Mike Jensen conducts an interview for his #Phillyhoops series last June. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Mike Jensen first told me about his plan to run a series covering the Philadelphia basketball scene from every level spanning the entirety of 2017, I was floored. It was a brilliant idea, one that he said he’d been stewing on for sometime, and now was ready to undertake.
I knew each of the stories would be enjoyable reads -- after all, he was writing about the scene I lived in on a daily basis. What I didn’t expect was just how capitaving each of those stories would be, even those about people I interacted with regularly.
True, I had my favorites, but there wasn’t a bad story in the bunch. And like so many great journalists, Mike did his job without seeking praise or gratitude, though he deserves plenty. He shined on a light on many individuals who were using basketball for society’s betterment, bringing their stories to a wider audience -- in some cases, a national one.
The good news: Mike has indicated he won’t be stopping the Philly Hoops series in 2018, though it might not be as regular a feature. But I still felt this an appropriate time for the local hoops community -- specifically, several subjects of Mike’s stories -- to share their thoughts on the series, and their appreciation for what he’s done:
“I think what Mike did for Philadelphia basketball, in shining the light on many of the corners that don’t often see daylight, did a great service to all the people who love basketball in this town. As a city that is obsessed with the sport at multiple levels, but often in a very parochial fashion, this gives exposure to places that is invaluable, not just from a recruiting perspective for a college but mostly on a personal level, for the individuals that toil so hard at their craft and don’t always see the fruits of their labor written about in such a eloquent fashion.” -- Rosemont College head coach Barney Hughes
“Wasn’t that exceptional? I was really looking forward to -- even before he did the article on me, I looked forward to reading all of Mike’s stories. He didn’t just do articles on people that everybody already knew about, it was articles on people (who) were moving mountains that people didn’t know about. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it, man. I’m appreciative of Mike, we need many more like him.” -- Philly Pride AAU director Kamal Yard
“Let’s put it this way. I thought enough of it to write a letter to the Basketball Hall of Fame to see if there was any way he could get nominated for the Curt Gowdy award in terms of journalistic excellence for this particular year. Because the series was that good. He covered all bases, uncovered some stones that hadn’t been uncovered for a while...just an outrageously great job.” -- Basketball scout Norm Eavenson
“I’d like to thank Mike for his work on this series. I thought he did a great job of highlighting the key players and people behind the scenes that make basketball in this area so great. As someone who's been in this scene for a long time now, I think it’s important for the public to understand how rich the history and tradition of Philly basketball is, and I appreciate his effort in bringing that tradition to light.” -- New Orleans Pelicans guard Jameer Nelson
“Being that, I’m actually originally from the Allentown area, kind of immersing myself in the Philadelphia hoops scene was a brand new thing when I moved to Delco and started officiating. So I never really knew how big it was and how intense and competitive the sport and everything is in this area, and it’s nice to see, as an official you kind of see one side of the game, you’re trying to be impartial and consistent and making the right calls, but seeing the people in the stands, the stories he did on the people in tehs tands and the people who are always at the game, seeing the other side of the game. You show up to a game, you put your stripes on, and you blow the whistle and hope to get most of them right, seeing the faces in the stands and hearing the stories from the kids, it brought it full-circle to me and it rounded out the experience of why I do what I do.” -- High school referee Dominic Frassinelli
“From the fan’s perspective, Mike has provided us with incredible stories that make us fall more in love with Philadelphia basketball. Sure, the words written at the end of each game are what we need, but these hidden stories are what the Philly fans want. Mike has taken indescribable journeys, put them in writing and transformed them into folklore. For that, the fans of this wonderful sport thank you.” -- Cat raiser Dennis Grove
“I think I read every one. He’s a brilliant writer, he really is -- not because he did one on me, but the one he did on me, he put a lot of work in, talked to a lot of people. He did his homework on every one he did. And I think it was genius. Genius.” -- St. Joe’s Prep head coach William “Speedy” Morris
“I was up at the Hoop Group camp and I walked past these five older people watching their grandson play and they called me back and asked if I was the kid Sam Sessoms, who was just in the paper? And I was like damn, I didn’t know that people from all the way out there would even know about it. And I felt like I needed it at that time, that was a crucial part of my recruitment process. It helped me a lot.” -- Shipley School senior/Binghamton commit Sam Sessoms
“[There’s a] rich fabric of basketball, Philly’s always been a basketball city, and Mike captured it, he captured the grassroots of the game and the connection to the game that brings so many people together from so many parts of the world. Different spheres, so to speak. I thoroughly enjoyed the series and, again, it really captured the spirit of the game. How people share the game and the game is impactful in so many people’s lives.” -- University of the Sciences head coach Dave Pauley
“Mike has captured the essence of the Philadelphia basketball community, in its many dimensions. The series depicts an array of positive leaders of various neighborhoods, generations, races and ethnicities and tenures within this awesome community.” -- Philadelphia Youth Basketball Co-Founder, President & CEO Kenny Holdsman
“I think Mike Jensen did a phenomenal job with a year of hoops in Philadelphia. What I like most is that he highlighted and gave audiences to individuals that probably don’t get the credit that they deserve for the work that they do in our community. Guys that had probably had never had an article written about them, he gave them exposure.” -- All-City Classic co-director Charles “Shoob” Monroe
“Overall, it was an inspiration to me, starting out with RTYA [Right Turn Youth Academy] and at Girard College, being a new coach and a new program director, seeing someone else put into their own words what you’re doing for yourself and the community and city as a whole, it truly opened my eyes to the bigger picture. He touched a spot with me that I’ll never forget, and it truly pushed me to make RTYA and Girard College at their highest potential that they can be. It’s an inspiration, and it was awesome seeing every week, all the different stories of what people were doing all over the city, all over the state state and all over the country -- and it’ll always be special because it was the first article written about me.” -- Girard College head coach/RTYA director Chelse Hall
“It was a great opportunity for the family, for us to get a little publicity as far as me coaching high school basketball in the area and trying to help other guys, and him playing at Valley Forge Military and trying to help out on his team, also. For us, it was a great experience as far as for us to get exposure in the basketball community. Mike did a great job...they tracked us from the time he walked into the building to when we exited the building.” -- Former Del-Val Charter coach James “Flames” Lewis
“Actually, I thought it was pretty cool. (Mike) and I had had a conversation, probably a year prior...he was talking about doing it, starting to do the series -- and I was laughing at him and kind of said to him, as he was leaving the building, there’s some very interesting people in Philadelphia basketball history, and I just named Claude [Gross]. And he went out to the car and wrote that down, and when Claude had passed, he was thinking about it and he went back and revisited it. So I thought it was really cool.” -- St. Joe’s assistant coach Geoff Arnold
“I would say that he deserves as much appreciation as he can for focusing on all the different levels of Philadelphia basketball. I happened to see him in New York interviewing Marcus Morris, I saw him at the Chosen League interviewing Rahim Thompson, so I’ve seen him in various different Phila basketball settings and I think it’s really cool that he took the time and effort to dive into it from all aspects, he’s done a lot of pieces from trainers to pros, to just people around the game. Much needed and much-appreciated by everybody he shed some light on.” -- Danny Rumph Classic founder Mike Morak
“I just think it’s fascinating and I’m so glad a lot of these people got a lot of recognition they deserve...all the people who put their heart, sweat, blood and tears into high school and college basketball and pro basketball. Me and Mike sat next to each other at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1989-1993 for four years...he’s my favorite guy, he’s just a great, genuine guy and he really cares about people. And that’s the number one thing that showed up in the series, he cares about people, especially in this basketball world. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and I loved every minute of it.” -- Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics Director Jeremy Treatman