Jared Leveson (@Jared_Leveson)
Vinny Simpson walked off the court Friday night, winded but smiling after F.O.E. defeated Arete Sports, surviving another day at the Rumph Classic, Philadelphia’s premier charity pro-am tournament.
The 33-year-old North Philadelphia native, who grew up in the Raymond Rosen Projects at 23rd and Diamond, has been playing in the event since 2010, when he was just done with his college career at Hampton. Since 2015, he’s teamed up with childhood friends and NBA veterans Marcus and Markieff Morris on Team F.O.E. (Family Over Everything), helping draw big crowds to Tom Gola Arena and raise money for heart screenings and defibrillators in gyms across Philadelphia.
“It’s just a good environment, a good experience always,” he said Friday. “I always loved it.”
Vinny Simpson (above) is making the transition from playing to coaching. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
F.O.E. defeated Blue Magic in the Rumph Classic championship on Monday, the team’s first Rumph title since 2018. On a roster crowded with NBA talent, including not just the Morris twins but Sixers Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe, Simpson still contributed, scoring 13 points, showing he still has plenty of value on the court, even if that part of his life is coming to a close.
Simpson, who played in nine different countries over the course of a 10-year professional career, is now transitioning out of his playing days, and only sees himself playing one more time at the Rumph.
“I’m gonna give it this year and next year,” he said.
However, the Cardinal Doughtery product can’t totally remove himself from the game that he loves. And that’s why he’s excited about his next venture: the new head girls’ basketball coach at the Friends’ Central School on City Ave.
“It’s just something I always wanted to do,” Simpson said. “It’s been my dream since I was younger.”
The Raymond Rosen Projects product attributed his passion for coaching to Robert ‘Real Rolla’ Taylor, who he described as the “neighborhood coach.”
Simpson started playing for Taylor when he was nine years old, but Taylor passed away when Simpson was 14.
Those five years made enough of an impact on Simpson to show him the life-changing power of the right mentor, and of basketball.
“I had four five years as a player with him, but that’s a lifetime thing because to this day I still think about it,” he said. “I look up to him to this day.
“He had a team. He treated us like no other man. He took us to everything. He picked us up, fed us, gave us sneakers, treated us like someone he cared for. It wasn’t all about basketball. It was about school.”
Michelle Crowley, Friends Central’s Athletic Director, got introduced to Simpson by Mike Cook, the Phoenix’s boys basketball head coach and former Pitt standout. In September of 2021, Simpson started coaching the FCS middle school boys’ program and assisted Cook’s varsity squad. But he wasn’t to stay with the boys for long.
Before Simpson, Friends Central’s girls' program was run by longtime assistant AD Phil Annas, who had been coaching the Phoenix for the last 31 years. By the midway of the 2021-22 season, however, it was clear a change needed to be made.
“Our girls program was struggling,” Crowley said. “The team had no chemistry and were not being coached to their ability level. Vinny and I were talking, and he had ideas, and he agreed to step in mid-season.”
“I transferred over the middle of the year to help Michelle out,” Simpson recalled. “Michelle said the girls needed somebody different, new, and I was looking for coaches for it, and next thing you know, she said ‘I need you to do it.’”
On January 3, 2022, Simpson became the Friends Central girls varsity basketball coach. The team went 8-7 down the stretch, finishing with a 15-10 record and placing third in the FSL with a 7-3 league record.
“The dynamic on the court was different,” Crowley said. She credited Simpson’s positive influence, honesty, and fresh ideas for helping turn the team around.
Simpson restructured practice and moved players into suitable roles. Simpson also utilized Friends Central’s sports counselor to develop mental skills. He adopted an individualistic coaching style to fit players’ specific goals. Lastly, he installed a conditioning and weight lifting program to bolster fitness and team chemistry.
“They started talking more, listening and clapping it up for each other, and holding each other and themselves accountable,” Crowley said.
Simpson (above) took over the FCS program midway through the 2021-22 season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Simpson had coached the boys’ game before, but never imagined himself coaching girls’ basketball. However, once he started, he learned to appreciate the subtle differences between the two.
“They listen more. They don’t argue back with you,” he said. “You know how we are as men, we think we figured it out and know it all. I was like that as a kid too. The whole time I needed to listen more. With girls it’s all ears.”
“Trust me, I love the boys game. But the girls game, I am falling in love with too,” he added.
Simpson plans on using all of his past knowledge and experience to help Friends Central win the Friends Schools League, which the Phoenix girls have not done since the 2015-2016 season. The Phoenix are budding with potential, and Simpson expects a lot from his players.
“I see what I got, and it’s a special group of girls,” he said.
Friends Central has 6-foot-2 sophomore small forward Logyn Greer, who can “do it all,” according to Simpson. She has picked up Division I offers from Pitt, Georgetown, Penn State, Delaware, St. Joe’s, and more. The Phoenix also has a great senior leader at point guard, Sanaa Garrett and added transfer Nal’La Bennett from Timber Creek (N.J.), who averaged 20 points a game as a freshman.
Simpson expects sophomores Sydney Williams and Jordyn Adderly to bring production, no matter their spot in the rotation.
“I don’t know who I’m starting yet, but (even if they’re not), they’re gonna be the sparks,” he said.
‘I’m going to treat them like how I treat the boys. I like to run and gun. I like to press. I like to get up and down, cause steals, get layups, easy baskets,” Simpson continued, the excitement evident on his face. “I can’t give you everything, but trust me, it’s gonna be a good style of basketball.
“I want my girls to get after it. We’re long enough. We’re tall enough. That’s what we’re gonna do.”
Simpson looks back to his memories with Taylor as a guide.
Taylor stressed school because “if you don’t have the books there’s no basketball.” Simpson remembers showing Taylor his report card.
“It was everything he did off the court,” he continued. “Like take us out places, get us away from the trouble in the neighborhood.”
“What he did for us as kids, I always wanted to do for other kids.” Simpson said. Now, he has his chance: “I’m really excited about it.”