Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
When Destiney McPhaul announced her top five schools in the summer before her senior season, she left out the first Division I program to formally offer her. She and her West Catholic teammates had sat in on several practices in their high school careers in addition to meeting the coaching staff and players. That program was Temple University, which is 20 minutes away from the preparatory high school at 45th & Chestnut.
McPhaul chose Virginia Tech over the likes of Michigan, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Penn State and appeared set on making Blacksburg, Va. her new hometown for the next four years. Still, the idea of staying home and playing in her true hometown of Philadelphia became too overpowering. After taking two summer courses at Virginia Tech, she made the ultimate decision to enter the transfer portal and return home to play for head coach Tonya Cardoza and the Owls.
Destiney McPhaul decided to stay home and play basketball at Temple after starring for West Catholic in high school. (Photo courtesy of Krystal Williams, PhiladelphiaSportsDigest.com)
“I feel I made the best decision for me and my career,” McPhaul said. “Most kids that grew up in the city don’t like staying home. You don’t get a kid like me staying home too often. This is the best decision and I’m doing what’s best for me.”
Temple offered McPhaul during her sophomore season when she was beginning to scratch the surface of the type of player she would become. She was coming off a freshman season where the Lady Burrs lost in the PIAA Class 2A championship game to Bellwood-Antis. She had 12 points in that game and her name and reputation began to grow from there.
Cardoza has always put an emphasis on getting in with local players on the ground floor, making them a priority and hoping to secure their commitment down the road. Having a player with McPhaul’s caliber choose to stay home is something she hopes can become a trend for her program.
“You want the best players in your area to stay here,” Cardoza said. “She has a following so people are going to want to come out and see her play. For us, it says a lot because she’s one of the best players in a long time to stay home.”
McPhaul initially had every intention of returning to Virginia Tech for the fall semester but being home was where she ultimately wanted to be. Upon putting her name in the portal, she immediately reached out to Cardoza and “didn’t know what to do but she knew that it wasn’t the right fit so it was very much last minute,” according to the Temple head coach. The university officially announced the signing of McPhaul on September 2.
Being close to so many family members and friends was such an appealing quality in choosing Temple and McPhaul wants her decision to be an example to other highly recruited players in the area.
“My decision will impact a lot of people and show them that they’re able to stay home and be protected,” McPhaul said. “For athletes, it will show that they don’t have to always go away.”
While Temple has filed a waiver for McPhaul to become immediately eligible, she will most likely redshirt and have four years left to play. Cardoza is more than happy to wait for McPhaul to hit the floor because of her ability to score and distribute when the lights are shining brightest.
“That’s who she is,” Cardoza said. “She wants the ball in her hands and to be on the floor. That says a lot about her and I can’t wait for her to be in those moments here at Temple.”
McPhaul did not always have that innate killer instinct. It began on the Nike EYBL circuit in the summer of 2019. She was called up to play with the Philadelphia Belles 17U team after an injury to another player. Heading into her junior season, she was playing alongside Kylee Watson (Oregon), Maddie Burke (Penn State), JoJo Lacey (Boston College), Olivia Miles (Notre Dame) and Alli Campbell (Penn State), who scored 34 of Bellwood-Antis’s 45 points in that state title game against West Catholic during McPhaul’s freshman season.
Philadelphia Belles head coach Tony Lee, now coaching with Philly Rise, promoted McPhaul to that team because she needed to learn how to play with other talented players and how to succeed on a deep roster.
“She got put on a team where she wasn’t the best player and that was one of the things she told me,” Lee said. “Her response was, ‘Everybody can go.’ That’s great but we’re not bringing you on this team to be complacent. You have to add to that because when you have that on the floor, teams couldn’t guard us.”
Destiney McPhaul led West Catholic to its first-ever state basketball title this past season, averaging 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists. (Photo courtesy Krystal Williams)
As a junior, the 5-foot-8 guard was named First Team All-Catholic for the first time as she averaged 18.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Her most iconic moment of that season almost never happened. In the Philadelphia Catholic League title game, former West Catholic head coach Beulah Osueke, who resigned in March, pulled her aside and told her exactly what she needed to hear.
“She wanted to blend in and didn’t want people to think she was a ball hog,” Osueke said. “She is a very teammate-oriented person and I had to pry it out of her at times. During the PCL championship, I pulled Destiney aside at the end of the third quarter and said, ‘If you don’t take over, we’re going to lose this game.’”
All she did was close things out down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime and finish with 30 points to lead the Lady Burrs to their first Philadelphia Catholic League title since 1998. West Catholic appeared primed for a deep run to the state title once again, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended any possibility of that.
McPhaul came into West Catholic as a heralded recruit but Osueke made her and the rest of the 2021 class, like Ciani Montgomery (Lincoln University) and Daziy Wilson (Labette Community College) play JV because “I wanted them to learn humility, cohesion and character development.” It helped in McPhaul’s development and she feels it had a major impact on her progression as a player and a person.
“[Coach Osueke] put a lot of effort into me as a freshman,” McPhaul said. “She had high expectations for me when I was younger. I thought, ‘She wants so much out of me and I’m just a kid.’ She wanted me to be great and I was built for it.”
She capped off her high school by putting together a historic senior season. She averaged 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists on her way to Philadelphia Catholic League MVP and Pa. All-State Class 3A Player of the Year. She posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the PIAA 3A title game against Mohawk, leading West Catholic to its first-ever state basketball title. She finished her career with 1,335 points and the Lady Burrs accumulated a 61-34 (28-17 PCL) record in her four seasons.
Performances like the one in Hershey were what made McPhaul such an attractive recruit for Cardoza, and it speaks volumes to what she hopes the young lefty can do at the next level.
“Her talent is unmatched,” Cardoza said. “The fact that she won on her high school team, played great in the state playoffs and will be able to represent her hometown here, it means a lot because some top players don’t stay home. For her to come home, it says a lot and hopefully others follow.”
Cardoza compared McPhaul to former Owls standout Alliyah Butts, the Edgewater, N.J. native who finished her career as the program’s all-time leader in three-point field goals (292) and second on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,936 points). Butts was ranked No. 87 in ESPN’s Top 100 in the class of 2014 and chose to play for Temple instead of several high-major programs. She chose to stay close to home and had a profound impact on the Owls program, as a result. “I feel like Destiney definitely is in that same category,” Cardoza said.
McPhaul was one of the most covered recruits in the area over the last few seasons and played against three of the best in Neumann-Goretti’s Diamond Johnson (North Carolina State), Archbishop Wood’s Kaitlyn Orihel (Villanova) and Saint Basil Academy’s Denae Carter (Mississippi State). Carter and St. Basil’s defeated McPhaul and West Catholic in the state playoffs in 2019. McPhaul had 22 points and 13 rebounds to down Johnson and the Saints in the 2020 Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals before taking care of Orihel and the Vikings at the Palestra in the title game.
She relished playing in those games and she cannot wait to hit the floor with the Owls to showcase more of that assertive ability.
“Having all the pressure on myself and my team is what I like,” McPhaul said. “You want to play in big games and win championships. You want to play in those moments. I’m a big-moment player. I play great when I’m in games that really matter.”
Her decision to remain in Philadelphia will reverberate for years to come and the momentum behind her choosing Temple is a building block for Cardoza’s program.
“During her last year in high school, she wanted to get to that big stage and thrived in that drive to win championships,” Cardoza said. “You can tell in her approach and when the game was on the line, she always stepped up for them. She is a super talent and she is going to help us in so many ways whether it’s on the court or just in the community.”