SportsProf

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sonny Hill Agrees With Me

One of the most recent issues of The Sporting News featured an article on the fifty best in-state rivalries. When the article got to Pennsylvania, TSN highlighted Philadelphia's Big Five -- the basketball rivalry among LaSalle, Penn, St. Joe's, Temple and Villanova. The article also listed the five best players at each school, as follows:

LaSalle -- Lionel Simmons;
Penn -- Dave Wohl;
St. Joe's -- Jameer Nelson;
Temple -- Mark Macon; and
Villanova -- Howard Porter.

I was reading the article at the dinner table on the night it arrived and said "What?" aloud. To me, there was no way that Kenny Durrett wasn't the best player in LaSalle history. Not as bad, but still bad, was that the author picked Macon (who Dick Vitale loved as a freshman but about whom it was said at the end of his career, "He came in as a senior and went out as a freshman") over Guy Rodgers or Hal Lear. Rodgers and Lear combined to form the best backcourt in the history of the Big Five and one of the best in the history of college basketball. Macon was a good player, but Rodgers and Lear played in one Final Four together (and one of them, I can't remembber which, played in a second Final Four); Macon got close but never there.

I also scratched my head in puzzlement over Wohl, but the author correctly noted that while Penn had many good teams, no one player stood out above the pack. He's probably right, although Corky Calhoun, Bob Morse, Phil Hankinson, Tony Price, Jerome Allen and Ibby Jaaber should have figured into the conversation. While recency could have dominated the discussion (as it did with Macon and Simmons), I might have picked Morse, for the simple reason that I don't recall many forwards shooting the ball from the outside as well as he did.

Anyway, I went to run some errands this morning and, as usually is the case on Sundays, I put on WIP, the local sports talk radio station. Sunday mornings belong to Sonny Hill, the one-time great basketball player who founded an awesome youth basketball league in Philadelphia that exists to this day and who has served as a mentor to so many basketball legends -- players and coaches -- over the years. When the caller referenced the selections for LaSalle and Temple, Sonny dealt all over the selections, getting about as emphatic as I've ever heard him. He said what I had thought -- about Durrett and Rodgers and Lear. He also went on to tell a great story about how he, John Chaney and Jay "Pappy" Norman, at the end of their days playing in the Eastern League, used to play pick-up against a LaSalle team that featured Durrett, now-Temple coach Fran Dunphy and a great defensive guard named Roland "Fatty" Taylor. According to Sonny Hill, "we tuned them up every time. Every time."

I hope that someone sits down with Sonny Hill and a tape record and downloads all of the great stories and wisdom of the man. He's knowledgeable, he's enthusiastic, he's wise, and he possesses the art of storytelling that I fear will die out after the generation that was born in the 1930's leaves us. Don't worry, he's vigorous and terrific, and I look forward to the time I get to spend with him on Sunday mornings.

Just remember to show the proper amount of respect to the legends of the game.

3 Comments:

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

I attended my first Big Five games at the Palestra in 1959. I went to Penn from 1961-1965 and missed all of FOUR games at the Palestra in that timespan when all of the Big Five teams used the Palestra as their home court. I have followed this genre of college basketball for a while now...

Ken Durett was a better player than Lionel Simmons - - who was a very good player in his own right.

Guy Rodgers was the best Temple player in school history - - with all deference to Hal Greer and Mark Macon.

My pick for best Penn player would have been Jerome Allen - - but that is a photo finish with several other players from Penn over the years including Dave Wohl.

Howard Porter was the best player from Villanova even though my favorite to watch when he got his game in high gear was Wally Jones.

Jameer Nelson is a perfectly credible pick as the best player from St. Joe's. But please do not forget the Hawk teams from the 60s with Tom Wynn and Jimmy Lynham and Matty Goukas and Cliff Anderson...

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