It’s All GOOD at Archbishop Wood! John Mosco Interview

As we are quickly approaching the start of another exciting scholastic basketball season in Philadelphia, people across the country are focusing on perennial powers Roman Catholic and Neumann-Goretti. Those two along with Archbishop Caroll have fielded nationally ranked boys basketball teams over the past few years. When you consider that Conwell-Egan also won a PIAA state championship last year, it becomes apparent that the Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) is the most competitive high school basketball league in the state and arguably one of the premier leagues in the nation.  Schools like West Catholic Prep and Bonner are trying mightily to crack the upper echelon. Here I present an interview with John Mosco, Head Coach at Archbishop Wood.

Mosco has been a prominent figure in Philly schoolboy hoops for nearly 2 decades. He served an apprenticeship under Carl Arriagle in the legendary Neumann-Goretti program. Two years ago, Mosco was handed the reigns at Wood. Widely recognized as one of the “good guys” in the Philly hoops community, he has been working diligently to build a respectable program. His team plays hard and they play unselfishly. He has developed some of the best young players in the Philadelphia region. This could be the year Wood breaks through and challenges the Big 3 for PCL Catholic League supremacy.

John Mosco

John Mosco, Head Coach, Archbishop Wood Boys Basketball

Black Cager: I think the Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) is arguably the best scholastic High School basketball league in the country when you look at it top to bottom. I’m not talking about leagues that have 5th year guys or the New England Prep School League. I’m talking about pure high school basketball. What are your feelings about the ability of the PCL to compete on a national level?

John Mosco: I think night in, night out with quality of the coaches in the PCL, the way they prepare their teams, it’s the hardest league to play in. You see what teams like Roman, Neumann-Goretti and Carroll did last year on the national scene. Especially with Carroll losing Ernest to injury and they were still able to win big games at the City of Palms. Neumann-Goretti was supposed be in a down year and they won a State Championship and could have won a Catholic League Championship. Roman Catholic pretty much ran the table only having 2 losses, both in the league. They beat everyone outside the league. My first year here everybody thought I was crazy when we scheduled DeMatha and other high powered programs. But I want my players to have those experiences. They can play against the best players and tell their family members and friends they play against the best. Every night you have to bring it because you could lose just as easily as you could win.

Black Cager: I had the good fortune of attending one of your games last year. You were at Roman Catholic and we all know that’s a tough, tough place to play. The gym is not regulation size. Your boys came in there in front of a standing on each other crowd and managed to pull that game out. You have a very young team. What did that mean for the program? And, how will that help you get your guys to understand that you can compete and win against the very best teams in the city?

John Mosco: That game meant a lot to me. For two years, we were talking about having a signature win. We felt that that was our signature win. We were able to walk in there and win. Keep in mind they hadn’t lost there in seven (7) years. Juanya Green hit a buzzer beater to beat them, but I think that was at least 7 years ago. Since then, then haven’t lost in that building. I’ve been on the wrong end os some severe beating there at Neumann. I remember Donnie Carr crushing out team before the Neumann-Roman game was moved every year. To be able to compete against Roman and beat Roman was great accomplishment for our program. Roman is a program that we look up to with their accomplishments. They are the big dogs on the street. We’re trying to instill in our kids a belief that they can just go out and compete with anyone. It’s just high school basketball. The game is 32 minutes and if you play your hardest you are going to come out on top.

Black Cager: As I watched that game, one kid in particular really kind of stood out. I heard a few people standing next to me say, “you know he’s only a freshman.” Once that really settled in and I’m watching the game, I was amazed at the way the kid was able to compete, especially on the boards. Now when it’s all said and done he will be a Division 1 wing, but for you last year he was a force on the boards. Tell me a little bit about Tyree Pickron and some of your other young kids and what we can expect to see from them going forward.

Tyree Pickron

Tyree Pickron, Archbishop Wood Sophomore

John Mosco: Tyree is a special kid. He trusted me enough to come all the way out to Wood. He lives about 3 or 4 blocks from Roman Catholic and he takes a 55 minute commute by bus everyday. He really fit in here academically. That’s what I’m more proud of. You talk to the teachers and the administration and they love him because he does all the right things in the building. We preach that to him first and foremost. We told him listen your gonna play, but your gonna be out of position. We have a lot of guards and your gonna have to play the 4. He ended up being our second leading rebounder and started every game as a freshman. I gave him an opportunity to play and he really took advantage of it. In that game he had 14 points and 14 rebounds. He hit several big buckets as Roman was making a run to come back. He was really poised. He hit jump shot after jump shot. He has a lot to work on, but I think every sophomore in the country does. He’s in the gym. He takes the criticism. He listens to the seniors. He doesn’t try to do more than he has to. But, he also knows when its time for him to take over and he did it in that game. Overall, I think he needs to work on his ball-handling. I also think the jump from freshman to sophomore is huge because you go from being the low man on the scouting report to 1st or 2nd. He’s going to have to adjust to being guarded by the best defender. He might not have 20 points every night, but he has to keep grinding. I think he will.

Black Cager: I also happened to see you guys playing against Reading in the Villanova team camp this summer. During that game, I could see that he clearly relished the opportunity to match up with Lonnie Walker. How do you think Pickron matches up with the kids that tend to get more national recognition because of the name on the front of their jerseys? Kids that play for Roman and Neumann or kids that come out of places like Chester or Reading get a lot of publicity. People are expecting them, they are waiting to see them come along. With what you are building here Pickron and some of your other players are going to have to fight for recognition as elite level players. But, early on they appear that they will be just as good.

John Mosco: Yeah… they do… I think my guys have a chance to be recognized on the national stage. It’s all about getting better. If he helps get us to the Palestra, he’s gonna get al lot of that credit along with Tommy Funk (West Point commit) and Colin Gillespie. The further we go and if we are able to win the Catholic league Championship that will bring recognition to the school like our football program. By the time Tyree graduates from here I think he will have all of that recognition. He plays hard, he’s not worried about who he’s playing for in the summer. I think people are gonna be surprised when he goes to Hoop Group or some other camp and plays very well. We talk about that here. Summer is the time for players to shine as individuals. Summer League Championships don’t get you invited to state championships. Tyree needs to work on handling the ball. I want him to do that in the summer leagues. Tommy Funk needs to work on his jump shot, I want him to take more shots in the summer leagues.

Tommy Funk

Tommy Funk, Archbishop Wood Senior (Army Commit)

Black Cager: I think you are unique in your ability to integrate waht you do with what the AAU/Grassroots programs do in the summer. I’ve seen you at AAU practices and your very familiar with the AAU programs. Clearly, going forward for any HS program to be successful they have to adapt to what goes on in summer basketball. Philly has some really hyper-competitive summer basketball programs. How do you go about maintaining relationships, staying above the fray and not have the different programs hating on each other.

John Mosco: I think it’s about communication. You have to communicate with them. Give them your schedule… where you are going for team camp and they give you their schedule outlining where they will play during elite season. July is a busy month. I tell my kids I need them for one event… The Hoop Group team camp. If they can’t make it, I’m not going to hold it against them as long as I know they are playing at a tournament with Team Philly, Team Final or the Jersey Shore Warriors. It just provides a chance for a younger kid to play. What I don’t like is when the kids don;t communicate with both the program or the HS team and we don’t know each other’s schedule. In March I reach out to the AAU programs and get their schedules so I’ll know where guys are going. We lift two days a week and they have to go to that. They can go to AAU practice… It’s about getting better. You have to have an open door policy.

Black Cager: You know I’ve been involved in this thing for about 20 years and NCAA eligibility has always been a moving target. In 2016, it’s going to change again in a very big way. What are some of the steps that you guys are taking to make sure your kids are ok. I know your upper classmen are pretty bright kids and that’s not an issue. But what would you say to any 8th grader or any kid entering high school in terms of what they can do to make sure they are on the right track?

John Mosco: I think it starts before they get to HS. We talk to kids that registered at Wood for HS before they get here. We let them know what they have to do with their grades and progress reports to stay eligible and meet college expectations. I am very lucky here at Wood, we have a great counseling team and they are on top of everything. We have a strong football program and they understand what each kid has to do to be eligible to play Division 1 and Division 2 college sports. They are tracking their grades, they understand what a core course is, they understand the core GPA. We don’t have to explain it to them, they are explaining it to us. They are on top of the new formula. The head counselor is Ms. O’Grady. Her son played basketball here, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and played baseball at Rutgers. She understands what it means to be a student-athlete. It’s not just pushing kids through to get a 70. It’s pushing them to get a B or an A.

Black Cager: I think Wood, now that you mention it is really unique. The girls basketball team, if not the best, is one of the 2 or 3 best programs in the state of Pennsylvania. The football program, the baseball program and the golf program are all super-competitive. You are bring boys basketball along. I don’t see why you can’t be one of the best programs in the Catholic League which puts you among the very best in the state. Is that your expectation this year?

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John Mosco: Yeah… my expectation every year, even last last, is to win the PCL title. That’s our first goal, to win the PCL. I tell these kids there is not a better experience than playing in the PCL semifinals and final at the Palestra. There are 9,500 people cheering for you or against you. You see last year 3 PCL boys teams won state championship and the PCL also won a girls championship. Constitution, also from District 12 won the other boys championship. I think the state is not really fond of District 12 winning all these titles.

Black Cager: I think clearly the PIAA, is considering different ways to make Philly teams play each other before the Championship games. They are thinking about going back to the East vs West format.

John Mosco: I think the state should continue to place teams where they belong and let the best teams play for the title. Roman vs King and Neumann vs Carrol were the best teams in those classifications and they deserved to play for the championship.

Black Cager: I think the state views the boys tournament as a money maker. The Philly teams have only been playing for state championships for about a decade or so. Our schools do not travel as well as some of the schools that have been playing for state championships for 50-60 years.

John Mosco: That’s why the state loves Chester. I give them all the credit. When they play for the championship, the whole city comes out to support them. It’s tough because we are representing one city. If MLK goes or if Roman goes the city is not going to follow them and go to the game. Even if Wood goes, all of Warminster is not going to travel to the game. So it’s different for city teams. That’s why I put a lot more stock into winning the Catholic League.

Black Cager: In general, let’s talk about Philadelphia basketball at the amateur level. The sense I get it that we are struggling. It’s no secret that some of our very, very best players have had a hard time adjusting to college life. The expectations thrust upon are young people when they enter college life have proven to be challenging for some. You see a lot of transfers back home. You see kids quitting school. You see kids having to go to junior college. I can easily name 10-12 kids off the top of my heads that struggled with the transition. What are some of the things we can do to help the kids be more successful?

John Mosco: I don’t think it’s just Philly… I think it’s the way things are structured… With the live periods in place, the coaches don’t to watch these kids enough and they are taking chances on kids and that’s why there are over 600 transfers every year. Coaches don;t want to wait for a kid to kid better and the kids don’t want to wait. The kids think they should be able to just go to college and play right away. People want to drive a Cadillac, no one wants to drive a Honda. They are all going higher than they should go. They don’t go to the schools that really want them. I think the Philly schools see the Philly kids so much they tend to over-evaluate them. They see them so much they start to focus on their flaws more than coaches from out of state see their flaws. Kids are being talked to by their AAU coaches and their parents, they want to play right away. It’s not just in the city. Even up here I’m fighting with kids from the suburbs that are listening to AAU guys and parents. Everybody has the same problems, they are just in different locations. Everybody’s goal is to be a Division 1 player. Not listening to to right people hurts some kids. There are some guys out there that don’t have the kid’s best interest in mind.

Black Cager: I agree 100%.

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John Mosco: I tell my kids all the time. I go to work every day. I work for PECO. I don’t put food on my table with this basketball thing. When they get to the next level, the coaches are relying on 18-19 year old kids to put food on their table. It’s a business. If that kid doesn’t want to listen, or has a bad semester they are all over him. They may not be willing to work through the issues. As it progresses it gets worse because they are under so much pressure to win. If they are not winning, then they go get the transfers. Now you have the 5th year kid that’s a transfer and he’s much older and stronger than the freshmen. As a result, some coaches don’t even want to look at seniors coming out of high school. They want superstars. They don’t want kids that are gonna work to get better. I talked to a lot Division 2 schools and they don’t even want to recruit, they just wait for the Division 1 transfers. It’s tough, you’re either D1 or D3.

Black Cager: I really appreciate this interview. As a final question: What do you have to say to Chris McNesby, Carl Arrigale and Paul Romanczuk? Are you coming for them?

John Mosco: Carl is like my brother… we talk every day. He’s knows what I’m doing and I know what he’s doing? We been coming for those guys the last two years. It’s a hard thing to crack. Those are the premier programs in the PCL. In our league everybody knows who you are and they know what you are bringing night after night. Last year, every game was the NCAA championship for the teams they played against. But we got few surprises and we’ll be ready for them. I want thank you for taking the time to come and visit us.

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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.

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.

Working Together for HS Student-Athletes: Scholastic Sports Think Tank

A recent analysis of data over the past two years revealed some very interesting findings. Of all of the freshman that accepted scholarships to play basketball in the Atlantic 10 (A10) Conference over the past two years – 2013 and 2014 – 52% would NOT have been eligible if the 2016 NCAA eligibility guidelines were already in place.

Through analysis of SAT test score data and discussions with concerned HS Principals, HS coaches, AAU coaches, parents and student-athletes it was determined that Black student-athletes in the mid-Atlantic Region (NY, NJ, PA, DE & MD) were particularly at-risk of not meeting the new guidelines. Another area that may experience significant problems is Jackson, Mississippi.

We have decided to form the Scholastic Sports Think Tank (SSTT) to:

1) Disseminate information and increase knowledge of NCAA, NAIA and JUCO initial eligibility guidelines: The NCAA will implement several significant and increasingly stringent freshman eligibility guidelines. These guidelines will take effect on August 1, 2016.

2) Increase understanding and provide access to innovative interventions designed to help student-athletes meet the new eligibility requirements: Through accessing innovative interventions, we aim to help student-athletes access the tools necessary to meet eligibility requirements. We aim to get student-athletes to think outside the box for solutions.

Scholastic Sports Think Tank - About Us-page-0

For many of our youth, athletics is the means to accessing higher education. SSTT will work to help our youth understand what they need to accomplish in order to be eligible for athletic scholarships.

Look for announcements for FREE full-length practice SAT exams and transcript reviews.

Philly’s AAU/Grassroots Voice: An Interview with Kamal Yard

“Teams play game after game after game, sometimes winning or losing four times in one day. Very rarely do teams ever hold a practice. Some programs fly in top players from out of state for a single weekend to join their team. Certain players play for one team in the morning and another one in the afternoon. If mom and dad aren’t happy with their son’s playing time, they switch club teams and stick him on a different one the following week. The process of growing as a team basketball player — learning how to become part of a whole, how to fit into something bigger than oneself — becomes completely lost within the AAU fabric.”
Steve Kerr
Head Coach, 2015 Western Conference Champion Golden St. Warriors

“AAU basketball.. Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.”
Kobe Bryant
5 Time NBA Champion
17 time NBA All-Star

“If you’re playing defense in AAU, you don’t need to be playing… I’ve honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU.”
Michael Beasley
NCAA All-American 2007-08
2nd pick in 2008 NBA Draft

“AAU is the worst thing that ever happened to basketball…”
Charles Barkley
1992-93 NBA MVP
11 time NBA All-Star

“It’s a bad system for developing players… They aren’t learning to handle the ball, they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high-school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are. If I can win the 11-and-12 year old league and tell all my friends about it, that is a whole lot more important than if my kids actually get any better or learn anything about the game.”
Stan Van Gundy
Head Coach, Detroit Pistons

The consensus is clear… The experts, the people whose opinions are valued most by fans and observers of collegiate and professional basketball, have emphatically declared that AAU basketball ain’t worth shit… Is that a fair assessment? One rarely has an opportunity to hear the other side. What do AAU guys think about the role they play?

The Black Cager sat down with Philadelphia’s most renowned AAU/Grassroots basketball figure for an in depth discussion. Kamal Yard is the director of Philly Pride a grassroots basketball program sponsored by Under Armour. He is also a marketing consultant with Under Armour charged with developing strategies to increase brand awareness in the Greater Philadelphia region.

Kamal Yard

Kamal Yard, Philly Pride Basketball

Black Cager: How long have you been involved in AAU/Grassroots basketball and how did you first get involved?

Kamal Yard: It’s funny man… For me, it started with my early years at the John Chaney/Sonny Hill basketball camp in the mid 1980’s. The camps were held at Cheyney University and on the Ambler campus of Temple University. During the camps, they had something called “lecture time.” During and lecture time, Mr. Hill and Coach Chaney would always talk about the importance of giving back. That was their main thing “giving back.” And, then you look at the camaraderie of the Chaney/Hill camp and the Sonny Hill League it was all about service. So that kinda like planted a seed in me that never left. Since then, I always wanted to establish a program that provided young kids in Philadelphia with structured, supervised and well organized opportunities to play basketball.

SonnyHill

The legendary Sonny Hill

Black Cager: Most people are unfamiliar with the nuances and subtleties of AAU/Grassroots basketball in the Philadelphia area. Team Final, WE R 1, Team Philly and Philly Pride are the elite boys programs. Your partner program Philly Triple Threat, led by Eric Worley does a phenomenal job on the girls side. Team Final and WE R 1 are known as programs that feature elite Division 1 players, however, Philly Pride has developed a niche whereby you serve student-athletes that tend to come from less than ideal family, educational and social situations. How has that come about?

Kamal Yard: Honestly… I get motivated when people tell me a kid can’t make or won’t make it. When people say a kid is a “problem” or a “head case” I actually become more attracted to the kid. I’m from 25th and Diamond and I wanna help the kids that the other programs don’t want to deal with. Now, we’ve had some kids that were can’t miss in terms of their family and educational backgrounds. Garrett Williamson (St. Joseph’s), Ryan Brooks (Temple) and Darryl Reynolds (Villanova) all came from Lower Merion High School. These were kids that would have graduated from college without basketball, their families situations were straight. But for the most part, we tend to have kids from the “hood.” That’s just a commitment on my part. I’m the guy that will give kids a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th chance. Every situation is different, every case varies.

Black Cager: That’s a very interesting point. I can think of situations where the cases vary within single families. Let’s examine the White family. Older brother Desean, spent a season and a half at Providence, he transferred in the middle of the 2005-06 season to La Salle. After sitting out a year, he was dismissed from the team and never played a game for the Explorers. White then moved on to Delaware but was again dismissed from the team after being ruled academically ineligible. White ended up playing his final two years at Northwood, an NAIA school in Florida, where he was coached by former Villanova legend Rollie Massimino. There, he was a two-time NAIA First Team All-American. His younger brother, Devon had a much different experience.

Kamal Yard: Devon is a success story. Devon is a straight up success story. Absolutely! Look man, I don’t think of these kids as failures because sometimes they go and they try the school thing and it doesn’t work out. Most of the times it works out for the kids, but sometimes it doesn’t. What do you do? Do you throw him to the wolves because it doesn’t work out or do you try to pick him up? In my mind Desean and Devon are successes. Devon graduated from LaSalle and he even went on to pursue a Master’s degree at Niagara. He’s playing professionally overseas and taking care of himself and his family. That’s what this thing is all about.

devon white

Devon White, LaSalle University

Black Cager: When did you make the transition to a sponsored program and travel team? How did that come about?

Kamal Yard: First, when my cousin Cuttino Mobley was drafted into the NBA in 1998, he was with Nike so we were sponsored through a Nike “community deal.” How it worked was like this, we got the same amount of product that all the other Nike sponsored teams received. This arrangement was part of Cuttino’s contract with Nike. He simply diverted some of the compensation to our program through a “community deal” arrangement. We received sneakers, bags, T-shirts and uniforms. We had that arrangement for the duration of his career. That arrangement was good, it was really good for us. Then we switched over to Under Armour after he retired in 2010.  I also became a consultant for Under Armour. In 2011, our program became officially sponsored by Under Armour… I just took that and ran with it. We currently have 370 kids in our program from 3rd grade through 11th grade, girls and boys.

Black Cager: Before I became acquainted with you, my perception of Under Armour was that it was a football, work out gear focused company. I didn’t really view them as a force to be reckoned with in the basketball marketplace. I did not associate Under Armour with basketball.

Kamal Yard: Nobody did… So, the first thing I did when I started working with them was to make sure all the top kids in the rec centers became familiar with the brand. I put up banners in rec centers, sponsored leagues and gave away shoes to all the little kids. I made sure all the top kids had it on in North Philly, Southwest Philly, South Philly, West Philly. Then I went out and signed up some of the best high schools. I signed Imhotep to a contract with Under Armour. Then I went after Roman Catholic and Chester High and signed them to their contract. At that time MCS was emerging and Vaux had Rysheed Jordan so I signed them. That was an important step. You have to remember at that time Rysheed, Aquille Carr and the Harrison twins were among the most highly visible high school players in the country. By having the top guys in Philly, Baltimore and Houston they really helped drive brand awareness in the inner cities. Under Armour really didn’t have a lot of pros at the time. We had Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams, other than that we didn’t have anyone in the league. The young guys kinda fueled the shit for Under Armour. They kinda served the same role as professional endorsers. Aquille was hot as fish grease down there in Baltimore. They called him the “crime stopper.” He had like 50,000 twitter followers. Rysheed had 30,000 twitter followers and the Harrison twins had a huge following. It really helped that we had Rysheed in Philly and he was a pretty popular player. And, then you have the success of the high schools we sponsored. Rysheed and Vaux won a state championship. It just helped catapult it and now it’s all over Philly.

Rysheed Vaux

Rysheed Jordan, Vaux High School

Black Cager: That’s really interesting… What would you say to someone that looks at that strategy and feels that you are just branding them and trying to turn them into future Under Armour consumers?

Kamal Yard: The reality of the situation is that in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston the publicly funded opportunities are gradually disappearing. The taxpayers are walking away… When we were kids you could play in the league at the rec center, you could play in free summer leagues, you could play junior high basketball, you could play junior varsity basketball. All of these publicly funded opportunities are disappearing. I feel a duty to leverage my relationship with corporations like Under Armour to provide opportunities for kids to play, participate and be within structured and supervised organizations. As far as the players, I’m with my guys for life. For me it’s about the high I get when I pick up a poor inner-city kid and take him off to college in front of his young siblings and little kids in the neighborhood. For me seeing the looks on those kids faces builds my confidence and my self-esteem. Right then, right there, I feel like I have a million dollars in my pocket. Think about the Whites. Everything didn’t pan out for Desean, but Devon watched his mistakes. Devon did everything he was supposed to in school, never had any issues with anybody. That’s how that shit go. We’re not trying to brand kids. I guess that comes with the territory. But, I’m doing this to save lives. I’m trying to go to graduations. My man Scootie Randall ‘bout to get married.

Scootie Randall

Scootie Randall, Temple University

Black Cager: Run off some of the names of players that came through your program that went on to play in college.

Kamal Yard: Scootie Randall (Temple), Ramone Moore (Temple) Rahlir Jefferson (Temple), Garrett Williamson (St. Joseph’s), Tyrone Garland (LaSalle), Jesse Morgan (Temple)… I don’t normally include guys like Darryl Reynolds (Villanova), Miles Overton (Drexel) and Ryan Brooks (Temple) because they would have made it college without our program and without basketball. They just came from really stable educationally focused families, but they were an important part of our teams. They would have been good no matter what. I always like to cite guys like Jeremiah “Lump” Worthem (Indian Hills Junior College), Quadir Welton (St. Peter’s) and Malike Starkes (Cecil Community College). Those are the guys I go after, because I feel like I can fix all of ‘em. You can’t tell me I can’t. We also had guys like Vinnie Simpson (Hampton), he was tough. I think I got over 100 guys that received Division 1 scholarships. I would bet that I have the most in this area by far. For a while I was getting 8, 9 or 10 a year. On Scootie’s team we had Larry Lougherty (Penn), Russell Johnson (Robert Morris), big Dev White (LaSalle) and Charles White that went to Hartford University. Charles is from the projects, he got his degree and he just got a big job with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Black Cager: How do you respond to the criticism that AAU programs don’t work on skill development and focus almost exclusively on playing games?

Kamal Yard: Honestly, the top tier programs… They got those kids in the gym. I know we do. We do mandatory stuff every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But 5 days a week you can catch Sean Colson in the gym doing skill development for our program. We have 5 different coaches like that. Colson is coaching my 17u team and a Philly Public League product from FLC. He played at Charlotte University and in the NBA. With Colson, it’s really all about the “giveback” we talked about earlier. He’s an AAU coach and he’s also a high school coach. He understands the commitment, he understands the need to give back to the kids and sharing what he has learned. His whole thing is really making kids better. That’s all he talks about. If he could be in a gym 7 days a week making guys better that’s what he would be doing. I’m happy that he’s with us. I’m happy we got him. If you look at everything we do it’s really all about service to our kids, service to our community and service to our staff. I had to convince him to take the Martin L. King job. The principal at King came from Vaux and he told me he needed a coach. I told him I know just the guy and told Colson to take the job. We went back and forth for about 6 weeks because he still had offers to play overseas. Ultimately, I was able to convince him that this was a perfect opportunity to give back. For us, we take care of all of our people. You can’t be asking people to do all this volunteer shit and then not have a plan for them. I want all my coaches to be ambitious. They have to want to move on and be a college coach or high school coach. We want to see them progress. We take care of our guys.

colson

Sean Colson, Philly Pride and Martin L. King, Jr. head coach

Black Cager: I think the recruitment of one of your current players, Charles Brown, gives a clear indication of how AAU/grassroots basketball is more important that high school basketball.

Kamal Yard: It is… it’s not the AAU guys fault… It’s just changing times… The college coaches, especially the coaches from the bigger conference tell me they don’t wanna see a kid like Charles Brown playing in a high school game against guys that aren’t even Division 3 prospects. A lot of this ties in with the way scholastic hoops has become saturated. The explosive growth in the number of charter schools means there a lot more teams, but there hasn’t been an increase in the number of players. These teams have to field teams. It’s watered down the basketball… What, if you are a D1 coach… are you gonna come see Charles Brown play against Palumbo or Esperanza? You are not coming to see that stuff.. If you wanna get a good gauge on his ability you wanna see him against Division 1 prospects. If you come to an Under Armour session, there are 40 17u teams and about 40 16u teams. With one plane ride you can see at least 100 Division 1 prospects.

Charles Brown pic 2

Charles Brown, St. Joseph’s University commit

Black Cager: In Philadelphia, there’s a concentration of talent at say 6,7 or 8 high schools. These programs are so stacked up that some really talented players don’t an opportunity to play. Guys like Brown, DJ Newbill (Penn State)  and Jarrod Denard (Claflin) leave one high school because they don’t get any playing time and emerge as All-State players at another school.

Kamal Yard: Take a program like Imhotep. Brother Andre Noble is doing an excellent job. Brother Andre is just like us.. He is all about giving back and lifting up the kids. Once you’ve been around him you gain an appreciation for all the things he does to take care of his kids. Now… Brother Andre looks at and feels that he has one of the best programs here. He has the best structure. So.. he’s going in… he’s getting the best talent. His program is just like DeMatha. DeMatha has kids that don’t play. They have kids that don’t qualify. Here in Philly, Roman Catholic has kids that don’t play a lot and transfer. People just aren’t used to seeing public schools doing it. Calculate the number of kids that have left different Catholic League schools over the past 5 years.

Andre

Brother Andre Noble, Imhotep Head Coach

Black Cager: Let’s talk about Philly college hoops… Which programs make the most sense for Philly kids? If I sent you my son and he was a D1 player which school would you suggest?

Kamal Yard: Imma keep it real with you… I’m a pro-Philly guy. If I was King for a day, if I could make rules I would make a rule where all of the top guys have to stay in Philly. I think that would reverberate throughout the Philly basketball community. Everyone would be better off. More assistant coaches would get head jobs. There would be higher salaries for the coaches and better attendance at the games. The talent level is so high here that if Philly kids were able to really infiltrate the City 6 programs shit would be bananas!

Black Cager: Do you think we are moving toward that? Kids are starting to stay home after watching many of those that left transfer back to City 6 schools. It seems the younger guys are learning from the experiences of the guys that came before them.

Kamal Yard: I think throughout the history of college basketball in Philadelphia, the better prospects, the better players always left. Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas), Andre McCarter (UCLA), Gene Banks (Duke), Dallas Comegys (DePaul), Pooh Richardson (UCLA) and Rasheed Wallace (North Carolina) all left. You have some that stayed like Michael Brooks (LaSalle), Cliff Anderson (St. Joseph’s) and Lionel Simmons (LaSalle). But for the most part, the better guys have always left. I think one of the main reasons kids leave is because it’s so rough around this city… The parents really influence that… They wanna get their kids away from the violence and mayhem they have seen all their lives. A lot of times the coaches get real petty and blame it on the kid, but in reality it’s the parents. If I’m raising a kid here for 18 years and I’m going to funerals all the time, first thing I’m thinking is my son is getting the heck outta here. If you go see the campus at the University of Virginia or you go out UCLA that’s the first thing you are thinking. I’m getting my kid as far away as possible from Philly. Take a kid like Savon Goodman (Arizona St.) at the end of the day he could have stayed here. But he had a pretty rough upbringing and when it came down to it his people were like you getting outta here. Same thing with Rakeem Christmas who grew up in Southwest Philly, his Aunt Amira was like you are going away. I do think it goes in cycles. At different times a lot of kids go away and at other times a lot of kids stay home. For me, I remember going to Big 5 games and I remember the intensity and the level of competitiveness Randy Woods (LaSalle), Aaron McKie (Temple), Bernard Blunt (St. Joseph’s) and all those guys played with. I think a lot of that was because those guys really knew each other. I think you are going to see more of that. All it takes is for some of these local kids to blow up and make to the NBA. I’m good with all the coaches.. I think all of ‘em do a good job. One thing about all the coaches, they are real Philly guys. I’ll never forget about ten years ago we were in a war down in West Virginia. Phil Martelli was so caught up in watching the game that he started yelling at the refs on our behalf. He got really loud and might have said some strong words. The refs threw him out the game… He actually got kicked out the game. The refs told him to get out and he said F you! He wasn’t faking it… I honestly can say, the area coaches are Philly guys to the core.

wilt-chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas University

Black Cager: If you were an AD or if an AD asked you and he needed a coach which current Philadelphia assistants would you recommend?

Kamal Yard: Right now, Geoff Arnold and Ashley Howard are everyone’s favorites. I think Geoff in terms of the type of person he is has everybody pulling him. Geoff is special. You know there are some guys that Geoff helped get into coaching that are now head coaches and Geoff has no bitterness towards anybody. So, selfishly speaking I would like to see Geoff get his shot. But I think Ash might be next up because he’s at Nova and he’s done an unbelievable job everywhere he’s been. When you talk about Geoff and Ash, I believe you are talking about 2 of the best assistant coaches in the country. I really do. They can really recruit. Look at the class St. Joseph’s just got. St. Joe’s doesn’t get those guys if Geoff’s not there. Look at the players Villanova’s gotten since Ash has been there. It ain’t no secret that when Ash was at Drexel they were able to win 28-29 games. Damian Lee was his parting gift to Drexel. He goes to Xavier and they get Semaj Christon. He goes to Nova and the DC pipeline really starts to open up. So at the end of the day, I think either one of those guys will be phenomenal coaches and they will recruit the hell out of Philly.

Geoff  & galloway

Geoff Arnold, St. Joseph’s Assistant Coach and his nephew New York Knick’s guard, Langston Galloway

Black Cager: A program like Rider, led by Kevin Baggett gets a lot of Philly kids. What would it take for a program like Delaware to really make inroads in Philly? Outside of Temple, they have the best facilities in the area.

Kamal Yard: I think that visibility is really important. I know Monté is from here, but I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen him. When was the last time he was in a barbershop in Southwest? When is the last time he was in a barbershop in West Philly? You know what I mean… I know as coach, a lot of times you can’t go to games like that but I think visibility is really important. If they could have some games where they play at Temple, at LaSalle or at St. Joseph’s every other year that would increase their visibility. But all it really takes is for them to get one that has a solid career and graduates. They can go from there. Delaware is a sleeping giant.

Monte

Monté Ross, University of Delaware Head Coach

Black Cager: Penn has had 2 Black coaches, Princeton has had 2 Black coaches, Bruiser’s been at Drexel for 15 years. Coach Chaney was at Temple for 25 years. Rider has a Black coach. Delaware has had 2 Black coaches. Maryland has had a Black coach. Georgetown and St. John’s have had two Black coaches. Rutgers and Seton Hall have had Black coaches. The Philadelphia Catholic universities, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s and Villanova have never had Black coaches. Why are some schools more successful in attracting and hiring Black coaches and does it matter to guys like you that are advising elite prospects?

Kamal Yard: I think each situation is different. However, if it is overly and abundantly clear that a school doesn’t have Blacks in senior positions then that should be a problem. Because when I’m trying to tell a kid to go to a particular school or advise him on his decision one of the things I tell him is that  you have to open your eyes up and open your ears up. Who’s gonna be role models for the kid? Hypothetically, say they go to the University of Virginia and Craig Littlepage is the AD. That’s telling you that job is an attainable goal for you. You are seeing more African-American ADs. Temple has one. There’s a little progress being made and I think it comes from us complaining. But it’s still not enough. Blacks make up 70-80 percent of the players. It’s not just a problem at the college level. Look at the high school level. Catholic schools in Philly may have had, maybe 4-5 Black coaches in the history of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Two of them were from West Catholic. That is an issue. Where is our network? Shit is important.

craig-littlepage

Craig Littlepage, University of Virginia Athletic Director

Black Cager: Thirty years ago, John Thompson, John Chaney and Nolan Richardson spoke out against what they perceived as attempts to limit or reduce the Black presence through increasingly restrictive academic requirements based on standardized test scores. Who is gonna speak out today? Where are our Chaneys, Thompsons and Richardsons?

Kamal Yard: We don’t have any… We are in an era where there is an overall lack of support for those fighting these measures. At one time, we had some power. When Thompson, Chaney and Richardson were in there battling they were very secure in their jobs. Now guys have to worry about job security. There is no security now. I think we need to start real small and build the opposition to some of the things the NCAA is implementing. I want to bring guys together… I think dialogue like this is real important.

Black Cager: Thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts on these important issues. The Black Cager is very pleased to provide you with a platform to counter the very negative narrative usually associated with AAU/grassroots basketball. We wish you the very best in July. Philly Pride is the 3rd seed in the Under Armour Association and will be expected to vie for the national championship this summer. Let’s hope Phil doesn’t get kicked out of the gym rooting for you guys.

May 28, 2015

2:00 pm