Philly’s March Misery! Bring Back the Short Shorts…

We ain’t shit!

Philly is supposed to be a basketball town. At least, that’s how it’s been perceived all my life. Rodgers and Lear, Jack Ramsay and Cliff Anderson, Larry Canon and Kenny Durrett, Bilsky and Wohl, Corky Calhoun, Mike Brooks, John Pinone, Tim Smith, Mike Anderson… The list goes on and on…

Youngbucks…I know how this sounds… Believe me, I don’t want be that old guy we all know.

You know… that guy around the way, always talking about how good things were “back in the day”… He continuously compares contemporary developments unfavorably to the way it was when he was a kid… Inevitably, the old players and the teams that wore the really short shorts are always “better” in every way in every conversation.

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I really don’t wanna be that guy… I never liked that guy… Always thought he was wrong anyway…

But… Truth be told… The teams in the really short shorts were MUCH better than what Philly is putting out these days.

Other than Villanova… City 6 basketball stinks!

When I was 14 in March of 1979, Temple and Penn were in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. Also, in that East Region that year were the following teams: North Carolina, Duke, Georgetown, Syracuse, Connecticut, Rutgers, Iona and St. John’s. Temple lost to St. John’s in the first round… Penn, however, knocked off Iona, North Carolina, Syracuse and then St. John’s to reach the Final Four where Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were waiting for the Quakers. The FINAL FUCKIN’ FOUR!! Penn.. yes… the Quakers!

When I was a kid… That’s how Philly rolled in March… My man Tony Price (pictured below) held it down.

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When I was 16 in March of 1981, ninth-seeded St. Joseph’s got past Creighton 59-57 in a closely fought 1st round battle. Next up was mighty DePaul featuring consensus All-Americans Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings. Led by legendary Ray Meyer, the Blue Demons were heavy favorites over the scrappy Hawks featuring a bunch of local dudes.

In a low scoring affair, as expected, DePaul was up 7 with about 10 minutes to play. Slowly and steadily, St. Joseph’s chopped the lead to one point, 48-47, with 48 seconds left in the game. Then with 13 seconds left on the clock, St. Joseph’s fouled Skip “Money” Dillard who proceeded to miss the front end of the 1-and-1.

Without using a timeout St. Joseph’s Bryan Warrick pushed the ball up court and found freshman Lonnie McFarlan wide open in the right corner. Anyone and everyone knows that Lonnie loved to shoot… He shot early and he shot often… He took good shots and he took bad shots… But this time as he raised and cocked his arm to squeeze one off, two Blue Demons came running toward him. Instead of shooting, McFarlan passed (pictured below) the ball to John Smith underneath the basket for the game winning layup with 2 seconds left on the clock.

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When I was young… That’s how Philly rolled in March… Fuck #1 DePaul… Take dat ass home…

When I was coming of age this was expected… The events of this era shaped my understanding of Philly college hoops.

With the good, came some really bad… Two years later, in January 1983, at the Palestra, John Thompson a Black Coach brought his predominantly Black Georgetown squad to town to face Villanova. In a shameful episode, Villanova fans held up several similar signs.  One bedsheet read “[Patrick] Ewing Is An Ape.”  What? Huh? Another Villanova fan wore a t-shirt that read, “Ewing Kant Read Dis.”  What the fuck? While Ewing jogged on the court for pregame introductions, yet another Villanova fan threw a banana peel on the court. I was done with Nova… DONE!

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When I was young… That’s also how Philly rolled…

Fuck those Nova racists!

Fast forward two years and Georgetown and Villanova met for the National Championship. On April 1, 1985, Villanova featuring Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, Harold Pressley, Gary Mclain and Harold Jensen shot 22 for 28 (79%) from the field and defeated the Hoyas. It was a great performance and, for the most part, Philadelphia embraced the Champion Wildcats…

When I was young… That’s how Philly rolled…

Nonetheless, I sat that one out… No parade for me… The wounds from the treatment of Georgetown and Ewing at the Palestra were still too raw… Couldn’t get over it… I rooted for Georgetown… HARD!!

In the winter of 1987, John Chaney put THE Philly squad together… Howie Evans at the point… Mark Macon at the 2, Mike Vreeswyk at the 3, Tim Perry at the 4 and Ramon Rivas holding down the Center spot…

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They beat EVERYBODY!!

Well… almost everybody… UCLA (81-76), South Carolina (63-50), Mississippi (70-61) were among the victims during a 14-0 start. Then the Owls lost a tough one on the road by a single point to UNLV (58-59) before running off another 18 game winning streak. An 83-66 ASS-whuppin’ administered to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is indicative of the strength of this team. Damn… they were good! That squad would finally succumb in an Elite 8 matchup with Duke. They finished the year 32-2.

When I was young… That’s how Philly rolled…

At 34th and Market, the great Mike Anderson (pictured below) averaged over 19 points per game during his college career. The Engineering and Science alum led Drexel to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 1986. They lost to eventual national champion, Louisville. Louisville featured Milt Wagner and Billy Thompson from the Camden dynasty on the  other side of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Anderson was named to the UPI and Sporting News honorable mention All-America teams in 1986. Anderson also led the Dragons to an upset win over David Robinson and Navy in the Palestra in 1987. Anderson would become the first Drexel basketball player to make the roster of an NBA team.

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When I was young… That’s how Philly rolled…

At 20th and Olney, from 1986 to 1990, a young man from South Philly scored 3,217 career points—the third-most in NCAA history. This was different era. Lionel Simmons played for one high school (Southern HS) and he played for one club (South Philly/Sonny Hill) in the summer. Simmons (pictured below) would be named the the Naismith, Wooden, AP and NABC National College Player of the Year in 1990, as well as a consensus first-team All-American. This Claude Gross protege became the only player in NCAA history to score more than 3,000 points and grab in excess of 1,100 rebounds. Simmons led the Explorers to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances (1988-90). He won three MAAC Player of the Year awards and he established the NCAA basketball record for most consecutive games with double-figure scoring (115).

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When I was young… That’s how Philly rolled…

Now… we have Nova, the reigning National Champions. They play a beautiful brand of basketball. They play as a unit. Their coach is a true gentleman. One of their assistants is Philly’s own Ashley Howard (pictured below with the late Claude Gross). They just get it right. For example, they locked down the local kid having the best high school season a few weeks ago. This young man didn’t play on one of the shoe company circuits. He didn’t play for one of the established basketball powers. He is not uber-athletic or lightning quick. All that he did was play basketball BETTER than everyone else in the greater Philadelphia region this year. I really respect Howard and Wright for that!

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I’m learning to not hold the Nova sons accountable for the sins of their Nova fathers… It’s REALLY HARD!

Surveying the City 6 landscape, only one conclusion can be drawn: Other than Nova… We ain’t shit!

Temple? Done! With a record of 16-16 (7-11 in the American Athletic Conference), Temple closed out the season with a loss to East Carolina in front of about 80 people in the first round of the AAC Tournament.

St. Joseph’s? Done! With a record of 11-20 (4-14 in the Atlantic 10 Conference), St. Joseph’s closed out the season with a loss to UMass in the first round of the A10 Tournament.

La Salle? Done! With a record of 15-15 (9-9 in the Atlantic 10 Conference), La Salle closed out the season with a loss to Davidson in their first game in the A10 Tournament.

Drexel? Done! With a record of 9-23 (3-15 in the Colonial Athletic Association), Drexel closed out the season with a loss James Madison in the first round of the CAA tournament.

Penn? Still alive… barely… With a record of 13-14 (6-8 in the Ivy League), Penn takes on Princeton (21-6, 14-0) Saturday at the Palestra in the first Ivy League Tournament.

That’s Philly’s brightest hope outside of Nova… Penn with 8 league losses might somehow, someway steal a game against Princeton (undefeated in the Ivy League)…

We are fucked!!

Bring back the short shorts…

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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Philly’s Phinest: Brandon Austin

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Brandon Austin with Three PIAA State Championship Trophies

He’s the best Philly has to offer… The talent and skill level are undeniable… He’s the man… After winning three straight state championships and being named Class AAA Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, Brandon Austin was a consensus top 50 player in the class of 2013. He had it all… The future seemed secure… He would make a splash in the Big East with Providence and then embark on a long career in the National Basketball Association.

Maybe $100,000,000 or more…

Then came the detours… First an incident at Providence… transfer to Oregon… then another incident at Oregon…

Dream deferred…

Time to pick up the pieces… Forget basketball… It was time to rebuild trust and salvage his reputation…

After considering his dwindling options, Brandon decided to place his fate in the hands of Steve DeMeo, coach at Northwest Florida State College. DeMeo recognized that despite the allegations, Brandon was never convicted of anything… After meeting with Brandon, he felt the young man deserved an opportunity to continue his education and reestablish his basketball career. He gave him a scholarship.

Brandon reported to the campus in the sleepy town of Niceville, Florida ready to demonstrate that he was not the “predator” portrayed in national media outlets. For the past year, he kept his head down, stayed humble and accumulated academic credits. DeMeo says, “Brandon has been great with us. He’s a very respectful young man. He’s done everything we have asked of him off the court and more.”

On the court, Brandon flourished… Finally able to play after a year of allegations, investigations and suspensions, he led Northwest Florida to the Florida State Junior College Championship and the National Junior College Championship. The Raiders finished with a record of 33-2 and Brandon was named Most Valuable Player of the National Playoffs.

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Northwest Florida State after winning Florida State JUCO Championship

While he has been cleared of all criminal charges, Brandon acknowledges that he made some questionable decisions that cost him dearly. “I have been focused on improving my decision-making. I have learned to better assess situations. In the past, I kinda went along with the crowd, no more of that for me.”

The basketball world has taken notice of the fact that he still one of the best players in the nation. Brandon is a long athletic combo guard with tremendous ball skills. He can play the 1, 2 and 3 position. He is an intelligent and smooth playmaker who never seems to get rattled or rushed into making mistakes. In his first year of competition at the collegiate level he showed great poise and maturity. In the semi-finals of the National JUCO Championship playoffs, with 0.6 seconds left, Austin stepped to the line and buried two free throws to send the second-seeded Raiders into the NJCAA Division I title game with a 105-103 overtime win over 19th-seeded Georgia Highlands. He ended the night with a game high 29 points and 13 rebounds.

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Brandon Austin in National JUCO Playoffs

Offensively, he makes everything look easy. Austin has great imagination and creativity. He has exceptional vision and passing ability. He is an excellent decision maker and appears to have the ability to develop into an NBA point guard. His drive and kick is an effective element to his offensive arsenal. His length and long wingspan gives him the ability to disrupt passing lanes and shots, as well as giving him extra length to get to loose balls and get shots off.

Austin has good form on his shot and a quick release. He is very good at running the pick-and-roll, well ahead of most college guards. Brandon is capable of creating and hitting midrange shots with a nasty handle, using crossovers and fakes to rock defenders off balance. He has dedicated himself to improving his conditioning. He has worked on his body and is showing better upper body strength.

Most importantly, Brandon Austin is a winner. After winning 3 straight High School State Championships, he led his JUCO squad to the Florida State and the National Championships in his first year of collegiate competition.

Big 10, AAC, Big West, ACC, MEAC and SWAC teams have shown interest in Brandon. Some want to see him have another incident free year at Northwest Florida State. Others are willing to have him come on board immediately. Brandon can graduate with an Associate’s Degree this summer.

“I just wanna focus on finishing strong academically. I’ve never had any problems with my books in college. But, I have made some questionable decisions off the court and away from the classroom. My Mom, Lonnie Lowry (Team Philly), Warren Green (mentor) and my counselor Dr. Abby Baker have helped me make better decisions. I am grateful for the opportunity Coach DeMeo and Northwest Florida State gave me. When we won the Championship, I was happier for the school and my coaches than I was for myself.”

Brandon FT

Whatever path Austin chooses to follow, it seems like a safe bet that team will win a lot of games and he will stay out of trouble.

Perhaps, one of the City 6 will step up and give Mr. Austin a chance to finish his education at home… After all, he is Philly’s Phinest!

Bruiser, Dunph, Dr. G, Phil, Jay… give him a call…

Charles Brown & Ryan Daly: Two Elite Philly Shooters

Philadelphia is known for producing tough, highly skilled basketball players. Every year, college coaches trek to the City of Brotherly Love from all parts of the country in search of Philly ballplayers.  In recent years, Jaquan Newton made his way south to Miami, Rakeem Christmas just finished a brilliant career at Syracuse and Savon Goodman is toiling away out west at Arizona State. These players, as well as others like Jabril Trawick (Georgetown) and Maurice Watson (Creighton), embody what coaches have come to expect from Philly ballers.

Entering the collegiate ranks in the Fall of 2016, Charles Brown (Philly Pride/George Washington HS) and Ryan Daly (Jersey Shore Warriors/Archbishop Carroll HS) possess a skill that sets them apart on the Philly landscape. These guys can flat out shoot the ball.  They are both very confident shooters, especially when the game is on the line. Brown recently hit a game winning 3 in the first leg of the Under Armour Circuit in New Orleans. (congratulated by his teammates, far right).

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Brown can put the ball on the floor and create his own mid-range shot from anywhere on the floor and he doesn’t need much space to get his shot off. Over the past year, he has become adept at getting defenders off balance using pump fakes and he is very difficult to guard because he possesses a quick and consistent release on his shot.

At 6’6″ 180 lbs Brown (below) possesses very good size and terrific length. A young player, that never re-classified, he isn’t very physically strong. He displays good overall athleticism. Brown has decided to spend the 2015-16 school year at St. Thomas More Prep School in Connecticut. His aim is increase his strength and quickness while playing in the super competitive New England Preparatory School Athletic Council.

Charles Brown pic 2Brown has offers from Drexel, Hofstra and Robert Morris. He has also been receiving interest from high major programs like Alabama and Maryland. When asked about his recruitment, Brown expressed a desire to stay close to home. His parents have consistently attended his high school and AAU games. The Brown’s are a close knit family. He made it clear that he really likes St. Joseph’s. “Coach [Geoff] Arnold has been very honest with me from the beginning, he has provided me with information that has helped me understand my options. He has developed a relationship with my family. My parents and I are very comfortable with St. Joseph’s.”

Ryan Daly Pic1For the past two seasons, Ryan Daly has been used as a shooting specialist that wasn’t asked to do much else in the high powered Archbishop Carroll program. Paul Romanczuk has produced six Division 1 level players while Ryan has been in the program. Austin Tilghman (Monmouth), Derrick Jones (UNLV commit), Ernest Aflakpui (Temple commit), David Beatty (multiple offers), Josh Sharkey (multiple offers) and Daly will all play Division 1 basketball.

Surrounded by this vast array of talent, Daly gets the vast majority of his shots spotting up, coming off of screens, and spreading the floor in transition. He has a tremendous outside shot, making 60 3-point shots this past season. Employing textbook form with great touch, he loves to shoot the three ball. He has shown that he is able to knock it down with a hand in his face, but is simply lights out when he’s unguarded. One of the area’s best catch and shoot players. In high school competition, he has been running off of screens and floating to the open spot on the perimeter for two years.

While running for the Jersey Shore Warriors on the AAU circuit, Ryan instinctively gets open as the play develops. He is very good at coming off screens, and is becoming more effective against quicker guards who can close him out quickly and get a hand in his face. Daly is an excellent  midrange shooter and will  knock down jump shots from all over the place with consistency. He is also an outstanding rebounder from the backcourt, making effective use of his strength and determination.

Standing 6’4″ and weighing in at a solid 195, Daly is an outstanding student. He has offers from 2 Ivy League schools (Penn and Brown) as well as Hartford (America East). He has also received interest from several other schools with strong academic reputations (Lafayette, Davidson and Quinnipiac). Daly says academics and geographic location are very important to him. He wants to attend a “good college” that lies somewhere between Connecticut and Virginia/North Carolina. His mother, Tracie is the daughter of the late Jim Boyle, a legendary player and successful coach at St. Joseph’s. His father, Brian, is a former Philadelphia Catholic League Player of the Year and also a former St. Joseph’s Hawk. While he doesn’t necessarily want to be in the Philadelphia vicinity, Daly does want his family to be able to attend as many of his collegiate games as possible.
For college coaches in need of elite shooters… Brown and Daly will be ready and willing to suit up in the Fall of 2016.

A Tough PHILLY Guard: The Recruitment of Traci Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malik & TraciTraci & Malik, Life Center Academy backcourt mates

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

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

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

“I got you Del.”

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

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

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

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

TRaci ShepTraci and Shep Garner at Penn State with Coach Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

 

Now Appearing in NYC: Langston Galloway

“Start spreading the news

I am leaving today


I want to be a part of it


New York, New York”

Frank Sinatra, New York, New York


New York Knicks v Washington Wizards
Langston Galloway drives against South Philly’s Rasul Butler in his NBA debut in D.C.

You don’t get to choose your family. You are born into your tribe. However, sometimes your friends become family over time. Because it’s a conscious choice it makes the bond even stronger and more special. Every once in a while you get to witness incredible journeys unfold.

It was the last week of February 1992 and my friend/brother, Geoff Arnold, and I decided to make our way the legendary festival of excess and debauchery known as Mardi Gras. Now, we are from the southern end of Darby Township, a town of 3,000 people, 2 bars about 7 churches and 3 traffic lights. We had always wondered about Mardi Gras.  The closest thing we had back home were basement $1 parties with red lights.  The highpoint of these parties was a slow drag with “that” girl when the DJ played the Whispers. I had just turned 27 and we wanted to experience the lewdness, drunkeness and gluttony first hand. We wanted to see it, touch it and smell it.

We wanted to experience a truly special week.

We decided to head for the bayou. After flying into Houston, we had to catch a prop plane for the short jaunt to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Maaaan listen…. The propeller driven plane scared the shit out of me. It felt like we were flying in Snoopy’s doghouse during one his legendary battles with the Red Baron.

“They have potholes in the sky? What the fuck?”

Fortunately, we reached Baton Rouge. We were a lil’ battered and a lil’ bruised, but we were safe. We were ready to go all out.  We drove to, Geoff’’s sister, Jeralyn’s house. Immediately, her husband Larry Galloway, made us feel right at home… My man from day one…

Larry and LangLangston and his 1st coach, Larry Galloway

That first night we went out to pick up some seafood. So… we enter this huge fish market. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. They don’t do it like that in Philly… Tony’s Seafood Market is the largest purveyor of fresh fresh and crawfish in the Gulf region. Tony’s has been known to sell as much as 50,000 pounds of live and boiled crawfish in one day. I didn’t know places like this existed. It was a seafood mall.

Ever the gracious host, Larry asked me what I wanted. “We down south… Catfish man… I want the catfish.” I watched them take the live catfish out of the tank and expertly slice and dice it in a matter of seconds. Within just a few minutes were on the road back to the house.

Once we reached the kitchen, Larry said “Yo Del, check this out” as he unwrapped the fish. The filets still had a pulse. While Tony’s had removed the heart, the” heartbeat” remained. Beyond fresh, is the only way to describe the catfish. Jeralyn, battered it up and fried the best catfish I have ever had. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

The main reason that day sticks in my memory is because while Jeralyn was preparing the fish there was a little boy propped up on the counter in a baby carrier. He was about 11 weeks old. I liked this kid. He was friendly and outgoing. He wouldn’t stop smiling. He was inquisitive, reaching, grabbing and full of energy.  That boy was Langston Galloway, number 2 for the New York Knicks.

Lang Debut-page-0Langston Galloway during home debut in Madison Square Garden

Yeah… later that week, Geoff and I made our way to New Orleans and, of course, we dove head first into the sinning, partying, drinking, parading, bead throwing and tittie observing that is Mardi Gras. They don’t party like that at the Darby Township Fire House… But, the thing I remember most… the thing that sticks out the most about that week was meeting that friendly, smiling little boy.

Fast forward 23 years, to January 8, 2015, my college buddy, Hansel Canon and I had the distinct pleasure of driving south on 95 to the Verizon Center in Washington, DC and watching that little boy play in his first NBA game against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Nervous and clearly pressing a bit he managed to score 7 points in 17 minutes. He shot 2-8 from the field, while dishing 3 assists and grabbing 2 rebounds. Still, not a bad first night in da muthafuckin’ league…

We waited to talk to him after the game. The visitors passes he provided gave us access to the area next to the team buses.  As usual, he was unfailingly polite and extremely appreciative while expressing gratitude for coming to see him play his first NBA game. My friend, Hansel Canon, has been to just about everyone of Langston’s college and tournament games.  Like everyone else that has gotten to Larry, Jeralyn and Langston, he has fallen in love with them. He was able to freely express his joy to Langston and they engaged in repeated hugs and celebratory “Black” handshakes. You know, the kind President Obama gave Kevin Durant during his visit with the Olympic team.

Hans amd LangLangston and Hansel Canon after immediately after his NBA debut

For me, it was tough… I was happy but I had to be reserved. Langston said “Man.. you ain’t come to none of my D-League games, but you here at the first NBA game.” Wanting to appear tough and unaffected, I replied “Man… Fuck the D-League.”

I wanted him to think I wasn’t overly impressed with his exemplary performance in that league. I didn’t want him to know I watched every D-League game on youtube… I didn’t want him to know I studied every box score immediately after each game… After all, I never let on that I had done the same thing when he was in Portsmouth and the NBA Summer League…

I had to keep it together… Throughout his life, I’ve always held back on effusively praising him. After this game, I said “You did good, you look good… Now we gotta stay up here.”

“I gotchu!” was his simple reply.

He said those words with his usual confidence. Nothing extra… Just straight talk, “I gotchu!”

While nearly everyone professes a profound admiration for  “swagger”, they are usually referring to a false bravado exemplified by chest beating, unnecessarily boisterous gesturing and endless self-promotion. Lang, on the other hand, oozes “swag” because he really believes he belongs. He makes absolutely no effort to convince you.

He just shows you….

Phil Knight should really holla at the boy, because he exemplifies the Nike tagline “Just Do It” more than any kid I know…

When he said, “I gotchu!” I knew he meant it… I knew was going to prove he belonged.

I had to hurry up and make my way toward the exit… I was about to lose it… I was gonna cry… No way I could let Lang see me crying tears of joy!

“Sheeeeeeeeeit…” as Clay Davis would say, I’m the Ol’ head… He’s the youngbuck… I’m the “Uncle”… He’s the “nephew”… I didn’t want to confuse him… So I had to leave before I started crying like a little beeeeyotch…

The very next night, Geoff calls me and we’re watching Lang playing in a nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets led by the magnificent James Harden… In this, his second game, he plays 31 minutes and scores 19 points. He shot 6-10 from the field, 3-4 from the 3-point line, while snaring 4 rebounds and dishing 3 assists. During the course of the game he had a “here I am” moment when the Rockets failed to put a body on him and he got hold of a missed shot with his right and and flushed it cleanly through the basket with incredible force. Look closely in the background and you will see Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Amare Stoudemire leap from their seats in support of their new teammate. Everybody loves Lang…

Of course, the struggling Knicks have lost both games in which he has played, but there can be no denying that Lang has displayed an NBA level of skill, athleticism and confidence.

As I write, I think about the summers when he came to Philly. For years, I would always make him stand back to back with me and let him know he was still a little boy. Then one summer while in High School, he passed me by… I thought about all the times he would workout in the morning and come to my office to work on SAT/ACT prep even though he was NCAA qualified.

Lang just wanted to do better… just because…

I think about when Lang and his father collected thousands of sneakers for a community service project.  I think about the time the Galloways arranged for a significant donation to the HERO Foundation in North Philadelphia because they wanted to give back to a city that accepted Langston with open arms.

Lang SneakersLarry and Langston Galloway with thousands of donated shoes

I think about the times we talked about his recruiting process. I think about all the times I pretended to be impartial while his uncle was recruiting him. The same brother/friend I went to Mardi Gras with had to grind it out and really recruit the kid that was on the kitchen counter. After 3 state Championships, being named All-State a few times and showing out at Nike’s Peach Jam, Lang was recruited at a pretty high level. Texas A&M, Baylor, LSU and few other high majors were in hot pursuit.

Lang signing with SJULangston signing Letter of Intent to attend St. Joseph’s

I think about all the times I pretended I wanted him to go where he would be happy. I was pump faking… I wanted Lang to go to St. Joseph’s. I wanted to see every game he played. I wanted to be a part of his college experience. I wanted Geoff to land his nephew. But, I always acted like I was indifferent. Truth be told… I wanted to see Langston to win an A10 Championship like his Uncle Geoff. I wanted Langston to place the nets around his neck and hold the trophy high over his head.

Lang and GeoffGeoff Arnold 1986 A10 Champion, St. Joseph’s 2014 A10 Champions

I think about every one of the 1,991 points he scored on City Line Avenue. I think about the time I saw him make 10 straight three-pointers at Hagan. I think about the All-A10 First Team selection, the All-Big 5 Selections and Allstate NABC Good Works Team selection.

Lang nets

Langston Galloway after 2014 A10 Championship Game

I think about him helping my wife do yard work. I think about all the times I busted his ass in golf… I think about him graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Marketing.

What I don’t think about… What I don’t worry about is his future with the NY Knicks. For me, that was secured the moment Lang said “I gotchu!”

Larry and Jeralyn have done a phenomenal job with the little boy on the kitchen counter.  Over the years, they always make sure to thank me for supporting Langston. It was an absolute pleasure… I thank them for sharing their son with me and the rest of Philadelphia for four years.

Lang FamilyLangston, Jeralyn (Mom), Larry (Dad) and Lawrence (Brother)

Now appearing in NYC: Langston Galloway! His heart is pumping like that catfish filet from Tony’s… real strong!!

Yo Spike… Tell the Knicks to “Do The Right Thing” and lock my youngin up for the rest of the year!!

 

PA, NJ and DE College Hoops Power Rankings

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

Three things I know for sure…

1. Villanova is the best team;

2. DJay Newbill is the best player;

3. Shep Garner is the best rookie….

Let’s get the league games started!!