Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Anthony Purnell spent the last two seasons far from home.
About 300 miles and a five-hour drive separated Purnell from friends and family in Chester while attending the Kiski School in Saltsburg, Pa. His mom and his sister were the only frequent spectators at games.
That didn’t play a role when Purnell was deciding on a college home last spring.
But with many familiar faces in attendance for his home debut at West Chester on Wednesday night it felt good to be back. Mom, dad, sister, grandmom, aunt, cousins, girlfriend everyone was excited for the short commute to catch him in person as well.
“It’s great. I love being back home,” Purnell said after the Golden Rams’ improved to 3-0 with an 85-78 win over West Virginia State.
Purnell was a third team All-Philadelphia Catholic League guard the last time he was playing in the area as a junior at Cardinal O’Hara in 2019-20, when he helped the Lions go 9-5 in the PCL.
With the intent of allowing himself to develop physically as well as develop other aspects of his game, Purnell re-classified to the Class of 2023 and did two prep years at Kiski School in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
West Chester was keen on the speedy 6-foot guard at O’Hara and continued to recruit him at Kiski.
“I was on him when he was at O’Hara and he played for Philly Pride,” West Chester coach Damien Blair said. “The majority of the guys that we get are low Division I players and he’s that same type of talent. He can get down hill, he can make shots, he finishes at the rim. He can do a lot of really good things for us and with him going to Kiski he’s a little bit more mature than most freshman that are coming in, so we’re going to count on him and Dame Wall to give be able to give us some solid minutes with the way that we’re playing.”
West Chester's Anthony Purnell, left, goes up for a shot Wednesday against West Virginia State. The former Cardinal O'Hara standout has carved an important role in his first three games as a freshman for the Golden Rams. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL).
Purnell chose the Golden Rams over Bloomsburg and East Stroudsburg.
“It just felt like home when I got here,” Purnell said. “And the system. I love the system. I can get up and down. It’s gritty, physical. That’s the way I like to play.”
West Chester star sophomore guard Robert Smith, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half of Wednesday’s win, remembers matching up with Purnell during his senior season at Bishop McDevitt.
Though Smith and Golden Rams sophomore forward Jamil Manigo, who has yet to suit up this season, were first team All-PCL selections at McDevitt, Purnell got the better of the matchup.
“He plays just like me, a quick guard can get to the hole, can make a play, play defense, gritty,” Smith said. “It’s the same thing over here. I’m just a little bit bigger.”
Smith averaged 14.2 ppg as a freshman last to lead West Chester and earn himself second team All-PSAC East honors. Classmate Elijah Allen averaged 13.2 ppg and 5.1 rpg and junior Kyle McGee averaged 11.0 ppg in the Golden Rams’ backcourt last season.
Smith is off to a blistering offensive start this season with games of 22, 24 and 21 already on 51.1 percent shooting. Allen, who poured in 25 points on Wednesday, has been terrific as well, averaging 19.0 ppg and 51.6 percent shooting. Allen (12.7 ppg) is back in double figures as well.
It will take some time before Purnell has the opportunity to play a leading role in the Golden Rams’ backcourt, but he has an important role to serve. He and senior Dame Wall (Constitution) give West Chester two true point guards off the bench.
“This year, he’s gotta be able to settle us,” Blair said. “We have Kyle McGee who’s not a traditional point guard, but he’s playing the point for us. When Kyle comes out, he’s a great sub for Kyle. Dame Wall is another great sub for Kyle. We need someone to be able to play that position and we can move Kyle to the two so he can score the ball a little bit for us. When (Purnell’s) got a slow defender on him, he can go by guys and make plays. He can do a little bit of everything.”
Purnell started his career with a 13-point night in an overtime win over Lincoln last Friday, also adding three assists and two rebounds . He followed with five points, two boards and two assists in 21 minutes of a win over Elizabeth City State on Saturday and added four points, four assists, two rebounds and a block on Wednesday.
“That’s big time, big minutes,” Purnell said. “I just gotta be ready for whatever comes to me.”
West Chester sophomore Robert Smith goes up for a shot Wednesday against West Virginia State. He remembers playing against freshman teammate Anthony Purnell in high school in the Philadelphia Catholic League. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Purnell is averaging 7.3 ppg, 3.0 apg and 2.0 rpg in 22.7 minutes per game three games into his college career. He is also shooting 53.8 percent from the floor and has just five turnovers compared to his nine assists.
His numbers aren’t eye-popping but they are efficient and his presence on the court has already been felt.
“He controls the vibes on the court,” Smith said. “We need that point guard that comes in and not have a downfall. When Kyle comes out of the game or Dame is out of the game, he comes in and controls the vibes. If he wants to make a play, he makes a play. If he wants to score, he can get anywhere on the floor and be controlled with the ball, less turnovers. He’s gonna be a good fit on this team. He’s just gotta get more confident in his shot, but other than that he’s great.”
West Chester went 17-12 overall and 10-11 in the PSAC in 2021-22 before falling in the conference quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. It broke a stretch of three consecutive 20-win seasons.
The Golden Rams will have four of their top five scorers back when Manigo returns. Their young core also has another season to build off of after players like Smith, Allen and Manigo played big roles as freshman.
Per usual, West Chester has its eyes on competing for a conference crown and playing past the PSAC postseason for the first time since 2018-19.
“We’re trying to get a PSAC championship, get to the playoffs,” Purnell said. “That’s the No. 1 goal.”
Purnell’s role will be important in helping the Golden Rams get there. Blair wouldn’t be surprised to see that role grow either as he has high expectations for the local product during his West Chester career.
“He’s a Chester kid that’s tough nosed and just has a great feel for the game,” Blair said. “You don’t see many point guards that are as athletic as him. I think he gets a dunk a practice. With him getting a little bit stronger, a little bit more mature, understanding our system and how we want to defend, I think he’s going to be special.”