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West Philadelphia staying patient through early struggles

12/06/2023, 12:45am EST
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito

SPRINGFIELD — Adrian Burke knows that there are going to be nights like this throughout December and probably into early January. The fifth-year West Philadelphia coach is building his program back up again this season, after reaching the Philadelphia Public League Class 5A championship last season, losing to eventual state champion powerhouse Imhotep Charter.

Still, the Speedboys finished 16-12 and 9-2 in Philadelphia Public League A Division last season, rebounding nicely from their 3-7 start.

West Philly is beginning on the lean side again this year, after falling to 0-2 after a 77-52 loss to undefeated Cardinal O’Hara on Tuesday night, despite a team-high 15 points from 5-11 senior guard Teddy McAllister, a transfer from North Penn, and 9 points each from 6-4 senior forward Abdrahaman Coulibaly and 5-8 sophomore guard Jayden Mckie.

But Burke likes some of the early signs he is seeing, after losing six players from last year.

“I have a lot of guys that are back who played last year, and what I liked is how strong we finished last year and we can do that again this year,” said Burke, whose team lost to District 1 champion Radnor in the second round of last year’s state playoffs. “We’re not exactly starting from scratch. We had a real strong freshman class come in last year that matured as the year went on. We had a really deep bench.

“I don’t know what to expect yet. We’re getting acclimated to each other.”

West Philadelphia sophomore guard Jayden McKie scored nine points in Tuesday's loss. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

The Speedboys were heavily reliant on the three-point shot against O’Hara, and it is something Burke stressed will not happen much more this season. The Speedboys showed great determination in getting down in the second quarter by double figures and kept playing.

Burke was without 5-9 sophomore point guard Khabir Washington, who will quarterback the offense, but he did get quality minutes from 6-7 sophomore forward Makel Butts, 6-4 junior forward Brandon Williams, 6-foot senior guard Umar Sabree and 6-foot sophomore guard Xavier Howard.

“I like that fact that this team likes each other and they are just getting to learn how to play with each other,” Burke said. “We have to new guys this year, McAllister and Sabree, and they are senior guards who will help our younger guards.

“We will have some growing pains, but when the league play begins, we should be okay. We are going to have nights like this where we are still learning. I like our guard play and I like the fight we showed. We should be good by the middle of the season.”

What Burke does not like is how his team has started slow again this season. Much will rely on Washington controlling the flow of the offense, while McAllister and Coulibaly take on leadership roles.

Coulibaly saw time last season and had a taste of winning.

“We just have to share the ball, trust each other, and trust the next man on the bench,” he said. “I learned from last year what it was like when guys didn’t trust each other, and in the beginning of last year, we didn’t. Once we came together as a unit, we started winning. That’s the plan this year. We started bonding more on and off the court, and once we get more of that, we’ll be fine.

“I liked the effort we’re putting into these games early on. We’re going to win the Public League championship. I have no problem saying that. I feel we have what it takes. I see the more time we spend together, the better we’re going to be on the court.”

Whomever the Speedboys play, McAllister is going to be a handful to deal with. He scored West Philly’s first 10 points against O’Hara and singlehandedly had the Speedboys up, 5-0.

He has good range on his jump shot, and he has a great first step that can beat a defender to the basket. Once O’Hara adjusted and began shifting its defense towards McAllister, that shut down the Speedboys offense.

McAllister, being a first-year player in the program, is still feeling his way. He was on a state playoff run of his own with North Penn last season. He wants his teammates to know he is willing to do anything to win, and he will need to be one of the leading voices.

“I’m trying to score the ball, share the ball, and this is a deep team,” he said. “I have to get everyone together. We have to tell everyone to lock in. We need someone to do that, to get everyone together. I think I can be that voice.”

As for the game, O’Hara’s Rider-bound guard Aasim “Flash” Burton led all scorers with a game-high 30 points, and his deep, deep three-point shots caused the Speedboys some problems. Another area Burke admitted his team will have to address is finding an inside presence to keep opposing teams off the boards.

O’Hara’s 6-8 senior forward Pearse McGuinn was a tough matchup inside for the Speedboys, who were beat on second- and third-shot opportunities. McGuinn finished with 15 for O’Hara and Miles Johnson finished with 10.

The Speedboys challenged themselves in the early part of their schedule last season and are doing the same again this year. They opened with a loss to D.C. powerhouse Jackson-Reed before Tuesday’s loss to the PCL foe.

Despite the early setback, Coulibaly said, “We’re going to be okay. I say that because we have guys who will take accountability on and off the court.”

By Quarter

West Philadelphia (0-2):  12  | 10  |  14  |  16 ||  52

Cardinal O’Hara (2-0):  12  | 25  |  23  | 17 ||  77


West Philadelphia: Teddy McAllister 15, Jayden Mckie 10, Makel Butts 9, Abdrahaman Coulibaly 9, Umar Sabree 5, Joshua Gibbs 4.

O’Hara: Aasim Burton 30, Pearse McGuinn 15, Miles Johnson 10, Noah McIntosh 6, Ethan Schulcz 4, Jack Quinn 3, Matt Cervellero 3, Anthony Hobbs 2, Obinna Okebata 2, John Welde 2.

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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