Digger Phelps, in town for College GameDay, is already quite familiar with the Palestra – from the 1960s

Digger Phelps, in town for College GameDay, is already quite familiar with the Palestra – from the 1960s

There are many things you can read to get excited for today’s Palestra visit from the ESPN College GameDay Crew, starting with this ESPN.com piece from Dana O’Neill on everyone’s favorite retired Palestra custodian, Dan Harrell, and ending (key word: ending) with Nick Menta’s writeup about T-shirts or something for The Level.

But what you probably won’t see in any of the pieces about the Palestra is the interesting connection that College GameDay commentator Digger Phelps has to the glorious old building on 33rd Street.

Well, aside from this Tweet from Rece Davis, who brought to light Phelps’ past life as an assistant basketball coach from Penn in the late 1960s.


Luckily, as The 700 Level’s beat writer on Penn assistant coaches from the late 1960s, I can share a few stories on Phelps’ time at the Palestra, having interviewed him (and a few of his old players) for this piece I wrote a few years ago on the 1970-71 Penn basketball team that won every game until getting trounced in the NCAA tournament by Villanova. (It’s entitled “Almost Perfect” but I can assure you the story itself is PERFECT, so you should read the whole damn thing).

So for all of you diehard Digger fans out here, here are a few highlights:

  • Tom Petroff is the reason that Phelps was a successful coach at Notre Dame for a couple of decades and is now that guy on ESPN that matches the color of his highlighters to his tie. Who’s Tom Petroff? He was the Rider baseball coach while Phelps played basketball there, and knowing Digger quite well, he demanded that his friend Dick Harter hire Phelps as an assistant when Harter took over the Penn basketball program in 1966. Harter agreed and now Digger’s face is on the side of the College GameDay bus. Thank you, Tom Petroff.
  • Although Phelps left Penn after the 1969-70 season to take the head coaching job at Fordham and then Notre Dame, he recruited many of the star players on the 1970-71 Quakers team that, at one point, was ranked No. 3 in the nation. One of those players was Bob Morse, who he watched play at Kennett High School alongside future Sixers coach Jim Lynam (then an assistant at St. Joe’s) one day. Lynam didn’t like Morse because he was a big man shooting jump shots – at which point Phelps told him, “Wow, I like him because he’s a scorer and can shoot from the perimeter.” Morse went on to became an all-time great at Penn and one of the best players in European basketball history, while Lynam will forever be haunted by passing on him (probably not).
  • He drove a little red Mustang on his all of his recruiting visits. (You're welcome for this truly remarkable detail.)
  • Early in Phelps’ tenure at Penn, he remembers seeing a sign from an opposing team that said “Big 4 and Penn,” as if to indicate Penn was worse than the other four city schools. The nerve! But Digger had the last laugh. After Penn went a perfect 4-0 in the Big 5 in 1969-70, he turned to the late, great Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson on press row at the Palestra and said, “Do you remember that sign from a few years ago? Yeah, they were right. It is the Big 4 – and Penn.” Do you get it? Because the Quakers were in a league of their own!
  • Digger also coached the freshman team at Penn (freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity back then), and on the first day of practice in 1968, he gathered his players at the center of the Palestra floor – a group that included Morse, future NBA star Corky Calhoun and a player named Alan Cotler (who told me this juicy story about Digger’s glorious disdain for Princeton – Penn’s biggest rival). “He pointed an index finger at each of our chests and said, ‘I just want you guys to know one thing,'” Cotler told me. “You’re at Penn now for one [bleeping] reason – and that’s to beat the [bleeping] Tigers.”

Someone please bring a sign that says that to the Palestra today.

Today's lineup: Phillies try to salvage game against struggling Anibal Sanchez

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Today's lineup: Phillies try to salvage game against struggling Anibal Sanchez

Justin Verlander mowed down the Phillies last night in a 3-1 Tigers victory, but the Phils have a chance to strike back this afternoon against a struggling pitcher who hasn't had much career success against them.

Anibal Sanchez will take the hill for the Tigers and oppose Aaron Nola in today's series finale (1:10 p.m. on CSN). To say Sanchez hasn't had a great start to his season would be an understatement. He's 3-5 with a 6.32 ERA and opponents are batting .270 against him.

In his career against the Phillies, Sanchez is just 4-8 with a 4.94 ERA. Granted, most of those numbers came in the early part of his career with the Florida Marlins, when he regularly faced powerful Phillies lineups. As one might expect, Ryan Howard, who is again in the lineup today as the designated hitter and batting fifth, has seen Sanchez plenty of times. His 42 at-bats against Sanchez are tied for third-most against the 32-year-old righty. Howard's done OK against Sanchez — 9 for 31 (.290 average) with two homers and four RBI. Maybe some familiarity will finally lead to a breakout game for Howard. But, if his massive slump is any indication, maybe not.

For as poor as Sanchez's start to the season has been, Aaron Nola's first six weeks of 2016 have been at the other end of the spectrum.

Today's Phillies starter is 3-3 with a 2.85 ERA. But he's been better than those numbers show.

His .900 WHIP is third in the NL, as is his 5.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 6.45 hits allowed per nine innings is fourth in the NL, as is his 1.65 walks per nine innings. His 64 strikeouts rank eighth in the NL. Imagine if he got more than the 2.89 runs of support he's been getting in his starts.

As for the rest of the Phillies' lineup today, the only changes see Andres Blanco getting the start for Cesar Hernandez, batting seventh and Cameron Rupp behind the plate, batting sixth.

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera CF
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Ryan Howard DH
6. Cameron Rupp C
7. Andres Blanco 2B
8. Tyler Goeddell LF
9. Peter Bourjos 1B

Tigers
1. Cameron Maybin CF
2. J.D. Martinez RF
3. Miguel Cabrera DH
4. Victor Martinez 1B
5. Nick Castellanos 3B
6. Steven Moya LF
7. James McCann C
8. Mike Aviles 2B
9. Jose Iglesias SS

Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

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Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

The Phillies once again couldn't find much offense and fell to the Tigers in Detroit last night by a final of 3-1.

But at least the pitching showed something.

There was a fun moment between Jeremy Hellickson and Miguel Cabrera after Hellickson threw quite a nice pitch that fooled Miggy.

Here's how Jim Salisbury described the fun battle:

Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.

And here's the thumbs up:

Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

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Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

Eagles rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans will report to training camp on Monday, July 25. 

The rest of the veterans will report on July 27, with the first full-team practice of training camp taking place on Thursday, July 28 at 3:30 p.m., the team announced Wednesday. 

The majority of training camp practices this summer under Doug Pederson will take place at the NovaCare Complex, beginning at 8:15 a.m., which is earlier than the team practiced during camp under former head coach Chip Kelly. The early practices hark back to training camps under Andy Reid at Lehigh, although now the team will have its walkthroughs in the afternoon. 

The Eagles will have two practices open to fans at Lincoln Financial Field: Sunday, July 31 at 10 a.m. and Sunday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. Both open practices are free and don't require tickets. Seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The Eagles will have several off days throughout camp: Aug. 2, Aug. 9, Aug. 12. And camp ends on Aug. 16, with the preseason opener vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs in the middle, on Aug. 11.