Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
It’s easy to get lost amid the usual fabric that comes with a summer basketball tournament. There’s the constant white noise of thumping, bouncing basketballs and teams running from one end of the gym to the other to make sure that they arrive on time for their next game.
Anthony Finkley would often get absorbed in that shuffle and mayhem. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound rising junior forward would show flashes of brilliance, then disappear. That was previous summers. Not this past summer. Finkley began turning into the player he envisioned himself to be, and in turn, eyebrows were raised and heads suddenly were turned in his direction.
Anthony Finkley (above) is leaving West Catholic for Huntington Prep (W.Va.). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Only now, that direction points 513 miles west from Finkley’s North Philadelphia roots, to the proving grounds of national prep powerhouse Huntington Prep, where Finkley transferred to this week after playing his freshman and sophomore years at West Catholic Prep.
“This kind of came out of blue and it was a very hard decision to make, because this is the first time I’m ever going to be away from home,” admitted Finkley, who’s received offers from Rutgers, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, DePaul, UMBC and Marquette.
Finkley took a flight to Huntington, West Virginia, on Wednesday morning to arrive at his new school. At Huntington, where he'll play for head coach Arkell Bruce, the prep team typically plays a national-level prep and tournament schedule, though the program took the 2020-21 season off due to COVID.
In the past decade, Huntington Prep has featured numerous future NBA players, including Miles Brides (Michigan State) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas).
“This is a life-changing process,” Finkley said Tuesday night. “It took a lot of convincing from my mom (Karen Samuels) to make the move. My mom wanted me to be in a better environment, and I have the opportunity to play the best basketball players on a regular basis.
“It’s crazy out here and you never really know when your time will come up. I knew Khyrie Isaac [the Northeast football player who was shot and killed on August 16]. I knew a lot of the same kids he knew. I would say 75 percent of the decision was to get out and be safe.”
The 16-year-old averaged around 4 points, 3 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots a game as a sophomore last season for the Burrs, who went 7-5 (6-4 in the Catholic League) in the pandemic-plagued 2020-21 season—marking the Burrs’ first league winning record since 2009. But he’d shown in numerous offseason events with both West Catholic and the Adidas-backed K-Low Elite travel program that he had taken the next step forward in his on-court impact, the reason why numerous high-major programs extended scholarships to the versatile wing forward.
Burrs’ head coach Miguel Bocachica has been building a competitive program at West Catholic. Over the two previous years, the Burrs had gone 6-17 overall (3-11 in the Catholic League) in 2018-19, to 9-14 (5-9) in 2019-20.
“It’s why it was a hard decision to make,” Finkley said. “Those players are West Catholic are still my friends. I talk to those guys every day. They tried to convince me to stay. They knew I was leaving. I was looking for the right situation where I would be happy.
“It wasn’t easy to talk to my teammates, and it was especially tough telling my best friend, Zion Stanford. I have to do what is the best for me and my situation. I hope West Catholic wins. There are nerves about this move. It is like a new world.
“I want to show everyone that I’m good and that I can compete against anyone any night. I will miss my teammates at West Catholic. They have a really solid team. They’re going to be a championship-contending team. I’m happy.”
Finkley (above) is a strong passer and ball-handler who plays a point-forward role. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Senior twins Kaseem and Kareem Watson will be leading the Burrs this season, after West Catholic reached the 2021 District 12 3A championship, where it lost to Math, Civics and Sciences (61-50).
West Catholic last won the Philadelphia Catholic League championship in 1959, something the West Catholic players are well aware of.
“We’ll miss (Finkley) and I wish him the best, but we have to move forward,” Kaseem Watson said. “We have to ask the next man to step up and do the job. We have the talent and the guys to do it. My message to the team is be ready and keep building. Anthony was a big piece for us, but we can’t lose our focus and what we need to do—and that’s win.”
It was not easy for Stanford to hear his friend was leaving. But the Burrs’ 6-5, 210-pound junior forward understands and wishes his former teammate the best.
“We’re going to be good and I would have liked to have seen Anthony be a part of it,” Stanford said. “He had to do what makes him happy. I hope he does well and I know he wants us to win. We could win the Catholic League this year. We’re looking for that ‘ship’ and we need to focus on what is best for us.
“We know the history. We know how long it’s been since (West Catholic) last won. Our goal stays the same. Anthony loves us and we love him. That won’t change.”
Finkley said his priorities at Huntington Prep will be to improve his skills and reshape his body and become a better defender. He stressed he would like to slim down and gain muscle, and he’s aware that will come in time.
“I would have no problem coming back home to Philly, no problem at all to play (in college),” Finkley said. “I think I’m mature enough to live on my own and it is going to make me grow up faster. Making this move is what is best for me and Huntington Prep plays a national schedule where I can see the country.
“I just don’t know the mascot’s name at Huntington Prep (laughs). I’m sure I’ll find out fast.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.