It's no secret Philadelphia is one of the true hot spots in the country for high school basketball, and in 2006-07 there may not be a better place in the nation for games and the top prospects. Wayne Ellington, Gerald Henderson and Tyreke Evans headline the City of Brotherly Love and they are the next guys in line in a city that continues to produce some of the best players in the world.
Guard play has ruled in Philly and it doesn't look like it's slowing down any time soon. Ellington and Henderson headline the class of 2006. Jeff Jones, who committed to Maryland last weekend, is quickly shaping up to be the guy in 2007 and Evans is lurking in 2008.
Philly is home to Drexel, LaSalle, Penn, St. Joe's, Temple, Villanova and the Palestra, one of basketball's holy of holies. Perhaps that is why hoops is such a big culture. Six hoops crazy universities in the city.
The public league, once one of the best leagues in the nation, has yielded to the strong Catholic league. Coaches from both leagues have seen it all and according to college recruiters, that is why the Philly kids are so well-prepared for college.
"Those guys put a lot of time and effort teaching these kids the right things and instilling them with a good knowledge of the game," says a Philadelphia native and high-major assistant coach.
"When I'm looking at freshmen and sophomores, I usually call (the old school Philadelphia coaches) up and pick their brain," says another coach, this one in the Big East. "They shoot it straight and know if a kid can play for you or not. They see these same kids year-round because there is something going on there."
The ACC has raided Philly for the best guards that city has to offer. Sean Singletary, a sophomore at Virginia, started the latest exodus to the ACC. The Cavaliers raided Penn Charter again in 2007 for Zeglinski. Episcopal Academy's 1-2 punch of Ellington and Henderson are UNC and Duke bound, respectively. Jones just picked Maryland. He was also looking at Georgia Tech.
St. Joe's might just have the next great home grown backcourt in Darrin Govens and Derrick Rivera. Villanova kept Reggie Reading and Andrew Ott at home.
Philly's Top 15 prospects:
Wayne Ellington, 2006 (North Carolina)
Gerald Henderson, 2006 (Duke)
Darren Govens, 2006 (St. Joseph's)
Earl Pettis, 2006
Derrick Rivera, 2006 (St. Joseph's)
Jason Love, 2006 (Xavier)
Reggie Redding, 2006 (Villanova)
Jeff Jones, 2007 (Maryland)
Antonio Jardine, 2007 (Syracuse)
Markeiff Morris, 2007
Richard Jackson, 2007 (Syracuse)
Bradley Wannamaker, 2007
Sam Zeglinski, 2007 (Virginia)
Tyreke Evans, 2008
Dalton Pepper, 2009
More than a dozen seniors have signed with mid-majors or better in the class of 2006. Ellington and Henderson are the obvious names. But Jason Love (Xavier), Malik Alvin (UTEP), Andrew Ott (Villanova), Rodney Green (LaSalle), Dan Geriot (Richmond), Andrew Jones (Penn State), Mike Yocum (Albany) and Zahir Carrington (Lehigh) have all used the game for a college education.
The junior class isn't too shabby either. Jones, Jardine, Jackson and Zeglinski are all committed to high majors for a reason. Jones has star power, while Jardine needs a big season to repair his rep that took some hits this summer. Jackson might be a sleeping giant. While Zeglinski may not be a big national name, he's one tough customer that Virginia was happy to take before he even played his junior season.
Keep your eyes on Markieff Morris. The 6-8 forward is vastly improving as a perimeter player. He can handle the rock, shoot from deep and take it to the rack. Watch his name jump up the high-major chart this season. His best days are right around the corner.
They got next
The future of Philly hoops is in Evans's hands. Considered to be one of the top 10 talents in the class of 2008, some in Philly believe Evans is the best overall prospect in the city.
There are few better in the country who can get by a defender with the dribble, and Evans' step-back 3-pointer is downright nasty and impossible to defend. He has held his own against all comers and knows that the spotlight will shift to him in Philly when Ellington and Henderson move on to the ACC.
But knowing the competitor Evans is, he's ready to take over this season, not next.
Evans' teammate Nasir Robinson, a 6-5 do-everything wing, helps balance out the offensive attack for American Christian. He's a difficult player to defend because he does everything well. Inside or out, Robinson is a tough player.
Talk to those who eat, sleep and drink Philly hoops and you'll get the feeling that Dalton Pepper is a name you'll be hearing a lot of in the next four years. The 6-4 freshman wing from Pennsbury High School has high major all over him, according to multiple sources. Ask anyone who has seen him play and it's a simple answer: "Smooth."
After winning MVP of the sophomore game of the illustrious Eddie Griffin Challenge, Courtney Stanley, a 6-1, 165-pound point guard from Kennedy Kenrick High School, has quickly become a name on the high-major radar. The word on him is "good outside shooter, great on the ball defender, plays hard." Hmm, sound like a Philly guard?
Austin Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward from Cheltenham High School, mixes blue-collar effort with great grades. He's one of the top upcoming big men in the class of 2008 and has schools from all ranges taking an early look at him.
In a city with more than 50 mid- to high-major players, a lot of guys get looked over. That's not a surprise. It happens every year, says one assistant at a high-major school.
"(Players) pop up everywhere," he said. "I mean, look at Steven Smith at LaSalle. He wasn't a great student in high school and that's maybe why a lot of the bigger schools didn't recruit him but I bet Villanova or someone like that would like to have him now. He's a player."
Philly MJC won the adidas 64 thanks in large part to Tyrone Lewis, a 6-foot combo guard from Harry S. Truman High School. If you don't remember the name, you probably remember his big-time hops and posterizing dunks. The line on Lewis goes beyond jumping out of the gym. He's a proven winner that has improved his ball-handling skills and an already solid defender. Some believe he could be a high-major guy come spring time.
At Kobe's old stomping grounds, Lower Merion High School, there is Garrett Williamson, a 6-5, 185-pound wing. He took LM to the state championship game last year and an all-stater. Now bigger, stronger and ready for his senior season, he could be a guy you hear more about at the end of the year. Word is he may be looking for a prep school next year, too.
A couple of juniors are poised for big seasons this year and hope to move their names out of the sleeper column to the proven column. Keep an eye on Torrence Timothy, a 6-6, 175-pound wing from Penn Wood High School. The lefty can flat out stroke it with good grades.
At Pennsbury High School, 6-9 big man Lavoy Allen is a strong bodied bruiser from 2007 who has been hidden amongst the bigger names in the city. He'll likely hook up with a high major because of his size and understanding of the game. This might just be the year he makes his name known.
Top 5 Schools
Episcopal Academy - When you have a lineup that includes two future ACC studs, people will notice. And when the team takes its game on an East Coast tour, people are sure to see this group in action. Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson will take on all comers this season both in conference play and against the best programs in the nation. They'll even be on ESPN this season.
Neumann-Goretti - With four guys all going on to the mid-major level or better next year on the roster, N-G is ready to take on all comers. It's hard to deny the fact the team will play anyone that wants to challenge them. With seniors Derrick Rivera and Earl Pettis manning the backcourt and Syracuse's 2007 commitments Scoop Jardine and Rich Jackson, the scoring and rebounding is under control.
Prep Charter - Dan Brinkley has a young and talented team with the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, Rodney Green (who is headed to LaSalle) and junior combo guard Josh Martin rounding out his starters. The Morris twins have a inside/out abilities and Green and Martin know how to stretch a defense.
American Christian - Anytime you have a talent like Tyreke Evans on the roster, people are going to take notice. Mix in another talented sophomore like Nasir Robinson and you have a talented squad. American Christian has a tough schedule that should not only be a challenge to the talented sophomore but help prepare him for being the next top dog in Philly when Wayne Ellington leaves for Chapel Hill.
Germantown Academy - You can always expect a tough team if Jim Fenerty is at the helm. This year may not have the top 100 star power he's had in the past but with Villanova bound Andrew Ott and Kyle Griffin, one of the best shooters in the city, GA will be a tough game on the schedule once again.
Dec. 3 - American Christian vs. Episcopal Academy
Dec. 10 - Episcopal Academy vs. Neumann-Goretti @ St. Joseph's (Pa.) University
Dec. 17 - Neumann-Goretti vs. St. Patricks (N.J.) (Hoop Group Tip-Off @ Harwood Arena, Kean University)
Jan. 2 - St. Joe's Prep vs. Neumann-Goretti
Jan. 15 - St. Joe's Prep vs. Monsignor Bonner
Jan. 18 - American Christian vs. Prep Charter, Episcopal Academy vs. Neumann-Goretti (2006 High School Classic at The Palestra)
Jan. 29 - Chester vs. Prep Charter, Oak Hill (Va.) vs. Episcopal Academy (7th Annual Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic at The Palestra)
Feb. 10 - St. Patrick's (N.J.) vs. American Christian (PrimeTime Shootout @ Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton N.J.)
Feb. 12 - St. Joe's Prep vs. Monsignor Bonner
They Said It
"Philly guys are tough, downright do the dirty work kind of players. We don't care about the hype or care who is ranked where. We just don't. We feel like we are here to take on everybody." - Four-star junior guard Jeff Jones
"I would love to have (a Philly kid) right now. I think what happens with those kids is that they play all the time. They play so much that they've seen it all. They aren't backing down to anyone. They make the right decisions when they play. No one gets in their stuff." - an ACC assistant coach
"I like the Philly kids that are like the bouncer at the club no one wants to make eye contact with. They're tough as nails, no non-sense kind of kids. Best of all, these guys know how to play on the defensive end first." - an Eastern Conference NBA scout
Next stop: Indianapolis
Special thanks to Eric Watkins and Amar Austin of VUSports.com for their expert insight to Philadelphia. Be sure to visit VUSports.com throughout the year for the best coverage of Philly high school hoops around.