By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
CHESTER — It’s become almost a daily ritual the last two years. Larenzo Jerkins beats them all to the gym, is changed and out in his sweats running line drills by himself before any of his Neumann-Goretti teammates arrive at practice. It’s the 6-6 senior forward’s way of not cheating himself of any more missed precious time.
It’s what drives him. He knows what it is like to watch after being forced to sit out last season after transferring in from Chester, which challenged the move. He knows what is like sitting there helpless as his teammates struggled down the stretch in the Catholic League championship in the boiling Palestra last spring.
This season, Jerkins challenged himself. He would make a difference. He would make up for the time lost, like in games the Saints won in overtime on Sunday against Salesianum (Del.), 75-73, in the Kobe Bryant Classic at Widener’s Schwartz Athletic Center.
Neumann-Goretti junior forward Larenzo Jerkins, right, eyes the rim Sunday against Salesianum. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“I have to get to the gym early, start the mood off being the up one, the leader of the team,” Jerkins said. “If I do a lot of things people will follow, that will boost our drilling. I do take pride in doing the dirty work. I’m far from satisfied. I’m building on everything I need. I know that I’m far from the player I want to be, and the player I can be for this team to win."
Jerkins had a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds — seven offensive. He was a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line, and the Saints were a school-record 32-for-32 from the line in moving to 2-0 this young season.
More importantly, Jerkins is not a scorebook player. He’s a bottom line “we won 75-73 guy.”
Jerkins embraces his role.
He should wear a hard hat when he plays. He’s lying on the court as much as he is standing on it. His game is muck and grind, rebounding, interior defense, setting picks, blocking shots, hitting the offensive boards, taking charges, and diving for any loose ball he sees.
Against Salesianum, for example, with the Saints down by five in overtime, it was Jerkins who came swooping in from nowhere to collect an offensive rebound, take the ball down, then whirl around a defender for a layup that gave the Saints a chance.
During regulation, it was Jerkins hustling back on defense to deflect a pass and create a turnover off a Sallies’ fastbreak. It was Jerkins who took a charge with 1:47 left in overtime with Neumann-Goretti one score away from tying it. And it was Jerkins who scrambled for a defensive rebound, was fouled and hit two free throws to tie it 70-70 with 59 seconds left in overtime.
“Last year was hard.” Jerkins said. “There were a few nights I cried myself to sleep. Basketball is my therapy. When you’re not out there supporting your teammates, it haunts you. Every day when I stepped out on the floor, I think about those times. I have to elevate.”
Larenzo Jerkins had to sit out last season for N-G after transferring from Chester. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It’s the reason why Jerkins plays the way he did on Sunday.
Playing for highly respected West Chester University coach Damien Blair is high on Jerkins’ list of college destinations. Jerkins likes West Chester. West Chester likes him. Jerkins has the paperwork.
“I feel real good about West Chester, I have the paperwork and I’m thinking very strongly about signing it,” Jerkins said. “It feels good knowing I have an option to go somewhere, because a couple of months ago, I had no options.
“I’ve been gifted to be playing basketball again. I’m going to be the second person from my family to go to college. Going to college is a big deal for me, and for free at that.”
Last year was as trying for Saints’ legendary coach Carl Arrigale was it was for Jerkins.
“Larenzo is an awesome person, an awesome person, and last year was really hard for all of us,” Arrigale said. “What happened to Larenzo last year was one of the most difficult things I ever had to go through as a coach. The kid has a lot of reasons to be angry at the world — and he isn’t. He’s strong. He’s special.
“When that decision went down last year, when I knew in my heart we didn’t do anything wrong, just to see him cry in my arms the night it happened, that was tough to take. We’re still learning him. He’s still learning about us. He’s very aggressive. He makes effort mistakes, but those will smooth out in time. He plays with such great desire.
“I couldn’t be happier for Larenzo.”
A star is born in N-G’s Torrey Brooks
It’s a small sample size, but Neumann-Goretti may have yet another budding star guard in the wings. With St. Joe’s-bound 5-foot-10 guard Khaafiq Myers out nursing an injury, the Saints had 5-11 sophomore guard Torrey Brooks step in — and he did wonders.
Neumann-Goretti sophomore Torrey Brooks hit the game-winner in overtime. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Brooks scored a career-best 22 points against Salesianum, including dribbling through the Sallies’ defense with 5.7 seconds left in overtime for the game-winning basket.
“That was my first time making a last-second shot like that,” Brooks said. “There wasn’t anything that was going to stop me. I wasn’t giving it up. It was all me. I’ve played with that attitude since I was young. I played for a private school last year, but this was my career best tonight.”
Brooks will back up Myers, but Arrigale is giving him the green light to shoot. Brooks admitted he was nervous in his first varsity game, scoring nine points, but this was a new step.
“Torrey is a very heady player, one of our smarter players who was taught the game well at a young age,” Arrigale said. “We weren’t calling a timeout there in the end. I trust him being the passer there, because he makes very good decisions. Torrey saw a crease and he kept going. He’s composed beyond his years for a young kid.”
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.