It’s undisputed the extent to which Philadelphia breeds its high school basketball talent.
Coach John Chaney has tapped the Public League for much of its worthwhile talent throughout his tenure at Temple. Generally, he always has at least one or two players from the city on his roster.
This year, he has five who played high school or prep ball in the city.
“I think that you’ve got to go where the players go,” said assistant coach Bill Ellerbee, who coached for 20 years at Simon Gratz High School. “For a while, we weren’t getting any of the city players.”
Last year there were four players from the city on the team, and two years ago there were three. From 1998-2003 Temple had just two Philadelphia players on its roster. Had it not been for the ineligibilities of Michael Blackshear and Tyreek Byard, there could have been as many as seven on this year’s squad.
“The Public League players, they represent the city,” Ellerbee said. “It’s a point of pride for the city and the public school system. I just think it’s good for the city, especially if we start winning a lot.”
Gratz is one key institution that has made a big impact on Temple. In recent years, Gratz alumni have made matriculation at Temple commonplace. Players like Aaron McKie, Levan Alston, Lynard Stewart, Mardy Collins and newcomer Mark Tyndale are all former Bulldogs.
Collins and Tyndale are now starting backcourt mates, and by the end of the season they could be one of the top tandems in the Atlantic Ten Conference. The two Gratz alums only boost the reputation of Gratz as a basketball powerhouse.
“They’ve had a good program for a long time,” Ellerbee said. “Mark was a carryover and he was a great high school player. I just think you have to grab the guys like that.
“Don’t forget you have programs like DeMatha [in Washington, D.C.] or Lincoln High School up in New York. I mean, a lot of players come out of those programs. I just think we were fortunate. Everybody was after Mark. He was a top 50 player and, I thought, better than that. You have to go after those guys and I think we were fortunate enough to grab him.”
Collins’ move to Temple was essentially a fluke. While Chaney was recruiting Blackshear, the play of Collins caught his eye. Three years later, Collins has played in 66 consecutive games and is the Owls’ leading scorer.
“Look at the success Mardy is having,” Ellerbee said. “He wasn’t even recruited; I was trying to give him away. Coach came and saw him one time and said, ‘I have to have that kid.’ Coach said, ‘He’s the type of player I need to have in my program.’
“I think it’s a pretty easy transition for the guys, because [Gratz] was a tough program when I was there. Some of the guys that came out, you have Aaron [McKie], Lynard [Stewart] and those guys, too. It was pretty easy. I used to use a lot of stuff that Coach uses down here. I used to even try to holler like him.”
The newest Gratz kid on the block is Tyndale, who has made quite a splash in the first three games of what should be a bright career. In his time at Gratz, he was influenced by Ellerbee, Collins and Alston, who played under Chaney from 1994-96.
“Levan Alston, he knew Mark well and his family well,” Ellerbee said. “I think he had a lot to do with Mark coming here. Mardy knew him, Blackshear knew him, all those guys knew him.”
Then there have been players from the city such as Alex Wesby, Mark Jackson and Lynn Greer. All have made contributions to the program.
Sophomore forward Wayne Marshall played at Martin Luther King High School, and is expected to make an impact in his first year with the Owls.
“We were very fortunate to get Wayne Marshall,” Ellerbee said. “I think he might be the best big man in the country. The fact that he didn’t leave Philadelphia, a lot of people didn’t even know anything about him. He’s here now and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun watching [him].”
Since a good portion of the players are so familiar with one another, it shouldn’t take long for them to build synergy very quickly. Ellerbee added it should make for a real fun season once everyone is on the same page.
Jason Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.