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Philadelphia Daily News
Instant replay has come to Public League basketball!

For amusement purposes only.

In retrospect, all on hand yesterday at Pepper Middle School in deep Southwest Philly, hard by the airport, should not have been surprised when a game that was no walk in the park was decided in controversial fashion: by a jumper that appeared to follow a walk in the lane.

The situation: Communications Tech and Strawberry Mansion were tied in a wild Division C contest that featured a little bit of everything and lots of some things, namely intensity and memory-making plays.

As the clock wound down, CT senior point guard Antonio “Gee” Monroe had the ball and, although the general plans called for dish first, launch second, his teammates had little prayer of seeing it.

“As a senior leader, in a situation like that, it’s my job to put the team on my back,” the 6-foot, 180-pound Monroe said. “I wanted to take the shot. Wanted to get my team the ‘W’ . . . I wasn’t passin’. Well, if two guys were on me I would have, but otherwise that last play was mine.”

Monroe made hard penetration into the lane, slightly to the left. He cut loose a flip shot from about 10 feet . . . gooooooood!

CT 59, Mansion 57. No more time on the clock. Many minutes of controversy remaining.

The big question: Had Monroe traveled?

“I think he was fouled first,” CT coach Lou Biester said.

“That was a walk. The game should have gone to overtime,” Mansion boss Gerald Hendricks said.

“Walk? Nah, I got pushed,” Monroe said. “Did it look like I walked?”

“He might have walked,” said Monroe’s father, Charles, a spirited spectator and long a coach/organizer in city hoops.

“I was just hoping he’d pass it,” cracked CT’s center, Lijah Thompson. Read the rest of this entry »


Philadelphia Daily News

Pendarvis Williams was born in Germany, but don’t even think about asking him, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

“I don’t know any German. Not even one word,” he said, laughing.

He’s forgiven. Williams entered the world over there only because his father, also named Pendarvis, was (and still is) serving in the Army.

“And we left when I was 1,” he said. “And I’ve never been back.”

Anyway, Williams, a 6-5, 170-pound senior at William Bodine High, is much more partial to numbers than language (“I love math”), and he rang up some decent ones yesterday in a Public D basketball game. Read the rest of this entry »

Philadelphia Daily News

YEARS FROM now, 10,000 people will claim they were there.
As for the star of the show . . . good luck getting him to admit he was even on the premises.

Some athletes can talk about themselves for hours, days, weeks, forever. In response to each question tossed his way last night, Rakeem Christmas barely broke the 5-second mark.

Hey, the kid has been through a lot in just under 3 years.

Not bad things. Merely head-spinning developments.

As a seventh-grader, Christmas was living on the Caribbean Island of St. Croix and mostly staying in the house, he said, “because it was just too hot.”

Now, if you search for his name on the good, ol’ Internet, you’ll find him mentioned on lists of the nation’s very best sophomore basketball prospects.

“Yes, it’s exciting. Kinda,” he said, smiling.

In his first Catholic League start for the defending champion, North Catholic, and with the holiday 6 days away, the 6-9, 225-pound Christmas gave the spectators in the Falcons’ impressively refurbished Pit an impressive present.

Not only did he record a triple-double, he achieved that accomplishment with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Scott Slade, a sophomore forward for Monsignor Bonner, attempted a right-baseline jumper. Christmas sent it back to Thanksgiving. It was his 10th block and by that juncture, he also owned 10 rebounds and 14 points.

As the Falcons stormed to victory, 67-52, in the Red Division opener, Christmas finished with 16 points, 13 boards and the 10 rejections. He shot 8-for-10 from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

Philadelphia Daily News

Be more aggressive!
Danny Walker used to hear those three words so often, he thought they’d become his name.

During each basketball practice at John Bartram High, coach James Brown yelled that phrase in Walker’s direction, oh, about 47 times. There was no relief on game days. Not even before the contests were played.

“I’d hear it in the lunchroom. Hear it walking the hallways. Hear it even during class,” he said, laughing. “There was no letup.”

Then, Walker even detailed some other words of encouragement fired his way during his first two seasons of varsity basketball. For fun, he even imitated the voices of his buddies.

Walker, who goes 6-5, 190 pounds, is now a senior. Know what else he is?

The word that starts with an A.

“That was always what I kept hearing, and what I kept telling myself, that I had to be more aggressive,” Walker said. “That’s my goal at all times now – to play as hard as I can.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wed, Dec. 17, 2008
Daily News Sports Columnist

D.J. RIVERA played for Saint Joseph’s last season. D.J. Rivera is playing for Binghamton this season.Welcome to the new world of the “hardship waiver.”

It was no secret that Rivera was not getting along with St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli. The sophomore wasn’t happy with his playing time. Everybody knew he was going to transfer.

Everybody also knows transfers must sit out a year at their new schools. Not anymore, at least not in cases where a player’s new school applies for, and the player is granted, a “hardship waiver.”

Hardly anybody knew about the 1991 rule until Tennessee used it before last season on behalf of Tyler Smith, who had been at Iowa and wanted to come home to be with his very ill father in Tennessee. The NCAA granted Smith a “hardship waiver.” He did not have to sit out a year and played last season with the Volunteers.

Rivera, a high-flying scorer at Neumann-Goretti, is averaging 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds for 4-3 Binghamton, of the America East Conference.

In the summer of 2007, Rivera was alleged involved in an incident in which he was the victim.

Apparently, Binghamton made that incident and Rivera’s reaction to it the centerpiece of its appeal to the NCAA. David Eagan, Binghamton’s associate athletic director for compliance, wrote in an e-mail: “I can confirm that the NCAA granted D.J. Rivera a hardship waiver allowing him to compete this year. In addition, we are not at liberty to discuss any specifics, in accordance with student privacy issues.”

The NCAA has loosely defined the basis for a winning appeal as “circumstances that are out of the control of the student-athlete.” Which is nice enough and quite vague.

The NCAA obviously ruled in Rivera’s favor, as he is playing. It is perfectly within the rules and, in Rivera’s case, might very well have been for perfectly legitimate reasons. The rule was put in to be athlete-friendly by an organization that has often been accused of being autocratic.

Like so many NCAA rules with good intentions, however, the “hardship waiver” rule has the potential for abuse. After the Smith case, players around the country are suddenly homesick and discovering ill relatives, trying to find a way out of a situation they do not like, without having to sit out a year.

More and more appeals are being made. Somehow, the NCAA has to sort through what is legit and what is not. Good luck.

It isn’t exactly free agency, but players are now more likely to be recruited successfully off a school’s bench if the prospective new school can convince that player it can get him a “hardship waiver” and he won’t have to sit out a year. Third parties will be getting in players’ ears telling them they can get them a “hardship waiver.”

The National Association of Basketball Coaches would like the NCAA to revisit the rule and get rid of it. The rule is there to help an athlete in a difficult circumstance. Which is a good thing. How often the rule is now being used may be less of a good thing.


For the Daily News
TYREE JOHNSON was tempted to give it all up. The basketball. School. Dreams. A future.

The news was beyond his comprehension. His friend, Kairae Oakes, was dead, another victim of a senseless, random act of violence. Johnson was familiar with hearing about things like that. Only this time, it hit him. It hit home. Violence always has seemed to shadow Johnson, like when his older brother, Sheldon, was beaten to death when Tyree was just 2 years old. He never really knew he had an older brother until his mother told him about Sheldon when he was 10.

Maybe that’s why Johnson plays basketball the way he does; an unflappable, pint-sized tiger who rams headfirst into a zone intended to stop him, often coming out the other end with a layup.

The 5-10, 165-pound Penn Wood High junior is probably the best point guard in Delaware County. One thing is for certain, the powerful Patriots wouldn’t be so potent without him. As a sophomore, he averaged 14 points and six assists a game. This season, he’s scoring 15 and dishing five assists.

He’s bold, brash, flamboyant, with a life-of-the-party personality and confidence that borders on arrogance – to those who don’t know him. He’s the heart and soul of one of the best teams in the area; if any team intends to stop Penn Wood, it has to stop the little captain first. It’s no easy task.

He plays for his teammates and himself, in that order. But he also plays in the memory of Kairae, who was shot to death Nov. 11, 2006, in West Philadelphia.

“I won’t forget the day I heard it,” Johnson recalled. “You hear things all of the time about people getting shot. I knew Kairae since middle school, and one day, when I was a freshman at Communications Tech, in Philly, someone told me Kairae was killed. I couldn’t believe it. People who know me see me laughing or joking or singing. What they don’t realize is that I have been through a lot. I guess people wouldn’t realize that, because I keep a lot of things in. But when I heard about Kairae, that made me really angry.”

He didn’t want to stay in school. He didn’t even want to play basketball, his first love, a sport he picked up when he was 3. He didn’t want anything to do with anyone. He shut down.

But Johnson was always drawn to a bouncing ball. Basketball was his outlet, his way of honoring Kairae. So instead of going back to Communications Tech, Johnson returned to Darby, and opted to transfer to Penn Wood, looking for a new start.

Penn Wood coach Clyde Jones knew about Johnson through summer leagues, but was surprised when he came walking into Penn Wood’s gym last fall.

“One day we were at practice and all of a sudden this kid comes in the gym. It’s Tyree, and he says to me, ‘Coach, I transferred into Penn Wood.’ This was in September of last year, and it was completely out of the blue,” Jones said. “We knew Tyree was really talented, but I really didn’t believe it and I wouldn’t let him work out with us until I saw the transfer papers a few days later, when it was official.”

It’s been a lovefest ever since. Jones turned the Pats’ offense over to Johnson (“Don’t crash the Mercedes,” Jones tells him before games). Johnson guided Penn Wood to a 23-9 finish and the state quarterfinals last year. Six of Penn Wood’s nine losses came against state champion Chester and state runner-up Norristown.

Penn Wood athletic director Rap Curry was one of the best high school guards that ever played in Delaware County when he was at Penn Wood. He’s been instrumental in Johnson’s growth, frequently challenging him to raise his ceiling.

“What Tyree can innately do with a basketball and what he sees is beyond special,” said Curry, who went on to play at Saint Joseph’s. “When Tyree realizes that the simple play can be the best play, everyone will see how high his ceiling is. He likes the special play, and sometimes when you’re a special player, you want to make the special play. His leadership will determine how far this team will go. Everything starts with him. You can’t face this team without preparing to face Tyree.”

This season is the year the Pats could break through. They’ve never won a Del Val League title, and it’s been since 1992 that they last won a District 1, Class AAAA championship.

But they will go as far as Johnson takes them – a responsibility he doesn’t mind carrying.

“It’s more of a challenge for me,” Johnson said. “I like the fact that everyone has to stop me to stop Penn Wood. People think we’re getting too much buzz, and we really haven’t done anything to deserve it. We know we haven’t done anything. But I like center stage. Ask my mom. When I was younger, my mother used to bring me to birthday parties and they’d have these dance contests and I’d win every time. I still play around, but you won’t find me dancing in public anymore.”

Maybe in Hershey, if Penn Wood wins this March.



Marvin Holman-Little had two things he could always rely on – the playground and basketball. They were his escape, his sanctuary, his place to dream about a better life. The lithe Holman-Little could always zone out at Piccoli Playground, in the Juniata section of Philadelphia. It didn’t matter what time it was. It could be 2 in the afternoon, or 4 in the morning.

There, he could escape.

At the time, he didn’t care about anything except street ball and girls. Nothing really mattered.

That life now seems light years away. The 6-6 Penncrest swingman is among the top players in Delaware County – and in the area this season. Holman-Little has literally received a new lease on life, successfully appealing to the PIAA last spring for an extra year of eligibility.

He is surrounded by a lot of good people now, including Penncrest coach Mike Doyle, his teammates and classmates, and most importantly, his mother Darlene Holman, who was a single teenager when she had him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Philadelphia Daily News

It almost reached the point where Ferg Myrick was afraid to show up for school.

Not because he’d neglected to study for tests, or because someone was trying to bully him, or because he couldn’t take 1 more day of wicked cafeteria food.

The transfer winds were the problem. And they were blowin’ hard in the wrong direction.

In a 1-week span last spring, Prep Charter’s elite basketball program lost one . . . two . . . three starters.

The way Myrick remembers the sequence, the first to depart was guard Parrish Grant. He’s now at Imhotep Charter. Following in quick order were two more guards, shooter Jesse “Boog” Morgan (Olney) and ballhandler Willis Nicholson (Cherokee, of New Jersey).

“I couldn’t believe it,” Myrick said. “That was some drastic stuff.

“It was like, ‘What’s going on here? Will anybody still be around? How much is this going to mess up our team? Will we even be good anymore?’ ”

Welcome to modern-day high-school basketball. Comings and goings are a constant, and Myrick can relate.

Read the rest of this entry »


For the Daily News
This season is supposed to be special for the Penn Wood basketball team. The Patriots know it. Their fans know it. But there was no anxiety prior to their season opener last night against Holy Ghost Prep.

Patriots point guard Tyree Johnson was serenading his teammates before the game in a very relaxed, giddy locker room.

Penn Wood then went out and did what it was supposed to do, what talented teams do, in beating back pesky Holy Ghost, 63-50, at the packed Penn Wood gym.

Penn Wood’s Duane Johnson led all scorers with 15 points, with 12 points coming from Chris White and 11 from Johnson. It was the first loss of the year for Holy Ghost, which dropped to 2-1.

For Penn Wood, the victory was a sampling of just how good this team could be. The Pats led by as much as 55-36 early in the fourth quarter, but also trailed for a good portion of the second quarter, down by as much as 24-19.
Read the rest of this entry »

Philadelphia Daily News
THIS OPENER looked more like a closer.

Aside from a decent crowd and high intensity, there was a roar-back by the team that wound up winning and a clutch performance by its star that even guys in the NBA would have been proud to call their own.

As the final buzzer sounded, someone should have cut down the net and draped it around Denzel Yard’s neck. Maybe handed him a plaque, too.

As it was, a Franklin Learning Center loyalist stormed around the court yelling, “Maalik who?! Denzel’s the best player in the city!”

The reference was to Roman Catholic guard Maalik Wayns, who has signed with Villanova. Yard, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, is bound for Siena and he, too, has inked his scholarship papers.

There’s one school of thought that claims early signees sometimes lose their hunger and go through their senior seasons in something close to a fog. Another: It’s impossible for any guy to play his best ball right out of the gate. And we’ll add to that: Especially in a gym where the visitor almost never wins.
Read the rest of this entry »

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