Friday, February 11, 2011
Posted: 1:15 p.m.
By Dave Zeitlin
Brad Wanamaker knew Maalik Wayns was a special basketball player. That part was obvious.
But when Wayns arrived at Roman Catholic as a freshman in 2005, Wanamaker and his high school teammates didnt roll out the red carpet for the up-and-coming prodigy. Instead, they did the opposite.
We kind of made things tough on him because he was one of the best players in the city as an eighth-grader, said Wanamaker, a former Roman Catholic standout and now a senior guard for the University of Pittsburgh. We had a good veteran group and we kept him level-headed and made him work for everything in practice.
We showed him its not easy coming in as a freshman and playing right away. We let him know he still needs improvement to play at Roman Catholic.
The tough love worked well, and when Wanamaker was a senior and Wayns a sophomore, Roman Catholic captured the Philadelphia Catholic League championship, beating a Neumann Goretti team led by Syracuse standouts Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson.
That was very special, Wanamaker said. That made us grow together as friends.
The two Philly guards have since grown apart at least geographically as Wanamaker left his hometown when his time at Roman Catholic ended because, he said, my mom wanted me to get away and grow, to become a man.
Wanamaker has certainly carved out a nice life for himself for Pitt, where he enjoyed a breakout junior season last year. Hes currently the senior anchor for a Panthers squad that boasts serious Final Four aspirations.
It cant get no better than my four years at Pitt, said the 6-foot-4 swingman, whos averaging 12.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season. Its the best four years of my life probably.
Two years after Wanamaker graduated high school, Wayns decided to stay home and play for Villanova, making him a Big East rival with his former Roman Catholic teammate.
The two Philly kids will be together again Saturday night at 9 p.m. when Pittsburgh (22-2 overall, 10-1 Big East) and No. 9 Villanova (19-5, 7-4) collide in a hyped showdown at the Pavilion. The ESPN College Game Day crew will be on campus for the nationally televised game but luckily playing on a big stage is nothing new for Wayns and Wanamaker. Theyve been doing it since high school.
I compare the Catholic League to the Big East, Wanamaker said. Each team brings its each and every game. You need to bring it every day, not knowing who will come out with the win.
Wayns and the Wildcats certainly got a lesson in the unpredictably of the Big East on Wednesday when they blew a big lead to Rutgers and then lost on a wild four-point play right before the buzzer.
Nova will look for redemption by beating a very powerful Pitt team Saturday. It will be a tough task to be sure, but the Wildcats do have a couple of things working in their favor. For starters, Pitts leading scorer Ashton Gibbs will likely miss his second straight game with a knee injury And secondly, the Panthers have lost six straight time at the Pavilion, the cozy gym that Nova has won 46 consecutive games in.
Wanamaker just hopes the support he hears from his own Philly people will help overcome Villanovas serious homecourt advantage.
With my family and friends there, hopefully theyll cheer louder than the Nova fans, the Pitt senior said.
Either way, Wanamaker is excited to see his old friend. But just like he did when Wayns was a high school freshman, he plans to teach the Villanova guard another lesson.
We might have some laughs and jokes before the game, Wanamaker said. But once the ball goes up, its personal. He dont know me and I dont know him.
Dj vu for Quakers
Heading into this weekends games at Cornell and Columbia, Penn could easily be unbeaten in the Ivy League and coming off wins against the conferences two best teams.
Instead, the Quakers (9-10 overall, 3-2 Ivy League) are two games back of first place and coming off two crushing losses to conference powers Harvard and Princeton.
Even worse, both losses were nearly identical with Penn falling behind big early, staging huge comebacks to force overtime (Saturdays contest vs. Harvard went to double OT), taking their first lead of the game in extra time and then making critical mistakes down the stretch to lose the lead and the game.
Im not one for moral victories, said Penn coach Jerome Allen following Tuesdays defeat to archrival Princeton. We put ourselves in that position, being down 13. We were down 18 Saturday night. Both games we should have won. We had opportunities to have the decision go in our favor, but the smallest details determine wins and losses. Its tough. But all in all, I think we have a solid group, guys who want to be coached, guys who want to play the right way.
The question now: Do the Quakers continue to show the same kind of heart they showed in making those comebacks or will the weight of these two brutally tough defeats be too much to bear?
Here come the Owls
Theyre back in the national rankings. Theyve won a conference-best five straight Atlantic 10 games and two straight on the road. Junior Scootie Randall has emerged as a big-time scorer, averaging 18.7 points per game over the teams last six games.
In other words, Dayton could be in trouble when the streaking No. 24 Temple Owls (18-5 overall, 8-2 Atlantic 10) come to town for a 1 p.m. game Saturday.
In other A-10 action, La Salle (12-13, 4-6) takes on St. Bonaventure in a road game Saturday at 4 p.m., fresh off a last-minute 78-77 win at St. Louis. Fifth-year senior Ruben Guillandeaux gave the Explorers that victory with a putback with 19 seconds left.
St. Joes (6-17, 1-8) hasnt played in a week, but the last time the Hawks did they won their first A-10 game of the season, beating UMass, 67-64, at Hagan Arena. Interestingly enough, St. Joes snapped its skid while playing without the citys leading scorer, point guard Carl Jones. But freshman Langston Galloway came up big with 25 points for the Hawks, who will now try to make it two in a row when they meet Fordham on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Switching over to the Colonial Athletic Association, Drexel (16-8, 8-6) had a three-game winning streak snapped Wednesday when it blew a 16-point lead at home vs. James Madison. Next up at the DAC is a 4 p.m. Saturday game vs. William & Mary.
Six in the City is a weekly feature on the citys six Division I college basketball programs written by CSNPhilly.com contributor Dave Zeitlin. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.