Herb Magee is entering his 51st season at the institution now known as Thomas Jefferson University. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
Over the span of the last 51 years, Herb Magee has been the head coach at the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, Philadelphia University and now Thomas Jefferson University.
And he’s done it all from the same spot.
The name of the school has changed over the years, but Magee’s presence on the sideline certainly has not. The Naismith Hall-of-Famer and 1,000-game winner begins his sixth decade on the sidelines of a program that’s been under several banners, but always has stayed the Rams.
Last season was the Rams’ fourth in a row with 20-plus wins, as they finished 21-9 with a 16-3 record in Central Athletic Collegiate Conference (CACC) play. Injuries forced Magee to start two freshmen over the last six weeks of the season, though they still ripped off seven straight wins before a loss to Dominican in the CACC semifinals ended the final season of Philadelphia University basketball.
Back for his senior year is Kaison Randolph, a 6-3 guard and 1,000-point scorer who averaged a team-high 17.0 ppg last year. An all-CACC selection each of the last two years, he was a third team member as a sophomore before making first team honors last year. Randolph was slated to be one of two seniors in the lineup, along with forward Eric Long, but the 6-8 Long will undergo another knee surgery and miss the season.
The three freshmen who played last year -- 5-11 guard Kylan Guerra (11.2 ppg), 6-6 stretch-forward Josh Bradanese (6.8 ppg) and 6-6 wing Prince Hickson (2.4 ppg) -- will all become major contributors. Jefferson will also count on heavy input from a pair of 6-7 Division I transfers, senior Yevgen Sakhniuk (La Salle) and DeVaughn Mallory (Delaware State). Gone are point guard Andre Gibbs and forward Brendan Kilpatrick, both of whom exhausted their eligibility, as is Jordan DeCicco, who left school to pursue business opportunities.
Here’s a (copy-edited) transcript of our conversation:
CoBL: Last year, when we spoke about the Philly U/Jefferson merger, you said you had hoped that Philadelphia would remain in the school’s name. Now you’re the Jefferson Rams. How did you feel when you heard the news?
Magee: Well, a) there’s nothing you can do about it. And b) did I hope that they would keep Philadelphia in the name? Did I agree with the merger? Yes I did, merger was an important part of the progress of our University. And I think it’ll benefit both schools. But they decided to name the school Thomas Jefferson, and that’s made by people who are in charge, so with that being said, I don’t have a problem with it. I had jokingly said that if we win a game, any game we win this year I’ll be the all-time leader in wins at Thomas Jefferson University. Our first victory will put me in the lead right there.
CoBL: Have you found yourself still saying Philly U?
Magee: Well, yeah, for years, even when it was Philly U, I used to refer to it as Textile, because that’s where I went to school, and my first 30-some years of coaching was at Philadelphia Textile. And then Philly U became the name, and now Jefferson U. So I’ve always been one of those guys that if you can’t do anything about it, you just accept it. So we’ll be Jefferson University.
CoBL: I think if anybody still gets to call it Textile, it’s you.
Magee: [Laughs] I have earned the right, I guess.
CoBL: So in terms of this year, how are you feeling about the group? How have early practices been?
Magee: It’s a terrific group of young men. We had a setback early; we had put together what we thought was going to be a really terrific team, and I still think we’re going to be good. But we lost our starting point guard when DeCicco decided to go and spend more time with his (company)...now we’re in the process of making a good player, Kylan Guerrera, who was rookie of the year in the league last year, he’s going to make our point guard, and that’s not a natural position for him. So that set us back a little bit.
And then Eric Long, who sat out last year, he came back, and the meniscus did not heal, so he’s having season-ending surgery in the next week, so we lost him, too. That being said, I still like the team a lot whole, I think we’re going to be good, but it’s tough to play without a point guard, especially a seasoned point guard like DeCicco was. That sets you back. But a lot of schools have the same situation -- injuries and defections, that stuff happens.
CoBL: You bring up Guerra becoming a point guard, what aspects of the game are you working with him on to help him make the transition?
Magee: He comes to play with a real different kind of skillset. He has tremendous speed; you know how all schools run suicides? He’s the fastest kid I’ve ever coached except for one kid back on the national championship team in 1970. His time for his suicide, sometimes I look at the clock and I just can’t believe it. He’s got great speed, he’s got a good capability of the game and by that I mean, he knows what he’s trying to do, he doesn’t try to do things he can’t do. But a point guard is someone that incorporates the entire team into what the coach wants. And he’s learning that right now. So it’s his position, and I’m sure he’ll do a good job with it. Because we’re coaching him up every day in practice and telling him the things we need him to look for.
CoBL: His classmates, both Prince Hickson and Josh Bradanese saw significant time as freshman. How has that whole group responded this offseason and what are your expectations for those two now as sophomores?
Magee: They both came back stronger, they both came back if there is such a thing as gaining quickness, they both did that. Josh was always an excellent shooter, Prince struggled a little bit with his shot but he has improved it over the summer. And they will both see significant minutes, both of them. We’re very, very happy and have been with the sophomore recruiting class. Those three guys are all solid players.
Kaison Randolph (above) is aiming to earn all-CACC honors for the third season in a row. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
CoBL: The last two years, Kaison Randolph’s been your leading scorer. He’s now back for his senior year. Is there anything you need him to add to his game or is it just about continuing to do what he’s done?
Magee: He doesn’t really need to add anything. He’s got a good shot, he’s bigger and stronger and he added some vertical to his jump. He’s really dribble-driving and dunking with both hands, and he could dunk before -- not that I’m a big proponent of that, but it does show athletic ability, and in the early practices and a couple of scrimmages that we’ve had, he’s shown the ability to rebound better than he has, because we’re probably going to play him at the small forward much of the season. He’s a good player, I would be shocked if he wasn’t all-league again, he’s a solid basketball player, a terrific kid and he’s a real team-oriented guy.
CoBL: At this point, is it his team?
Magee: I’ve never been a big proponent of that. I’ve never been one of those, ‘okay now it’s your team,’ I think it’s everybody’s team. And if you want to look at it in today’s, the way people talk today, I guess you could say that. But he has done a good job as captain and I expect big things from him. He’s a very good basketball player, and he’s a wonderful young man, he really is.
CoBL: You bring in two 6-7 transfers in Sakhniuk from La Salle and Mallory from Delaware State. You’ve brought in plenty of D-I guys before, but when you bring in two 6-7 guys that come from Division I, how high are your expectations for them to come in and produce right away?
Magee: They’re both very good players. Yevgen, from La Salle, has a very different kind of skillset. He can play in the post, he can face the basket, he’s a decent jump-shooter. He’s big and strong, he’s got good jumping ability. His problem was, he never played at la Salle, he played one game. He’s been a bit rusty, which is what happens if you just practice and never get into a game. But he’s coming along and he’s done fine in both of our scrimmages. Very coachable, easy to handle, good student, he’s got all the positive attributes that will point to him having a terrific season.
Mallory’s a terrific kid and he’s one of those guys that what I would refer to as a gamer. When the game starts is when he shows. He doesn’t show it in practice as much as in the game. Game starts, and he’s on the backboards, he can make a jump shot, he can do a lot of different things. Another kid -- good student, and terrific kid. So we’re looking forward to him having a great season and great two seasons.
CoBL: So you have the two transfers, the three sophomores, and Kaison, which is six. Your rotation has sometimes been as few as six. Is there anybody else who’s going to get some minutes?
Magee: I would say now we’re feeling that out. The rest of the guys are all walk-ons, and a couple of them can play. Jordan Purcell, he was on the team last year, but he again like the rest of the guys last year, we all got hurt all the time. Now he’s back and healthy and he’s a solid player, like 6-2, tough kid who can play, he can drive and shoot. He could grab some minutes. We also have a freshman, Alexander Gorton, he’s a 6-2 guard from Arkansas. He will definitely be in the starting lineup this year.
CoBL: You have an exhibition game against Temple next week --
Magee: We’re going to Disney first. Out in California. We were invited and the school thought it was a terrific idea to announce our new name on a big stage. And that’s probably the most prestigous Division II preseason tournament. We’re headed out to California on Wednesday and we will play Friday, Saturday and Sunday against three really good basketball teams.
CoBL: And those count for your schedule?
Magee: They do. Just like Division I, they’re exempt games. We’re allowed 28 regular-season games, we will have 31. Disney in Florida had a Division II tournament every year, and then they stopped it, but we played down there three or four times, we would go one year, skip a year, go the following year...it’s tremendous, because you get three extra games against real good competition. Then we come back from that and play Temple that week in an exhibition game and then we open up the regular season at Holy Family with us and Holy Family playing American International and Merrimack.
CoBL: Have you ever coached against Fran Dunphy?
Magee: Never. Coached against Temple, when I first started coaching in the late 60s, early 70s, we played Temple just about every year. But that was Coach Litwack one time and then Coach Casey the other times.
Fran I tried to recruit Fran, when he was a high school kid at Malvern Prep. It was my first year as head coach, and we were playing in a schoolyard in Drexel hill, and he’s a terrific player, so I said to him, and he said I’m going to go to La Salle on a baseball scholarship. So I said I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you a basketball scholarship to go to Textile. ANd he said, we’ll, I’ve already committed. Which is the type of kid that Fran is -- he’s a man, but that’s the type of person that he is. And he went to La Salle and of course things worked out for him. But I was teasing him the other day...I said you could have played on a national championship team. And he started laughing. He’s a good guy, he and I have been friends for that many number of years. Play golf together, chat about basketball together, he’s a good man, as you well know.
CoBL: Final question -- in order for you to have the successful season you want to have this year, what little things do you need to focus on?
Magee: It’s simple, it’s simple: stay healthy. The last two years, in my first 35-40 years of coaching, I’ve never seen anything like what’s happened to our team in the last few years. Where we just lose guys right and left. Two years ago I was playing two or three walk-ons, and last year we lost DeCicco for a month, we lost Andre Gibbs at the end of the year to a torn Achilles tendon, we lost Eric Long, we lost Brendan Kilpatrick, just every day it was a different story. If we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to have a pretty good team.