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.

The Philly fan who gave Russell Westbrook double bird said he was called fat

The Philly fan who gave Russell Westbrook double bird said he was called fat

Philly fans have a bad reputation. This isn't going to change anytime soon.

Regardless of which side of the Philly fan debate you fall, you'd probably agree fans shouldn't give the double bird mere feet from the athletes who are playing in front of them.

You've almost assuredly seen it by now, the image and footage of a Sixers fan flipping off Russell Westbrook last night in the highly-anticipated season debut. He was subsequently removed from his seats by security.

The New York Post got to the bottom of it all and even tracked down the fan's response on Facebook:

Dr. Richard Harkaway, a Philadelphia urologist who is originally from Long Island, wrote that it was Westbrook who initiated the confrontation, which ended with Harkaway being tossed from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during the 76ers’ season-opening loss.

“To all my FB friends who are seeing a picture of me on the Internet giving the finger to Russell Westbrook. Actually two fingers,’’ Harkaway wrote in a private post. “Not as simple as it seems. I love to scream at the players and anyone who has been to a game with me knows this. Part of my charm. What you may not have seen on any of the video clips is what started the whole thing, which was Russell Westbrook saying ‘sit down f—ing fat boy’ when I stood up to boo.”

Do two wrongs make a right? Probably not. Being rude is being rude.

Do you think this fan's actions were justified after reading his response on Facebook?

Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera Gold Glove finalists at SS, CF

Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera Gold Glove finalists at SS, CF

Two Phillies are in the running for a 2016 Rawlings Gold Glove.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis and centerfielder Odubel Herrera were named National League finalists at their position on Thursday. Winners will be announced on Nov. 9. Galvis and Herrera are both finalists for the first time.

Galvis joins San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford, a Gold Glove winner in 2015, and the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell as finalists at shortstop.

Herrera is a finalist in center field along with Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte.

Galvis, who turns 27 in November, committed himself to improving his defense after making 17 errors in 2015 and he did that with a career season in the field in 2016. He led all NL shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage and made just eight errors in 625 total chances while earning praise from Phillies’ infield guru Larry Bowa.

Galvis led the NL with 153 starts at shortstop and had errorless streaks of 51 and 44 games. At the plate, he reached career highs in doubles (26), homers (20), extra-base hits (49) and RBIs (67). On the down side, Galvis hit just .241 and his .274 on-base percentage was the worst in the majors.

Herrera, who turns 25 in December, began his career as an infielder in the Texas system and completed just his second season in the outfield in 2016. His credentials for a Gold Glove are not nearly as good as Galvis’. Herrera’s nine errors were the second-most among major-league outfielders, but he had 11 assists, fourth-most among NL outfielders.

The Phillies selected Herrera in the Rule 5 draft in 2014. They selected Inciarte in the Rule 5 draft in 2012 and he opened the 2013 season on the Phils’ roster, but was shipped back to his original club, Arizona, during the first week of that season.