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Rumph Classic: Abington, West Chester standout Matt Penecale embraces late invite

08/05/2023, 1:45pm EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

SPRING GARDEN — Matt Penecale was candidly honest when Shannon Givens texted him earlier this week, asking if he would suit up for Team Rumph Center at the Rumph Classic two days before the event.

“I gave them the full disclosure,” Penecale said. “I was like, ‘Guys I’m really not that good any more. I’m just letting you know.’ They gave me the green light, and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll come.’”

The former standout at Abington and West Chester hasn’t played hoops competitively in more than two years but he held his own Thursday night at the Community College of Philadelphia for the 18th Annual Rumph Classic. 

Penecale, who last played for Hapoel Hevel Modi’in in the Israeli National League in 2020-21, put up nine points, grabbed a pair of rebounds and added an assist and a steal in a loss to a Basketball Finders team that included the likes of Tyrese Martin, Justin Jaworski, Darrun Hilliard and Taylor Funk.

“It’s special putting on these shorts and being a part of it,” Penecale said. “I never thought I’d do it.”

Former Abington and West Chester standout Matt Penecale played for Rumph Center at the Rumph Classic on Thursday. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

“I play a little men’s leagues and stuff, but nothing compared to what these guys are up to, man,” he added. “It made me remember how good a real basketball player is, a lot better than the average 40-year-old guy at LA Fitness. It was fun being back out there though, competing against them.”

Penecale, a 6-4 combo guard, was a four-year starter and two-time first team All-SOL National selection during his career at Abington that included a trip to the state semifinals as a junior and a District 1 championship his senior season in 2016-17. 

He averaged 10.2 ppg, 4.6 apg and 3.7 apg during his career at West Chester, totaling 1,108 points, 499 assists, 400 rebounds and 151 assists to go along with a pair of second team All-PSAC East selections before graduating in 2019.

It took him a year to find a landing spot professionally — and he needed to secure dual-citizenship to do so — but Penecale realized a dream when he played for Hapoel Hevel Modi’in back in 2020-21.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was always a dream to play professionally overseas and to get to experience a new culture and play at that level was something really special.”

Penecale grew up watching his older brother Clay play with Samme and Shannon Givens at Academy of New Church. That’s how he secured the invite Thursday with Rumph Center needing players. (They had Alize Johnson and a few other reinforcements for Friday’s action.)

One of his favorite memories playing overseas was going up against Samardo Samuels, who was the No. 1 player in the country at St. Benedict’s when Penecale watched him play against his brother and ANC.

“I was a sixth grader watching them go up against each other St. Benedict’s vs. ANC and 10 years later I’m playing against him,” Penecale said. “That was a pretty cool moment.”

Penecale played in 20 games for Hapoel Hevel Modi’in and said that was enough for him. He graduated from West Chester with degrees in physics and exercise science and is now doing pharmaceutical sales.

“I can’t really pinpoint it,” said Penecale, who recently moved to Philadelphia. “It just felt like I was fulfilled in my basketball career, and ready to start a professional one.”

He’s certainly not removed from the game but trips to doctor’s offices and hospitals have replaced drives to the gym. Seeing a lot of familiar faces from the Philadelphia basketball community was a fun part of Thursday night’s experience.

“I try to (stay involved in the game),” Penecale said. “I would love later down the line to get back into coaching and helping out a little bit more, but as of right now it’s just pick-up games and little men’s leagues and stuff.”

And when needed an appearance at the Rumph Classic.

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