From Germantown to Cobb’s Creek, Philadelphia’s notorious neighborhoods have always boasted some of America’s most cutthroat and ruthless styles of basketball.
Whether it was historic battles in the ’70s between Eugene Banks and Lewis Lloyd to the most recent scraps with 2013 top recruits Rysheed Jordan (Saint John’s) and Brandon Austin (Providence), the competition is still readily available.
But there is a major difference when competition is available and when it is at its peak of performance.
For the last few seasons, the basketball circuit in Philadelphia has slowly fallen apart. There will always be players like Jordan, Austin or Rondae Jefferson (Arizona), but the goal isn’t just having the talent. It has and will always be about reaching the NBA and succeeding at that level, something not many players in recent memory have done well.
“I been gone for a little while, but the normal guys that just came out, I don’t know too many,” said Markieff Morris, a 6-10 forward for the Phoenix Suns that won consecutive PIAA Class titles with South Philly’s Prep Charter from 2006-2007.
“I don’t think it’s been enough talent as it used to be. I guess a lot of guys aren’t playing basketball or working on the game, I don’t know what the ultimate goal is now to get into the league. Guys just playing to be playing.”
Since 2006 Philadelphia’s basketball recruits have landed face-first in attempts at the NBA. Players like Reggie Redding that played at St. Joseph’s Prep and went on to Villanova landed overseas. Maalik Wayns, who played at Roman Catholic and also took the Villanova route, played one season in the NBA and is currently a free agent.
Dionte Christmas, Mark Tinsdale, Eric Thomas and majority of the heavy hitters from the Temple Owls regime over the last half decade have also taken a tumble. Though they aren’t born in Philly, once you play at a premier college in a city that craves basketball, those same fans pay attention to the player’s progress.
All the aforementioned had NBA D-League stints or played overseas for a year.
The same can be said about Zach Rosen from Penn’s 2012 team who’s now overseas. Scottie Reynolds, Villanova’s All-American that led the Wildcats to a Final Four in 2009, had several stints in Europe after being the first All-American since the ABA/NBA merger in 1976 to not be drafted.
Next, its Ramon Galloway of Lasalle, a Philly-bred player from Germantown that moved to Florida and took the Explorers to the Sweet Sixteen in a memorable postseason run, and an undrafted free agent. He was added to the Denver Nuggets roster in June, but much hasn’t been heard from him.
The connection basketball has in the City of Brotherly Love digs deep.
“It’s real important,” said Marcus Morris, a 6-9 forward for the Phoenix Suns, when asked about growing up and playing in the city.
“It’s Philly’s toughness. It’s being from here, being from the streets and the ghetto makes basketball a little better and makes you hungrier. You’re playing with that pride every time you’re playing on the court.”
The overall goal for a basketball player isn’t just to make it to a specific league, in one way it majorly becomes about accolades. MVP performances, championships and other measures of a player’s greatness lands him in the Hall of Fame or talks about the greatest of all time, something Philly is lacking from the new breed.
One argument could be for Kobe Bryant’s legitimacy as the greatest player to ever come from the city, but that depends on what one is looking for. Bryant was born in Philly, but moved to Italy when he was six and didn’t return until 1991. He then played for Lower Merion High which is located outside of the city’s limits and in suburbia. For some, that’s not good enough.
If the argument is for the greatest player that’s lived and played inside the city, then look no further than Wilt Chamberlain. Born to a family of nine, Chamberlain almost died as a young child due to pneumonia. He went on to play ball at Kansas, where he was the 1957 Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Chamberlain had a decorated career. He scored over 30,000 points, was a four-time MVP, two-time NBA champion, seven-time scoring champion and an eventual Hall of Famer and thirteen time All-Star. His number was retired by the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. Yet as great as he was, he died in 1999, too early for some of the newer generation to understand his brilliance.
Another example is Rasheed Wallace. He was a four-time All-Star, a part of the 1996 NBA All-Rookie Second Team and was a second-team All-American in 1995. Wallace was drafted fourth overall in the 1995 Draft. Nearly ten years later he won a NBA Championship with the Pistons in 2004.
Though his career isn’t as decorated as Bryant’s or Chamberlain’s, he’s one of Philly’s true symbols of what it is to come from the city and win a championship, especially for the new generation.
Though competition hasn’t been at its peak in what seems like a century, there is hope for the future.