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High School Sports

Go Out And Watch Some Basketball

A corner shot of a packed Palestra shot with a wide angle lens
Dan McQuade/Defector

The security guard wanded me and whistled. “Wooooo!” he said. “You’ve got the drip on tonight.” I thanked him, and I told him how I got my sweatpants at a discount. “It’s not like anyone knows they’re from the 2020–21 season,” I said. I knew this was going to be a good night. I had just showed up to the gym and I had already had an enjoyable, even memorable, interaction with a security guard. Sometimes you go out and life gives you a chance to look good and brag about how you’re good at shopping.

It is not yet March. But it is already time for basketball. I can admit I’ve been getting a little giddy. I love the NBA and the Sixers, and if they ever win a title I will cry like a little baby and go party in the woods across from 6525 Park Line Drive. But I will be pushing Joel Embiid out of the mental paint for the next month or so in favor of thinking about and watching kid basketball.

The NBA is great, but the playoffs will finish in June. Basketball season is approaching the end basically everywhere else. No doubt many of you with children are preparing for stretch runs of rec or school basketball (or perhaps you are just mostly relieved the season is drawing to a close, as was the case with basically every basketball team I ever played on). High schools are in their district and state playoffs. The Division III men’s and women’s brackets came out last night (I like Christopher Newport on the men’s side and NYU on the women’s). Division II is in conference tournaments (is this the year the Indiana [PA] Crimson Hawks finally win it all???). In Division I, the ASUN men’s basketball tournament has already begun; two teams ineligible for the NCAA tournament are competing. It’s not all great news: On the ASUN women’s side, Central Arkansas just up and ended its season a week ago. The team only had five players on the roster.

Not every fan will find all or possibly any of this interesting. I understand that, and I understand why, but I still recommend that even those with a passing interest in basketball try to get out and watch a live game sometime in the next month or so. Your old high school may be playing in a playoff game. You might be near a conference tournament. I haven’t checked where all of them are, but the MAAC is in Atlantic City. Surely that means they’re all over. If we get some more unseasonably warm weather, there might even be a pickup game to watch.

Last night I went to see some high school hoops. In December I enjoyed both a Big 5 doubleheader and a little kid basketball game at halftime at The Palestra. What I saw last night was bigger than any of those. Nearly 9,000 people jammed Penn’s 96-year-old gym for two Philadelphia Catholic League basketball title games. I overheard the same security guard that I shared a moment with tell two disappointed kids that the game was sold out.

I went to 12 years of Catholic school, and one thing they teach you is that vulgarity isn’t necessarily a sin the way damning someone to hell is. With this in mind, let me just way: This night of basketball was fucking great.

Both the girls and boys title games were close. In the girls’ game, Lansdale Catholic jumped out to a 24-8 lead, Archbishop Wood roared back in the third quarter to go up by five, then it was tied late. Here was the game-winning shot.

Oh my goodness! Wood gambled here: They moved to a 1-3-1, doubled Catholic League MVP and St. Joe’s recruit Gabby Casey, who threw it to Olivia Boccella for the game winner. I later learned from this wonderfully detailed article by Andrew Robinson at City of Basketball Love that Boccella had lost nine straight games to Wood between basketball and soccer before a regular-season win earlier this year.

Our seats were partially obstructed, so before the boys' game we moved up top. Two of the guys I was with have a La Salle basketball podcast, and were recognized as we found our new seats. It was that kind of hoop-head crowd.

The second game was great. I was excited to finally see Neumann-Goretti’s Robert Wright III, a Baylor commit. But I guess I was rooting for Roman Catholic for very convoluted, McQuade-like nostalgic reasons (the best basketball player I ever played alongside was a guy named Mike Wild, with whom I was randomly put on a team with at basketball camp; he went to and later coached at Roman). We ended up sitting with their fans. It was the right choice.

The girls’ game was probably better overall. The boys game started off red-hot—both teams are really good, and they get the ball up court with the speed of an NBA team—but things dragged after a bit. Even this wasn’t too bad; in the stands my pals and I discussed strategies for holding the ball, when to do it, and whether high school basketball needs a shot clock. (Yes! But in Pennsylvania it was voted down, largely due to monetary concerns, in the offseason. We need a local billionaire to buy a shot clock company and give every school in the state a shot clock.)

Whatever. It was something to talk about. It looked like Neumann-Goretti would end up winning, but Roman came back and had a chance at the end. Then this happened.

I don’t think Xzayvier Brown called glass. I know he doesn’t care. Roman led throughout the OT period, and Brown clinched it with some free throws. Even the postgame was a hoot: Security guards tried in vain to keep the Roman kids from storming the court. The guy who complimented my look wasn’t one of them; I checked.

You absolutely do not have to get as nerdy as I did about all of this. But this is (nearly) March, and I really recommend you go out and catch some hoops in the next month. You might end up with a night you will not forget.

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