The 1966 National League All-Star team included 13 future Hall of Famers, and even its manager, Walter Alston, found his way to Cooperstown. Included on the roster: what some consider the greatest outfield of all time. Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron batted one-two-three for the NL that year, and though it’s possible to put the ’57 NL team’s trio (Mays, Aaron, Frank Robinson) ahead of the Mays-Clemente-Aaron troika, why fight over who gets the Ferrari and who drives the Lamborghini?
It’s absolute hyperbole—even for El Hombre—to liken the 2015-16 Westtown boys’ hoops team to those august aggregations of Hall of Fame talent. But when each member of a school’s starting five is a Division I recruit, it’s easy to describe the outfit as pretty special. Senior guard Jahir Bolden has already committed to play next year at George Washington. Junior big man Mohamed Bamba and sophomore guard Cameron Reddish are Top 10 talents in national rankings in their classes, while juniors Brandon Randolph and Najja Hunter are drawing some Power Five conference interest. In other words, coach Seth Berger had some firepower at his disposal this season.
Saturday, those standouts—particularly Randolph—did something no Westtown team has done ever before: They won the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association title by whipping Germantown Academy, 73-65. After three final-round losses in the past four years, this was a sweet outcome for the Moose, which was able to justify its top seed and the considerable fanfare that has accompanied its transfer-laden team.
Randolph’s game-high 29 propelled Westtown to victory Saturday. But it was Bolden, Hunter and Bamba who led the way a day earlier in a 56-42 win over Episcopal that scared some of the Moose faithful into the third quarter. That’s the problem with a team that includes so much talent. When an opponent—especially one that lacks headline-grabbing names (although Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon was in the crowd to see EA forward Nick Alikakos—hangs tough with a giant, the inevitable derision ensues. Members of the GA team sitting in the stands during the first half were remarking on Westtown’s lack of passion and discipline, as the Churchmen battled them to a 22-22 deadlock at the break.
When EA’s Matt Woods hit yet another deep three-pointer with 3:42 left in the third to narrow the Moose advantage to 30-29, it appeared as if the game would be tighter than a middle seat between a pair of NFL offensive linemen on a transcontinental flight. The Westtown players must have begun to care or something, because the next 8:28 featured a 17-0 run that decided the game. Hunter had seven points during the binge, and Bolden had six. One of Hunter’s buckets came on a layup after a gorgeous one-handed, halfcourt bounce pass from Reddish.
Of course, Westtown hadn’t been cavalier during the first 20 minutes of play. Episcopal had played with abandon, and Woods (who finished with a team-high 17) was on fire from regions well beyond what could be considered reasonable three-point range. Once the Moose coalesced, the Churchmen had no chance. Through it all, Berger remained composed and unwilling to browbeat his team. And when his players loosened up, they were able to play with a freewheeling abandon that was fun to watch—and only available from the collection of talent Westtown boasts.
Bolden may be off to GW next fall, but four of his friends are scheduled to return, and it will be interesting to see who else shows up on campus for the 2016-17 season. The end result won’t quite be the ’66 NL outfield, but it ought to be pretty darn good and certainly worth watching.
El Hombre Sez: A passel of local schools embarks on state hoops tournament runs. On the boys side, Lower Merion (Class AAAA), Conestoga (AAAA), Archbishop Carroll (AAA), Church Farm (AA) and Delco Christian (A) will vie for titles, while girls teams Carroll (AAA), Conestoga (AAAA), Cardinal O’Hara (AAAA), Bonner-Prendergast (AAA), Villa Maria (AAA) and Delco Christian (A) begin play. … Last year, the Phillies dropped their Grapefruit League opener to the University of Tampa and lost 99 games. Sunday, the Phils dumped the defending Division II champs, 8-3. That must mean that prosperity is just around the corner.