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Neumann-Goretti alumni primed to play in TBT

06/15/2021, 12:30am EDT
By Rich Flanagan

Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)

During most summers, Neumann-Goretti assistant coach Micah Coen can be found working out players in the gym on S 10th street. When he joined head coach Carl Arrigale’s staff in 2016, he was putting players like Quade Green and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree through drills late into the evening. They were two of the latest crop of phonemes to don a Saints uniform.

Zane Martin dribbles a basketball

Zane Martin (above, in 2016) is the most recent Neumann-Goretti alumnus on the NG Saints TBT team. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Last July, Coen found himself confined to his home in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, thinking of ways to grow the Neumann-Goretti brand. One day, he and fellow assistant Andrew Bowman turned on the TV and took in a game of The Basketball Tournament (TBT), the single-elimination tournament that has been played each summer since 2014. Alumni from major universities — like the Golden Eagles, the 2020 champion representing Marquette, and Carmen’s Crew, representing Ohio State — have formed teams and captured a championship since its inception.

As they watched, Coen and Bowman synthesized an idea about putting together a Neumann-Goretti alumni team. For a program that has won nine Philadelphia Catholic League titles and eight PIAA state championships since 2005, it has never been short on talent and Coen wanted to showcase that.

“We started talking about TBT and threw it out thinking, ‘Do you think our alumni could compete?’” Coen said. “We started going through names of guys and going through the list. Within a week, we brought it up to Carl and he thought it was an interesting idea.”

Dating back to Arrigale’s first season at the helm in 1999, at what was then St. John Neumann, the list of prolific players to potentially load up the team was lengthy and the biggest hurdle to building the roster was availability. Still, Bowman knew there was one advantage to roster construction and that was at guard.

“Our big strength has always been guards and Carl could go out there with five guards,” Bowman said. “We were joking back and forth saying, ‘Well, there wouldn’t be a shortage of guards.’”

The group’s TBT team, the NG Saints, will consist of players ranging from the class of 2006 to 2016. Earl Pettis, Derrick “DJ” Rivera, Antonio “Scoop” Jardine and Rick Jackson were starters on the Saints league title teams in 2005 and 2006. Wali Hepburn was also on that ’06 team as was Andre “Scooter” Gillette, who also helped capture the 2009 crown. John Davis, Troy Harper and Ja’Quan Newton, the Philadelphia Catholic League’s all-time leading scorer, won four consecutive league championships from 2011-14. Finishing out the roster is recent Towson graduate Zane Martin, a contributor to two league and three PIAA Class 3A titles.

As Coen and Bowman, who are co-general managers of the team, handled the responsibility of coordinating the roster and generating publicity through social media, specifically player introductions on Twitter, they mulled over the team. They needed a coach. Arrigale simply wanted “to come to practice and hang out, watch the games and root my head off without making one decision,” as he framed it. Considering that, another member of the Neumann-Goretti staff immediately came to mind: Robert “Beattie” Taylor.

“When deciding who would coach the team, my name was at the top of the list because the players already knew me and were comfortable with me,” Taylor said.

Taylor was a starter on Arrigale’s first Philadelphia Catholic League title team in 2001. He averaged 15 points and six assists that season before going on to play at Rider. He made several stops during his professional career in Germany, Uruguay, England and Ireland, where he starred for the UL Eagles and led them to the National Cup and SuperLeague Championship in 2012. Taylor, who runs the AAU program Fidonce for fifth through eighth grade boys, has coached every player on the NG Saints roster, having been an assistant when he was not playing abroad.

He has a lot of aspects to consider when putting together a defensive game plan but the offensive strategy will be the easiest part of his job.

Ja'Quan Newton jumps to the basket

Ja'Quan Newton (above, in 2015) had an outstanding career at Neumann-Goretti, which led him to Miami (Fla.) and the G-League. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“I watched some of the games last year and I think we have a strength outside,” Taylor said. “We’re going to go the Neumann way: play fast, pick and roll and drive and kick. The players adapt to that because they’re used to it.”

With Taylor in place as the coach, Coen and Bowman were going to need some help getting all the players together. Insert Tony Chennault, the two-time PCL Blue Division MVP who accumulated 1,621 points, two Philadelphia Catholic League titles, a PIAA 3A title and then went on to play at Wake Forest and Villanova. Chennault has found just as much success off the hardwood as he did on it.

He won the 2020 Villanova Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Medal for his work, particularly in starting 267 Productions. He has directed “OldHead,” an online web series focusing on the socio-economic issues in the black community, which has accrued nearly two million views on YouTube. He has also produced “In Transition,” a documentary about his own life.

An avid fan of TBT, Chennault, who lives in Los Angeles, actually started having some conversations with former Saints standouts a year before Coen and Bowman approached Arrigale. Chennault’s first target was Jardine.

“Tony and I were talking about it for a while,” Jardine said. “We all rep N-G, but we didn’t have anything to showcase that. Tony brought it to my attention two years ago and this was a time when I wasn’t playing with the Syracuse team.”

Chennault helped orchestrate communication between Coen and Bowman and the rest of the roster. Jardine and Jackson each scored 1,000 points in their Neumann-Goretti careers then had phenomenal careers at Syracuse under Jim Boeheim. Both have played in TBT in the past with Boeheim’s Army. Jardine was also an assistant coach with the team.

After his playing career ended, Jardine began getting involved in sports management and consulting. While working with International Sports Agency, his hard work in the industry paid off when he was instrumental in contract negotiations for Killian Hayes, the No. 7 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. He has also worked with the Miami Heat’s Kendrick Nunn. In addition, he started his own sports agency, Full Circle Sports Management.

This time around, the decision on where to play within TBT was a no-brainer for Jardine, who currently resides in Las Vegas.

“This is the high school that saved all our lives and definitely started my career,” Jardine said. “Why would I play for the Neumann team over Syracuse? It’s very easy; I wouldn’t have gotten to Syracuse if it wasn’t for Neumann. This is why we want to be the first to do this.”

Jackson, the 6-foot-9 forward and former Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2010-11, will be the Saints lone big man in the middle. When Arrigale looks back on all of the premiere guards he has helped mold, the list of notable big men is a little bit shorter. Cosby-Roundtree will play one more year with Jay Wright and the Wildcats, making him ineligible to participate. Derrick and Danny Stewart were unavailable. Thus, having Jackson available allows Arrigale to breathe a sigh of relief.

Carl Arrigale watches his team from the sidelines

Carl Arrigale (above, in 2020) and his staff helped develop the alumni who comprise Neumann-Gorretti's first TBT team. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“I told them to remember that we’re known for guards so there aren’t too many big guys floating around,” Arrigale said. “Luckily for them, Rick is still playing.”

Pettis, Taylor’s younger brother, went 86-25 in his career at Neumann-Goretti before going on to play at Rutgers and La Salle, where he played alongside Ramon Galloway and fellow N-G alum Tyreek Duren, both of whom are a part of 20th & Olney, the Explorer alumni team hoping to earn an invite to TBT.

Rivera scored over 1,100 points with the Saints then led the University of Montevallo to the 2012 D-II national championship game, where he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He also spent time at St. Joe’s and Binghamton.

Hepburn may have the most remarkable road to the NG Saints roster. The 6-4, 190-pound lefty was a rotational player as a senior in 2007. After graduation, he took a year off from school before playing at Shippensburg. Two years later, he was dismissed for academic reasons. Two years after that, Mike Nestor, who was an assistant at Shippensburg while Hepburn was there, took over at Lock Haven and persuaded Hepburn to come back. As a junior, Hepburn won PSAC East Player of the Year and was named D-II Bulletin All-American Fourth Team. Later, he played professionally in El Salvador for a year and a half.

He was a behavioral counselor at Simon Gratz this year, working one on one with students with special needs, and after the school year, he moved out to Las Vegas to live and train with Jardine.

Hepburn, who is hoping TBT will transition into a pro contract, knows that each player has a unique backstory on how they got here, but it all started at Neumann-Goretti.

“Everybody had different careers at Neumann, different journeys and different paths to get to this point,” Hepburn said. “It’s nice to be able to put this together and try to take what we learned after we left Neumann but still go back to those initial qualities that helped us turn into the players we are today.”

Gillette played at Niagara and Fairleigh Dickinson and spent time playing for REWE Aupperle Fellbach in Germany. Davis scored more than 1,200 career points in high school before recording 1,100 more points and 700 rebounds at Towson. Newton finished his Neumann-Goretti career with 1,972 points and 11 out of 12 possible championships. He scored 1,134 points at Miami (Fla.) then spent time with the Greensboro Swarm in the G-League. Harper, a First Team All-Catholic as a senior, spent two seasons apiece at Campbell and Drexel and played for the Grevenbroich Elephants in Germany last year.

While he took a year off due to the pandemic, Harper, who lives in Roxborough, also sees this TBT as an opportunity to put his skills on display. Having so many generations of Neumann-Goretti talent coming together exhibits the family dynamic felt by so many who have played there.

Troy Harper shoots a basketball

Troy Harper (above, in 2018) remains close to the Neumann-Goretti program despite graduating in 2014. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“Everyone who played at Neumann knows it’s a brotherhood,” Harper said. “When I was there, guys like Rick, Scoop, DJ and Jamal Wilson would come back to practice and open gyms and talk to us about our games. After Tyreek and those guys passed it on to us, we just kept it going with Quade and Zane and even recently with guys like Jordan Hall and Hakim Byrd. It’s good to see a high school program can be that close so many years later.”

The NG Saints will have to wait until June 21 when the full bracket is unveiled. Now in its eighth year, TBT will consist of 64 teams that will travel to four regions: Wichita, Kansas; Charleston, West Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; and Peoria, Illinois. Two teams from each region will advance to the championship weekend at UD Arena in Dayton with the title game slated for August 3. The winning team will claim $2M. The intrigue of the TBT stems from the Elam Ending, which calls for the game clock to be turned off at the first dead ball with under four minutes remaining. At that point, each team must hit a target score that is established by adding eight points to the leading team’s score.

Neumann-Goretti has long been known as a program with a great lineage of players under Arrgiale who learn from the previous class and translate that onto the court. TBT creates the prospect of giving more than merely Pennsylvania the chance of seeing the wealth of talent that has come through South Philadelphia. That is solely what Arrigale wants this team to do.

“One of the things I’m most proud of within the program is that there has been a group that has led and got the next group ready to lead,” Arrigale said. “It has been passed down and handled itself. Beattie passed it along to one group then they passed it on to DJ, Rick, Scoop and Earl. They passed it to Tony and Tyreek then they passed it on to Lamin Fulton and Ja’Quan then to Johnny Davis. It’s unique to see how guys like Beattie, who started it, and have him be the guy who is coaching up to the most recent guy in Zane.”

Philadelphia is famous for having developed hard-nosed, tough guards and a multitude of them will be on display should the NG Saints be invited to TBT. Newton, Harper, Rivera, Davis and Jardine are just a few and they all happened to star at the same school at the same time.

The brotherhood, as many within the program refer to it, is ready to take on teams full of former college superstars and pros playing overseas. Jardine wants this opportunity to be one his teammates seize while also showing the next generation of Neumann-Goretti players what wearing black and gold jersey truly means.

“TBT sets the pipeline for our Neumann kids,” Jardine said. “This is the best way for us to get together and stay together. I’m not playing to get a job overseas, but there are a bunch of guys who play at the next level that I want to help. Everyone has a different reason for doing this, but it will bring a unity back to our city and to the Neumann program.”

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