The 2003 basketball season was a crushing one for the Southern Rams. The contenders were psyched for a title run, but just as the playoffs were to begin, the team was forced to forfeit all but one of its 11 victories due to having an ineligible player on the roster.
The Rams were left out in the cold. Now they’re back — with gusto.
Although the start of the 2003-04 basketball season is several months away, the local squad has put the rest of the Public League on notice with a 9-1 record in the recently completed Greater Philadelphia Summer League. The Rams, one of four teams to finish with a 7-0 record in league play, remained undefeated until falling 65-58 to Roman Catholic in the semifinals.
Southern did all this without its full roster of players. Some of the Rams have spent the summer playing in Amateur Athletic Union national tournaments, while others competed in the Sonny Hill League. Forward-center Shawn Saab, who earned Greater Philadelphia League MVP honors, missed the last two weeks of play with a sprained wrist. As a result, coach George Anderson had just five athletes to suit up for the semifinal game.
"Even with all that, we still had a strong team," he said.
Anderson, who is entering his 10th season as the Rams basketball coach, said this is the first time he can remember struggling to get consistent attendance at summer league games.
The Greater Philadelphia League provides championship hopefuls an early start to the season, but some players choose the AAU tournaments because they offer more exposure to college scouts.
Saab, who will be a senior, already is drawing interest from Division I and II schools. He was the Rams’ leading scorer last season with 18 points per game, and just raised his profile by earning the summer league MVP honors.
"I think his stock has gone up over the summer," Anderson said. "He stayed close to home and showed what he could do in Philly."
Saab said he was surprised to receive the nod, but said the best thing to come out of the league experience was his team’s improvement.
"We had a lot of contributions from guys who didn’t do things last year," the player said.
That includes classmate Steven Rudd, who closed out the summer with team MVP honors.
"We made a lot of progress," Rudd said. "[The summer performance] gives us more confidence."
The morale booster was much needed for Southern after last season’s heartbreaking finish. The Rams were leading the Division D race with an 11-1 record, making them a serious threat for a Public League championship. Once Anderson realized he had an ineligible player on his roster, those 11 wins became losses, and those championship hopes turned into season-ending frustration. The returning players are ready to move forward.
"Everybody was mad about what happened last season," Rudd said. "We believe we can win it all this year."
Anderson also has taken steps that he believes will prevent a similar incident. He lightened his athletic load by resigning as the boys’ soccer coach, and will now serve as the academic principal of Southern’s new Health and Hospitality Academy.
"Rather than try and do all those things and mess up, I chose to back off some things," the coach said.
The players are also showing their determination to win.
Anderson was especially impressed with junior Kashief Carr, "who emerged as an unstoppable scorer" this summer. Fellow junior Jahlil Harris, a West Philadelphia High transfer, along with senior Ryan Williams and junior Amir Ryan, are also ready to make key contributions.
Senior Antoine "Doo Dirty" Brown will be returning as the team’s starting point guard. The Third Team All-Public selection averaged 11.8 points per game last season. Brown recently spent two weeks in Las Vegas and Orlando playing in AAU basketball tournaments and is attracting interest from several Division I schools, including Louisville and Duquesne. A strong senior year on the basketball court and in the classroom will help land big-time scholarship offers.
Come December, the Rams will channel their talent into a chase for the team’s first championship since 1987.
Though they will face their Public League opponents’ full rosters — unlike in the summer league — the athletes are confident of their chances.
"They know they can win a championship," Anderson said. "They are very confident, sometimes too confident. It’s going to be a great challenge coaching a team this talented."