Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
Rob Moore understands the landscape.
The only head coach in Constitution boys basketball history has been through it all. He’s won a Public League championship, made one deep state playoff run after another and brought four state championship trophies back to 7th and Market.
As he enters his 15th season with the Generals, Moore has found the balance he needs to be a coach in the Pub. The balance of wanting to push a group of high schoolers to achieve something bigger than themselves, while not taking it so seriously that it’s a detriment.
“[I’m] not taking it as hard,” he said. “Being as passionate as possible without the downside of being super-stressed out when things don’t go your way. Accepting certain things but still giving it 100% that you can, that’s pretty much where we’re at.”
Kyree Latimer averaged 14.3 points per game last season with Constitution boys basketball. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
One of those “certain things” the 46-year-old -- who also teaches at Constitution -- has to accept is the fact the Public League has of late become a race for second place. Imhotep Charter is the undisputed top dog in the city right now, the Panthers having won six of the last seven Public League titles, with more Division I prospects on the roster than the rest of the Pub combined.
A few of those have come at the hands of the Generals, who lost to the Panthers in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 title games. Their only championship came in 2012, when they beat Maurice Watson Jr. and Boys’ Latin.
“Take Andre Noble out of the mix, I’ve probably lost more Public League championship games than every other coach in the Public League has coached in,” Moore said
Imhotep’s the front-runner once again, with UConn signee Ahmad Nowell leading the way. But Justin Edwards (Kentucky) and Rahmir Barno (Florida Golf Coast) are gone, and the Panthers have to rely on a bevy of underclassmen — albeit very talented ones — to carry the torch. Moore’s hoping that means a little more competition in the Pub, a chance for someone to pull an upset.
“Obviously Imhotep’s still the favorite, but are they going to beat everybody by 20-plus points? Maybe not,” Moore said. “Maybe 10-plus points.”
More realistic than a league championship is a PIAA Class 2A state championship. The Generals are a common sight at Hershey’s Giant Center late into March, their second-round loss in 2023, ending an 18-9 season, just the second time Moore hasn’t reached the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
Once again, he’s got a team well worthy of getting to Hershey, with an expecting starting lineup of five seniors and one of the deepest groups he’s had in a while behind them.
Amir Speights is also back for Constitution after averaging 11 points last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Wings Kyree Latimer and Amir Speights are the biggest returning names, the pair of former Catholic League transfers typically leading the Generals in scoring last year. Latimer, a 6-foot-3 wing, transferred from Bonner Prendergast as a sophomore and sat that season out as he made the move after the deadline. His junior season was his first significant varsity experience, and he averaged 14.3 points per game. Speights came over from Cardinal O’Hara, the 6-5 sharpshooter chipping in 11 ppg.
The pair is also learning how to be leaders, making a few mistakes along the way. That includes scheduling an impromptu team meeting in the middle of the day, not realizing that only half the team was at lunch.
“Kids were in class (telling their teachers) they had a basketball meeting, teachers are calling me, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know anything about a basketball meeting,’” Moore said. “So they’re trying to develop their leadership skills.”
“I feel like I take that leadership role very seriously,” Latimer said. “Last year was my first year of playing, I had a voice but I didn’t feel like it was big enough.”
Latimer and Speights aren’t the only two players who can make things happen for Constitution. Fellow seniors Kory Jones and Naamir Flowers, junior Khaleek Johnson and Khair White-Blaylock and sophomore guard Nick Jones will all see minutes for the Generals.
On top of that, they’re joined this year by senior guard Perry Fields, one of the top scorers in the Public League B Division last year at Boys’ Latin. He’ll be another weapon to make the Generals’ attack even more dangerous, the 6-2 guard a typically tough Philly lead guard, able to get his shot off from all three levels.
“When you have multiple guards that can get any shot they want when they choose to, and they can play make and beat guys off the dribble, it creates opportunities for others,” Latimer said. “When you’ve got multiple guards that can dictate the game, dictate the pace, that’s a tough team to guard.”
They do have to replace Tymir Brown-Smalls (Arcadia) and several other seniors from last year, but Moore is confident his group will be able to adjust.
“Last year I think was the most talented team I’ve had in a long time, as far as top to bottom, the number of players that we could sub in and out, but there was a period of them getting to know each other, a bunch of new guys on the roster,” Moore said. “A lot of the guys that came last year are all going to be seniors this year, they suffered a pretty humbling loss in states last year.
“I think having five seniors out there that can all handle the ball and have been in the situation before, we can compete with everybody in our league. I think that we should be able to compete at the state level again, try and win, hopefully, a state championship this year. That’s the plan.”