Junior guard Anthony Brown, with ball, has proven the offensive centerpiece for the Knights. (Photo provided by Eric Funaro)
When learning ahead of last season that his junior varsity basketball players at Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School would earn varsity status for the 2016–17 season, Eric Funaro expected that the leap would inspire hard-fought efforts, particularly in tight contests. The coach continued to call the boys’ hoopsters heroic Jan. 12 as they gutted out an 82–72 victory over High School of the Future at the Guerin Recreation Center.
“With each game, I believe we’re becoming more of a team,” he aid from the Newbold venue. “We’re realizing what can happen when we stay together and remain accountable to one another.”
Funaro and his Center City-based ballers received ample support at the homecoming contest, with fans hoping to witness yet another special afternoon from star Anthony Brown. A chief factor in helping the Knights to race to a tie for first in the Public League’s American Division coming in, his scoring touch has certainly impressed Funaro, but another element possesses more potency.
“I think his presence on both sides of the ball is key to causing a lot of confusion for teams,” the Girard Estate resident said of the junior sharpshooter and ball hawk. “Some guys like to score primarily while other guys get a kick out of playing exceptional defense. Then there are kids like Anthony.”
“We were definitely excited to jump to varsity because we knew we’d have to ask for more from ourselves,” Brown said to a nod from fellow scoring threat Tyler Spann. “If you’re not willing to give more at this level, why are you even bothering to play for a team?”
Brown, who resides in East Passyunk Crossing, has become Funaro’s undisputed scoring king, but plenty of teams have faltered, no matter their amateur or professional status, because of a failure to find secondary marksmen. In last week’s contest, the home crew wanted to prove its balance as it looked to hit double digits in the win column.
Fans of disciplined basketball might have felt compelled to cover their eyes in the opening stages, as the quick pace from the hosts and the guests yielded little flow. With interior opportunities resulting in tight defense coupled with confounding misses, the Knights took to the perimeter, with three-point daggers by Brown, Spann and senior forward Moussa Gandega helping them to generate a 21–14 lead after the first quarter. Its successor played out the same way, but on the defensive side, the adolescents struggled for consistency, especially when reaching for rebounds, leading Funaro to feel they should have entered the locker room with a wider margin.
“I want for you to lock it down because there are too many lanes opening up for them,” he observed. “We need to bring up the intensity no matter who has the ball, though. Let’s get at them and make this all about coming through in front of our fans.”
Many local sports aficionados have seen enough interesting matchups that they know full well that “Anything can happen in the pub.” Public League encounters have become notorious breeding grounds for odd circumstances, and the third quarter brought one such head-scratching occasion when it appeared that the visitors’ score was not correct, leading to cheers and jeers as the referees looked to make sure all went smoothly.
“It is weird how stuff can play out when you’re playing a game that’s pretty important for both teams,” Funaro said of his squad, which entered last week’s game with a 6–1 league mark, and its opponents, a 3–4 Division D member coveting consistency. “In this division, too, it’s amazing how little things can be major factors in determining the outcome of a game.”
As High School of the Future’s coaching staff grumbled about the scoreboard, Knights’ supporters began to wonder if their hardwood heroes would be able to sustain their focus, with discussions on the proper tally appearing to throw them off. Fortunately, though, just as the adversaries made their advance, the division leaders showed why the push toward the playoffs will be exciting when Guerin is the setting.
“I’d say our energy is the strongest part of this team,” Spann said “We were able to feed off each other and the fans, too, and I think those are what got us this win.”
A thrilling final quarter saw the Southwest Philly resident notch eight of his 21 points, with Brown going off for 12, including six free throws, as the Knights completed the never-dull wire-to-wire victory.
“This is three strong fourth quarters in a row,” Funaro, who learned about how to close out games when playing for coach Art Kratchman at Girard Academic Music Program, said. “Like with every game, we’re going to find some things that you would have wanted to have done better, but this is a nice effort, and it’s proof that we’re growing as a varsity team.”
“We have to keep the intensity up no matter the score, moment, the opponent, whatever,” Brown, who pushed his league scoring average to 28.6 thanks to a 29-point display, said. “We’re not happy just with being a good team in the regular season because we want to do well in the playoffs, too.”
Funaro recalled how Kratchman, still patrolling the bench for the Girard Estate-based institution, preached becoming stronger as February would beckon and intends to make the march to next month an exploration of the Knights’ might.
“We’ll see who we are,” the coach, whose club defeated Esperanza 74–52 on Tuesday and who hosts Franklin Learning Center today at 3:30 p.m., said. “The top five team in our division make the playoffs, and we think we’ll be in the thick of it all and ready to make some noise.” SPR
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at southphillyreview.com/sports/features.