re using the same rationale they used to get them in to begin to keep them out. I guess it’s a situation where we’re like shoes and clothes. We’re not in style anymore.”

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John Thompson, II

These legendary Black coaches used their positions of prominence to consistently and fervently denounce the NCAA’s racist actions. Since then, every four or five years, the NCAA has implemented increasingly stringent initial eligibility standards. Each set of reforms disproportionately impacting Black student-athletes in a negative manner. The most recent 2016 reforms have, once again, led contemporary prominent Black coaches to openly question the disparate racial impact.

I’m NOT sayin’ it’s a racist organization, but….

The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development (NACED), a group led by Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, Georgetown coach John Thompson III (son of John Thompson, II) and former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, recently issued a statement to The Associated Press observing that the standards disproportionately target minority and less affluent students in “an unintended consequence beyond acceptability.”

Whereas Chaney and Thompson, II contended that the NCAA acted with malice and fully intended to harm Blacks, the contemporary Black coaches recognize the same harmful impact but chose to consider it “an unintended consequence.” The raw, unfettered and direct accusations of racist behavior on the part of the NCAA put forth by Chaney and Thompson, II stand in stark relief to mild objections of “unintended consequences” emanating from Tubbs, Hewitt and Thompson, III.

John Thompson, III

Nonetheless, today’s coaches are voicing objection… “That dream could be taken away after six semesters in high school,” John Thompson III said. “So for someone that’s a late bloomer, someone that the light bulb doesn’t go on until later, now it’s too late. And just the disproportionate number of minorities that’s going to affect, the number of people in general that’s going to affect, is not good.”

The 2016 rule changes, coupled with a 2007 rule that allows for only one course from prep school to be applied to an athlete’s transcript, will have a major impact on the number of Black athletes that will be eligible to compete as freshman, especially in the NCAA’s two biggest moneymakers: football and men’s basketball.

A recent NCAA report found that 43 percent of men’s college basketball players, 35 percent of football players and 15 percent of Division I athletes overall who were competing as freshmen in 2009-10 would not have qualified under the new standards. Whether it’s intentional as argued by Chaney and Thompson 25 years ago or “unintentional” as posited by Tubby, Thompson, III and Hewitt, the end result is clear.

A disproportionate number of Black males are going to be excluded from collegiate competition.

I’m NOT sayin’ it’s a racist organization, but….

If I wanted to identify a scheme that would disproportionately harm Black student-athletes I would set the minimum SAT score, with a minimum GPA, at 900. As you can see on the above chart, there is a persistent “performance gap” between racial/ethnic groups on the SAT exam. Asians excel, whites do well and ONLY Blacks have average SAT scores below the 900 cutoff point.

In the “real world,” the “average” white student with a 2.3 GPA will be eligible and the “average” Black student with a 2.3 GPA will be ineligible.

This a perfect scheme… if the aim is to limit opportunities for Blacks while appearing race-neutral.

I’m NOT sayin’ it’s a racist organization, but….

How can Blacks counter this scheme that will, undoubtedly, have racist and discriminatory impact?

While it is certainly interesting to note the evolution of the responses from Black coaches, it really does not matter if the NCAA is intentionally or unintentionally trying to decrease opportunities for Blacks? We must deal with the simple fact that they are decreasing opportunities for Blacks.

The inevitable outcome will be fewer eligible Black student-athletes.

So… What are our strategic options? What should Blacks do about it?

The Black Cager has been discussing this very question with prominent and influential members of the Black youth basketball, AAU/Grassroots and educational communities. Although a lot of different ideas emerged during these conversations, there was a recurring theme in all the discussion.

“We have to EDUCATE the young student-athletes.” Over and over, it was concluded that the best thing we could do was to provide student-athletes and their parents with easy to understand and accessible information regarding the rule changes.

Kamal Yard, Philly Pride/Triple Threat

The Black Cager has had strategic discussions with Kamal Yard, Eric Worley, Rodney Veney and Amauro Austin (Philly Pride/Triple Threat AAU/grassroots organization). They immediately embraced and acted upon the strategy. Rob Brown and Aaron Burt (Team Final) agree that educating families and student-athletes is the most useful tactic at this point. Lonnie Lowry (Team Philly) continues to be a staunch supporter of educational efforts by the Black Cager. Terrell Myers (WeRone Hoops) has also embraced the educational outreach strategy.

Terrell Myers and Sedee Keita

Others have embraced and incorporated the educational outreach strategy as well. Littel Vaughn Charles Monroe consistently make sure they incorporate NCAA eligibility education in every event/league they organize. Philly’s High School Coaches have been very proactive with regard to getting information out to the families. John Mosco (Archbishop Wood), Paul Ramczuk (Archbishop Carroll), Rob Moore (Constitution), Andre Noble (Imhotep), Jazz Williams (West Catholic), Kenyatta Bey (Audenreid), Larry Yarbray (Chester), Pervis Ellison (Life Center Academy), Carl Arrigale (Neumann-Goretti), Chris Clahar (Parkway, CC) and Clyde Jones (Penn Wood) have demonstrated a strong commitment to working with families to increase opportunities for their players to access high learning institutions.

The Black Cager has consulted with Paul Gripper (Team Phenom), Vincent Robinson (The Robinson School) and Sam Rines (Rise Academy) on numerous individual cases. These guys fight the fight and walk the walk with their players. They win some, they lose some… But they always try to arm the players/families with accurate information as early as possible. Lou Daniels, Betty Givens, Mo Howard and Claude Gross are always available to provide counsel and guidance. They treat every kid as if he/she were their own.

But…

Even with all of these efforts we are just scratching the surface of an enormous problem affecting tens of thousands student-athletes of color. This is a national, perhaps even international, issue.  Many African, Latin American and European student-athletes have also been experiencing great difficulty meeting eligibility requirements.

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All agree that we need interventions capable reaching tens of thousands of families. Hence, after consulting with all of the above members of the youth basketball community, we have developed the kwalifi smartphone app. kwalifī is a simple and powerful app for tracking progress toward meeting NCAA Division I, Division II and NAIA scholarship eligibility requirements. It allows parents, students and coaches to take ownership of the eligibility process. Core course grades, sliding scales, core course GPA calculations are made easy to understand. No more depending on counselors. It is simple, easy to understand and very useful! Specific steps are outlined to help student-athletes meet NCAA and NAIA requirements.

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Josh Selby and Bay Frazier

Moreover, with the assistance of people like Rodney Veney, we have discussed ways to ensure that every Black kid has access to the kwaifi app with Bay Frazier (Carmelo Anthony’s Manager), Rich Paul (LeBron James’ agent), Curtis Symonds (retired BET Executive) and Kevin Chiles (Publisher, Don Diva Magazine). As we develop marketing distribution strategies, The Black Cager welcomes input from all concerned parents. players, coaches and others committed to improving the educational opportunities for Black student-athletes. This is merely one step in a struggle to ensure our young people continue to have access to educational opportunities commensurate with their academic and athletic abilities.

Rich Paul

Rich Paul, Klutch Sports Group

We have to EDUCATE the young student-athletes… If you have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions as to how we can do a better job of pursuing this strategy please shoot us an email at blackcager@gmail.com. If you know of youth organizations or schools that will benefit from the kwalifi app, let me know!

Delgreco K. Wilson
The Black Cager

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Philadelphia Youth Basketball: Social, Educational and Emotional Development

On October 8, 2015, Philadelphia Youth Basketball, Inc. started a new dialogue…

A wide range of basketball stakeholders were present. Claude Gross represented the Sonny Hill League. Don DiJulia, Saint Joseph’s University’s Athletic Director was reunited with his Sweet 16 backcourt of Rashid Bey and Terrell Myers. Fran Dunphy and Steve Donahue, respectively, represented their Temple University and Pennsylvania University basketball programs. Kamal Yard (Philly Pride), Myers (WeROne), Eric Worley (Philly Triple Threat) and Bey (Team Final) represented three of the more prominent and influential AAU/Grassroots programs in the region. Justin Scott, Arcadia University and Rudy Wise II, Rosemont, held it down for the small colleges. Camden was represented by Tyrone Pitts and Larry Yarbray was flying the Chester High flag.

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Tryone Pitts (Penn), Rashid Bey (SJU), Fran Dunphy (Temple), Claude Gross (Sonny Hill League), Dr. Scott Brooks (Missouri)

What was most interesting about this gathering was the fact that the game of basketball was never mentioned over the course of more than 2 hours. The discussion focused squarely on how the Philly basketball community can develop, harness and leverage social capital that can be utilized to further the social, educational and emotional development of young people or “our guys” as Dr. Scott Brooks described them.

Held in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, the “Roundtable Discussion” was led by Dr. Brooks, Professor of Sociology at the University of Missouri. Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education at the University of Pennsylvania and Stephanie A. Tryce, J.D., Assistant Professor of Sports Marketing were also in attendance.

Kenny Holdsman and Eric Worley outlined their vision and plans to build a state of the art, basketball-based youth development center in the heart of North Philadelphia. Holdsman passionately posited that when you create opportunities for young people to develop their potential as students, athletes, and responsible engaged citizens, the individual and the community will thrive. Basketball, for Holdsman and Worley, is more than a game. Their efforts are undergirded by extensive research demonstrating that sports foster growth and development physically, academically, and socially.

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Towards that end, Holdsman noted that they have begun building a professional organization and initiated fundraising efforts to construct a $25 million state-of-the-art, basketball-based youth development center in the heart of North Philadelphia. This 120,000 square foot facility will have 8 indoor and 8 outdoor courts including a 2,000 seat indoor competition court. It will also feature an education wing with a library, classrooms, computer lab, and a community engagement center.

Take the PYB Tour!

Worley explained that they simply could not wait for construction to be concluded to begin serving Philadelphia’s young people. As a result, in a couple of weeks they are initiating the PYB School Partnership Pilot Program. Through this pilot program, PYB will provide programming in eight-week intervals (fall, winter & spring) for middle-school aged students at four school partners located in the North, Northwest, and Southwest regions of the city. Programming will be held at the location of the four school partners twice a week during after-school hours and every Saturday at Temple University and/or another Philadelphia area college or university. The program will focus on academic support, homework help, study skills, time management, tutoring, high school selection, leadership, character development, health and nutrition, family engagement, and basketball skill-building and competition. All participants will receive basketball uniforms.

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Fran Dunphy & Claude Gross

Claude Gross shared stories from his experiences over the past 55 years with the Charles Baker and Sonny Hill Leagues. Gross explained that the Hill league was never about producing NBA basketball players. Rather it was always about producing middle class young men that could provide for themselves and their families and become positive contributing members of society.

Finally, there was a magisterial presentation by Dr. Brooks, a protege of Philly Schoolboy legend Claude Gross. While pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology at the University, Brooks spent four years coaching under Gross in the Sonny Hill League basketball. The result of his research was an extremely insightful and nuanced book, Black Men Can’t Shoot (University of Chicago Press). For those interested in gaining a better understanding of the multi-layered intersections of urban education and scholastic sports, it is a must read.

Black Men Can't Shoot

In his presentation, Dr. Brooks deftly described what he saw, heard, and felt working with the young black men in the Hill league. His discussion of the manner in which the Claude Gross, Fred Douglass, Vince Miller, John Hardnett, Tee Shields and others utilized their social networks and expended their social capital was both informative and captivating.

Stephen Pina, a sports attorney with ASM Sports exclaimed, “that was the best talk I’ve heard… Dr. Scott is able to convey his academic work in a very ‘REAL’ manner.” Kamal Yard said, “He articulated everything I have been saying and thinking for the past 10 years.” Rashid Bey reported, “I thought about that presentation all night.”

Perry, Terrell, Rashid

Perry Clark, South Carolina Assistant Coach, Terrell Myers and Rashid Bey

There will be subsequent “Roundtable Discussions” sponsored by Philadelphia Youth Basketball, Inc. and Black Cager Urban Sports Media. Updates will will be available on this website.

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

sonny-hill

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.

chosen league

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.

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.

deja imhotep

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.