Western Pennsylvania may have the market cornered when it comes to football in the Keystone State, but there is no doubt where the best basketball teams and the most talented players reside: A small little corner in southeastern Pennsylvania, in and surrounding Philadelphia.
It's the area that's produced two of the greatest players that have ever played the game — Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant. And year after year, southeast Pennsylvania continues to produce.
District 1, which comprises the four counties surrounding Philadelphia (Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks Counties), has produced six of the last seven PIAA Class AAAA (large school) state champions, including the last four. Philadelphia Public League power Imhotep has dominated the Class AA state title, winning two of the last three crowns. Then there is Neumann-Goretti, which has won two straight Class AAA state titles.
This season, traditional powerhouse Chester, the defending PIAA Class AAAA champion, has a chance to do something no other large-school team has done in more than 20 years: Win consecutive state championships. The Clippers have won seven state titles (1983, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2008, and 2011), but never back-to-back titles. The last Class AAAA team to win back-to-back titles was Billy Owens-led Carlisle from 1985-88.
There may not be a more concentrated area in the country with as much talent and potent teams as southeastern Pennsylvania. Here's a look at best of the best:Teams
1. Chester (Pa.):
Everything begins and ends with the Clippers. They went 31-1 last season and are rated No. 13 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Boys Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
. It's a loaded team with the talent nucleus back, led by 6-foot-7 junior point guard Rondae Jefferson
, 6-3 senior forward Erikk Wright
, 6-5 junior forward Richard Granberry
and 6-4 senior guard Tymier Butler
. Coach Larry Yarbray does a good job of keeping his team grounded, considering all the hype surrounding this team, not to mention a 26-game winning streak entering this season.2. Sts. Neumann & Goretti (Philadelphia):
The Saints keep churning out state titles. They went 27-4 last year in winning their second-straight Class AAA state title, and return a sound nucleus in seniors Derrick Stewart
and Billy Shank
, along with junior John Davis
, a 6-4 forward. Coach Carl Arrigale likes to run a balanced, pressure game, which no team in the Philadelphia Catholic League may be able to keep up with again this year.3. Constitution (Philadelphia):
The Generals reached the PIAA Class A state semifinals last year, losing to Math, Civics & Sciences Charter. This year expect a big difference, because Constitution has picked up 6-7 Savon Goodman
, arguably the best player in the Philadelphia area. Constitution, which is not a charter school, went 26-5 in its third year in existence as a program. Coach Rob Moore is not afraid to buck up against the best, with Chester, Friends Central and Council Rock North on the schedule. That could be because Moore also has 6-2 senior guard Daiquan Walker
, arguably one of the top five players in the Philadelphia area. Add into the mix 6-7 transfer Craig Slade
and Constitution will be an interesting team to watch. "I don't think we have one easy game on our schedule this year," Moore said. "One big problem we had last year is we got complacent blowing teams out and that doesn't prepare you mentally for big games."4. Friends' Central (Wynnewoode, Pa.):
It's too bad the Phoenix play in the Friends Schools League, and don't compete in the PIAA (Pennsylvania's state governing body). The Phoenix are led by one of the best players in the nation, 6-8 Amile Jefferson
, who will be joined by 6-2 junior guard Karonn Davis
and 5-11 sophimore guard Conrad Chambers
. The guard's goal this season is simple: Get the ball into Jefferson's hands. Friends Central will be playing for something, going for a fourth-straight Pennsylvania Independent Schools state title, after going 22-4 last year.5. Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia):
The Panthers were 31-3 and won the Class AA state championship and their second state title in three years. They also have won three straight Philadelphia Public League championships, with sights set on a fourth-straight because of returning 6-2 senior guard Khyree Wooten
and 6-7 junior guard Brandon Austin
. They'll get help from Jalil Myers
and 6-6 junior Nigel Grant
. "We may be playing up to four freshmen this year," Panthers' coach Andre Noble said. "I'm expecting us to grow as the season progresses, and with Khyree and Brandon, we have two special players." Players
Savon Goodman (Constitution):
Rated No. 58 in MaxPreps' Top 100 for the Class of 2012
, the 6-7, 215-pound senior forward changed schools, transferring from Academy of the New Church to Philadelphia Public League powerhouse Constitution. He decommitted from Villanova, but still says Villanova is in the picture, along with UCLA, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech, Temple and Oregon. There's no doubting Goodman's skills and ability. His issue was getting himself together academically, where in the first marking period at Constitution he's scored three A's and one B for a 3.75 GPA.
"Savon absolutely has a shot at qualifying," Constitution coach Rob Moore said. "He will have a qualifying GPA this year, and honestly, he's a joy to coach. He has shown me he can do no wrong. His aunt is raising him and his two sisters; the teachers at the school love the kid. I think this is what he needed, he needed a new environment and he's doing all the right things. He's exceeding expectations. I think there was a lot of pressure at ANC with basketball and academics and socially. It's different here. Savon has reached a comfort zone with his teammates and the school." Amile Jefferson (Friends Central):
The athletic 6-8 senior forward is rated No. 12 overall in the Class of 2012 by MaxPreps, after averaging 17.7 points and nine rebounds a game last year. Jefferson, who's receiving interest from Kentucky, Stanford, Ohio State and Villanova, has extended his game in recent years. He could be the best post player in the area.Rondae Jefferson (Chester):
No relation to Amile, but he is the younger brother of Temple junior forward Rahlir Jefferson. Rondae is polished offensively, can handle the ball and played a vital role in Chester winning the 2011 state championship. The 6-8 point guard averaged 8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4 assists a game last season. Villanova and Temple are very interested, though his dream school is North Carolina. Once Tar Heels' coach Roy Williams takes a closer look, that offer may come soon for this charismatic talent.
Rysheed Jordan (Vaux):
The 6-5, 185-pound junior guard seems to still be growing. Jordan exploded at the Reebok Breakout Camp last summer, averaging 17 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds a game. He likes to attack the rim, possesses a solid shot and he's shown he can anticipate defensively. He's also garnered the attention of the major locals Temple, Villanova, La Salle, St. Joseph's, Penn State and Drexel, plus Georgetown has shown interest. "Rysheed is projected to play the point in college," said Vaux (Philadelphia)
coach Jamie Ross. "He proved this summer he could play both ends of the court consistently. We knew how good Rysheed was as a freshman, and that all came out this summer."Daniel Ochefu (Westtown School):
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound senior center is the only one on this list with a set college destination — Villanova. He's coming off a season in which he averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds a game for Westtown (Pa.)
. What makes Ochefu so attractive is he can handle the ball and has added some range on his shot.Watch more videos of Academy of the New Church basketball