Aleem Lee (above) is one of three sophomore starters for HS of the Future. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Naso (@JoshNaso)
The writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck once said, ”The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.”
For School of the Future head coach Stan Jones, the hope is that Buck’s quote holds true as his Firebirds attempt to harness their youth and reach the lofty goals they have set for themselves.
Jones, 38, has seen a lot in his basketball life, from playing days at Philadelphia Christian Academy and Penn State Schuylkill Haven to a list coaching stints that includes stops at at Celestial Prep, Philly Christian, Rise Academy, Cheyney, Cecil College, West Catholic and more before taking over at Future last season. And as much experience as Jones has coaching, his team entered this season lacking in varsity experience and on-court chemistry.
The Firebirds don’t have a senior on the roster, and –– such as in Thursday’s tilt against Palumbo –– they start three sophomores and two juniors, only two of which were at the Microsoft-sponsored school located just off Girard and Parkside Ave in Fairmount Park. On top of that, much of the Future roster is playing together for the first time this season outside of some AAU play.
“It’s a young team,” Jones acknowledged. “One of my quotes to them is ‘raise your expectations for yourselves.’ I have expectations for (them), but (they) have to have the same expectations for (themselves). Having a very young team, it’s just keeping them having that mindframe.”
Last year, junior Isaiah Ennis was at Girard College and his classmate Themere Simmons was at Imhotep, while sophomore Hadir Boswell was at West Catholic and fellow sophomore Aleem Lee was at Bonner-Prendergast. As such, Jones is not only guiding an inexperienced roster, but also one working to build chemistry on the fly. Juniors Diandre Green and Pedro Vasquez and sophomore Ali Brown (Jones’ son) are the key returnees for the Firebirds.
None of this has dissuaded Jones, who knew what he was signing up for at Future, and who’s setting lofty-yet-attainable standards for his young team, in his second year. For example: instead of saying it’s Public League title-or-bust, Jones said his goal is for his group to make it to the semifinals of the 60-some-team league’s postseason tournament, which would certainly involve taking out at least a couple programs from the top two divisions of the Pub, as well as maybe a fellow “C” division squad.
The more immediate (and certainly manageable) goal is winning their division, which the Firebirds came one large step closer to achieving Thursday afternoon with a 65-60 win over previous division leader Palumbo.
Part of the preparation for the stretch run included a trip to Vegas the Firebirds took in December to partake in the Tarkanian Classic, where 150 schools from across the country came to compete and battle for bragging rights. Although Future posted a winless 0-4 trip, a close loss to Foothill (Nev.) after a large deficit and a respectable result against Bountiful (Utah) served as confidence boosters for the young team. More importantly, it provided an opportunity to bond and develop chemistry on the road.
“Vegas changed everything for us, when we went out there and saw all this competition, saw how everybody was and it was like ‘dang, this stuff is crazy out here’,” Boswell said. “So when we came back to Philly, all the stuff we went out there and experienced, let’s bring that back right here.”
“The whole point of me doing the non-league schedule the way I did it was to prepare us for Public League play,” Jones said. “I knew we were going to be pretty good when we were down 25 to Foothill in Vegas and we fought all the way back and lost by four.”
Ali Brown (above) had 17 points and seven rebounds in Future's win over Palumbo on Thursday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Getting the win over Palumbo required another comeback, though not quite as large.
After taking a 30-26 lead into the halftime break, Future (8-8, 5-2) extended the lead to 36-26 early in the third quarter only to see Palumbo (8-9, 6-2) rip off a 24-10 run to take a four-point lead into the fourth. The Firebirds responded, winning the fourth 19-10 en route to an important five-point win.
“We were waiting for this game, and we had a good week of practice, and they really worked hard every day, and they came out focused and ready to win,” Jones said. “This crew is locked in and coming together and they love playing together, they play good team basketball.”
Ennis was big for Future on Tuesday, posting 14 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. He got help from Brown, who added 17 points/8 rebounds/3 steals, and Lee who chipped in 11 points/7 rebounds and two apiece of blocks, steals, and assists. Boswell also played an important role with an efficient 11 points and nine rebounds (six offensive) while bringing great energy on both ends.
Lee cited “taking our time, not rushing, rebounding, and help defense” as keys to the victory. For Brown, it was “ball movement and defense” and like Lee, he mentioned help defense on the perimeter.
“Game plan coming in was to just come out with energy, come out with a killer attitude, don’t give up,” Boswell said. “We made a pact all together, the whole team, to refuse to lose, not to give up, not to allow anyone to beat us for the rest of the quarter.”
The win sets up a huge January 28 battle with Prep Charter, who is currently tied with Future in the division standings. If they can take down the Huskies, as well as dodge a few other division landmines along the way, the win over Palumbo could be the difference between winning the title and losing it by tiebreakers.
A division title combined with a deep run in the Pub (and maybe even PIAA) playoffs, combined with a roster projected to return everybody for next year, could help Jones achieve one more goal: to have his program moved up into the top level of the Public League for 2020-21, where they’d compete with the likes of Imhotep, Gratz, Constitution, King, and others on a regular basis.
“They (Future) said they wanted me to come in and build a program,” Jones said, “not a team.”