By Aggrey Sam
This is a Public Service Announcement. You know only the biggest annual high school basketball news of the year could pull me away from my usual two-week interval between School Daze posts. That’s right, the Pub (Philadelphia Public League) playoffs! Oh yeah, there was something a little more important that happened in prep hoops in the last few days, so I’ll get to that first. The McDonald’s All-American Game teams came out, and like the Oscars (I assume; I don’t watch that), there were a couple controversial snubs that people are up in arms about.
The biggest snub, in my eyes, is Corey Fisher, the Villanova-bound point guard who plays for the nation’s top team, St. Patrick’s of New Jersey. Fisher didn’t have the most consistent summer, but he shined when it counted (ABCD) and I have to believe that since he’s been a known commodity for so long and isn’t a remarkable athlete who’s seen as a player who’ll make the jump to the pros after one or two college seasons, he got jerked. Two other players who I thought were near locks, top-20 Texas big men Anthony Randolph and DeAndre Jordan, also weren’t selected. The lack of success of Randolph’s high school squad supposedly played a role in him not making the cut, while Jordan was allegedly subjected to the McDonald’s committee’s selective policy on fifth-year players (see Paul Harris last year), although that rule isn’t set in stone (see Mike Beasley this year, who is on the West team for whatever reason). These are kids, so I’m not into saying who didn’t deserve to make it, but watch the game closely and then keep an eye on who’s killing in college hoops next season. I will say this: The entertainment value of the game and getting the best players in the country, or at least those who seem most likely to be immediate stars at the college level should be the most important factors in selecting the game’s participants, but politics does play a role at every level of basketball.
Real quick, indulge me as I give you an update on the Pub playoffs. Bear with me. I saw a second-round game between rivals E&S (Engineering and Science) and FLC (Franklin Learning Center) Friday. In a game heavy on D and light on made free throws, FLC, playing in front of a raucous crowd at a local rec center that serves as their home gym, took a double-digit lead deep into the second half behind 6-3 St. Bonaventure-bound point guard Malcolm Eleby, a long lefty who prowled the passing lanes for several steals and transition dunks, as well as penetrating at will and scoring in the paint. E&S staged a frantic comeback, even after their leader, senior point guard Sandy Tanner fouled out, but fell just short in a three-point L.
Sunday was quarterfinal day in the Pub, with two doubleheaders at the same time, at two different sites, I had some options. I chose South Philly High for the noon game, where I saw Prep Charter face off with Imhotep Charter. Both are small schools, but burgeoning powerhouses in the Pub. Prep Charter was led by the Memphis-bound Morris twins, Marcus (6-9) and Markieff (6-10) and Imhotep boasting a trio of mid-major signees, 6-6 Niagara recruit Kashief Edwards and the future Central Connecticut duo of 5-9 Jermaine Washington and 6-5 Tamir Johnson. PC was in control of the game throughout the first half and mounted a lead as large as 16 points, but an Imhotep surge before the half cut the deficit to eight. Imhotep, behind the rugged inside play of Johnson and the poise of reserve guard Lamar “Sa-Sa” Trice, kept chipping away at the lead and by the fourth quarter, it was a neck-and-neck game, and “Big Twin” (Markieff; Marcus is “Wing Twin”), the better shot-blocker of the brothers, was on the bench with five fouls. Down the stretch, however, Imhotep couldn’t complete the comeback, and fell by four.
Since fans were cleared out of the building prior to the 3 p.m. quarterfinal between Communications Tech and FLC, I took the trip to North Philly’s William Penn High School to see Simon Gratz take on Frankford. Gratz is the most well-known of Pub basketball programs (Rasheed Wallace, Aaron McKie and Mardy Collins are among their alums) and won the league’s chip last season, but Frankford has been hailed as the deepest team in the city. While the game was very nip-tuck early on, it was broken open in the third quarter, as 6-4 forward Tommy “T.J.” Sykes, the city’s top juco prospect, was everywhere. The combination of Sykes, a force on the offensive boards, in the lane and on the break, and the Bulldogs’ tenacious trademark D, was too much for Frankford, and the Bulldogs cruised to a win.
Maybe this Pub update isn’t as much of a story as the picks for McDonald’s All-American Game, but let it serve as a reminder that playoffs are going on or about to start in your town, city, county, state, whatever—and you should get out there to watch. Think March Madness, but only with kids who may be tasting the limelight for the first and only time in their lives or who might go on to do much bigger and better things. Which reminds me, I need to get this posted before I’m late to the Pub girls’ semis tonight, the first of three nights of high school playoff basketball I plan to see (Pub boys’ semis tomorrow at St. Joe’s; Catholic League boys’ semis Wednesday at the University of Pennsylvania’s famed Palestra)