By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
CHESTER, PA — That distinct, shrill, raspy voice had a way of gripping you by the spine once you heard it. Its echo still fills so many basketball arena corridors, so many podiums, so many court sidelines, accompanied by the vision of the askew tie and his infamous One-Eyed Jack stare. That distinct, shrill, raspy voice once lifted so many morning practices preaching life lessons seems to be drifting with each passing generation.
Jalen Long knows it. He got the last portion of it as the great grandson of legendary Temple Hall of Fame coach John Chaney.
Jalen did not really realize who great grandpop was until he was around 10. Jalen, a compact 5-foot-10 ball of muscle senior guard for Camden Eastside, would wonder why great grandpop was always drawing crowds everywhere he went.
It did not truly seep into Jalen’s conscience until he was around 15, at Chaney’s funeral in 2021, the profound impact and inspiration Chaney was to so many people in the basketball world and beyond. Jalen saw and heard the adoration of his great grandfather from basketball legends like Mike Krzyzewski.
“It’s a blessing to have his rich, strong blood in me. My great grandfather passed a lot of very good things to me, but it was at his funeral when I saw what he meant to so many that I probably remember most,” recalled Jalen, 18. “His players were like his sons. I knew the great players that played for my great grandfather, but to hear them talk about him, like a father figure, that meant something to me.
Camden Eastside senior point guard Jalen Long is the great grandson of John Chaney. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“You could see what he meant went beyond basketball. The funny thing is, I wasn’t really into basketball growing up. I was more into football. But I remember his lessons. I can hear him. ‘Don’t turn the ball over.’ ‘Don’t go in there with all those trees.’ He was always big at not turning the ball over, so I make sure not to do that.”
Jalen was at his great grandfather’s statue presentation at Temple in 2014, and spent many Christmases with him before Chaney passed away on Jan. 29, 2021, at age 89.
“I can still hear him,” Jalen said, laughing. “I can remember him telling me about passing along the good stuff that has been passed along to me. He kept stressing life is bigger than basketball, and keep moving forward with my education and get my college degree.”
Jalen is followed by a Chaney troupe. John Chaney Jr., Coach Chaney’s son, his son, Sean Long, Coach Chaney’s grandson and Jalen’s father, travel everywhere with Jalen.
After playing in the Pete and Jameer Nelson Scholastic Play-By-Play Classic at Widener University over the Christmas holiday, then it was off to Atlantic City the following day for a game the next morning.
The Chaneys traveled along with him — many in their custom Long No. 0 t-shirts.
Bring up Jalen and Eastside coach Kenny Avent immediately beams. After transferring in from Pennsauken, he has become a two-year starter for the Tigers, who are 5-2 this season. Jalen carries the Chaney bloodlines well. That manifests itself in his constant intensity, like a ghost is shouting after him.
“Jalen does everything I ask him to do, and he is definitely fundamentally sound,” Avent said. “He goes strong to the basket and finishes. Defensively, he’s a dog. Any coach would love a player like Jalen who gives you all 32 minutes. He’s tired, limping, he plays through pain, as a coach, who would not love a kid like that?”
Nancy Munoz, Jalen’s mother, said her son’s first love was football. Jalen, who also runs track for Eastside, was a premier running back at the grade school level. But when he suffered a torn labrum in seventh grade that required surgery, mom ended that.
“Jalen was unstoppable when he played pee-wee football, and his surgery occurred during COVID-19, so he sat his ninth-grade year and played at Pennsauken before transferring to Eastside,” Munoz said. “He learned a lot of things from his great grandfather in the time he was with him. But you know what he learned the most from great granddad, Pop Pop Chaney, he learned love. Basketball was important. How you treat people and how you conduct yourself are more important.”
Chaney Jr. grew up in his father’s shadow, playing with the great Gene Banks, Keith Parham, Jeffery Clark and Lewis Lloyd in Philadelphia during the 1970s. There is a familiar, underlying tone in his voice reminiscent of his father’s.
“I could still hear my father in my ears, hearing him yell at Jalen, ‘Don’t turn the ball over,’ ‘Finish the ball,’ ‘Draw Contact,’ ‘Stop fading away from contact,’ I can hear it, believe me I can hear it,” John Jr. said. “I talk to Jalen all the time about the same things my father taught me, but Jalen would be an even better player if my dad was still alive to teach him.”
Several D-III programs are pursuing Jalen Long. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Chaney Jr., who played for Frankford High School and lost in the Philadelphia Public League playoffs in 1976 to Overbrook and Lloyd and Michael Blackshear, said Jalen’s athleticism comes from a combination of the Chaneys and Longs.
It’s been three years since his father passed. It’s been Jalen who has revived the family’s passion for basketball again.
“I miss my dad a lot,” John Jr. said. “It’s hard to talk about him knowing how much he would love to see Jalen play. I instilled what my dad taught me into my son, and into my grandson.”
Sean, Coach Chaney’s grandson, is soft-spoken. He was around to see his grandfather coach and caught the Owls during the Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie eras of the early-1990s, through the Pepe Sanchez era from the mid-1990s to 1999. Sean would tag along as his grandfather’s constant tail to the dressing rooms after games.
It could come from anywhere, walking down the street, stopping by a coffeehouse, when someone identifies Sean as Coach Chaney’s grandson, the stories invariably come flying out.
“To this day, I’ll get a random message from someone who I never met, yet knew my grandpop, and they had a story about meeting my grandfather,” said Sean, who played for Pennsauken and had grandpop yell at him a few times at the John Chaney and Sonny Hill summer camps. “Oh, you know that voice. I can see my grandpop getting on Jalen screaming about his defense and turnovers. I know it, because I heard it. I just wish my grandpop was here to see him.
“I have to get out of the gym sometimes, because I’m on Jalen like my grandfather was me. It’s funny the same things he told me, I tell him. But what I think I’m most proud of is that Jalen is a good kid. He has a few doors open and if he keeps working and keeps playing, more eyes will be on him.”
Jalen is getting attention from Rowan, Delaware Valley, the College of New Jersey, and Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in order to continue his basketball career and carry on his great grandpop’s lessons.
“I can say I’m proud to be John Chaney’s great grandson, that I still carry on the legacy,” Jalen said. “I know he’s watching.
“I can hear his voice.”
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.