south philly review

Robert McKee scored 15 points in the Dec. 8 win over Del Val Charter. Staff photo by Meredith Edlow

New mindset
After sitting out junior year, Robert McKee is ready to lead his Rams back to the playoffs.
Heading into basketball season, Southern senior Robert McKee knew he didn’t want to repeat his 2005-06 performance.

After moving from Glen Mills the summer of last year, the athlete didn’t adjust too well to his new surroundings: cutting class, showing up late for school and not putting much effort into his academic work. Being ineligible, McKee was forced to watch the Rams from the sidelines.

“I had to get my head together,” the resident of 12th and Bainbridge streets said.

Now, all it takes is one look at the Rams’ Dec. 5 box score to show McKee (a.k.a. “Elevator Man,” for his dunking ability) is the real deal: 26 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in a 63-61 win over Imhotep Charter. More importantly, his jump shot with one second left in overtime sealed the victory. Nasir Johnson was credited with the assist.

“The only thing that really amazed me was the game-winning shot,” McKee said.

Coach George Anderson couldn’t be happier with the progress the 6-foot-3 18-year-old has made. “He has so much heart, which is something the team has been a little weak in,” Anderson said. “This kid refuses to give up and refuses to let any of the other guys give up.”

McKee’s new attitude will come in handy as Southern tries to build on its ’06 success, when it finished 18-10 overall, including advancing to the Public League quarterfinals where it lost to eventual champ Simon Gratz. The Rams also qualified for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association AAAA state tournament for the first time, but Cheltenham defeated them in the initial round.

McKee doesn’t plan on taking a step back. He is following the lead of big brother Tywain, a past Review Male Athlete of the Year now playing Division I basketball for Maryland-based Coppin State. The older McKee, a 6-foot-2 guard who was on Furness and Bartram high teams, is leading the Eagles with an average 21 points per game and a season-high 31 in a Dec. 1 win over La Salle. He was named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Week earlier this month after averaging 23.7 points in three contests.

“My brother has influenced me a whole lot,” McKee said. “Tywain told me to keep my head on strong and don’t let anyone take you off your score.”

Living in Glen Mills, the athlete never hit his full potential because he “wasn’t into basketball and would do dumb stuff,” McKee said, which included getting into a lot of fights.

Looking for a new setting, he moved to South Philadelphia to live with his grandma and Tywain.

He spent the majority of his junior year adjusting to his new neighborhood and school, during which McKee said he really didn’t care about the books. But poor grades means no basketball, since PIAA requires student-athletes to maintain passing marks in order to be eligible for sports.

With the help of neighborhood coach Marshall Taylor and Tywain, McKee saw that academics needed to be a top priority, especially if he wanted to play college ball.

“I had to realize, don’t do nothing to get you in trouble,” McKee said. “My brother told me to get myself together, and I can do anything I put my mind to.”

The teen has buckled down and, as far as his future goes, this is the year to showcase his game to potential suitors. Temple University coach Fran Dunphy has been seen at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue taking a look at senior teammate Ramone Moore, who averaged 17.3 points per game as a junior and scored 17 in the win against Imhotep.

With Tywain serving as inspiration, McKee sees a bright season ahead.

“I plan on coming hard every game,” McKee said.

Saints crack national top-20

The Neumann-Goretti boys basketball team enters the season as the two-time defending Catholic League champ. Like last year, they’re rated in the top 25 in several national polls, including USA Today, which has the school from 10th and Moore streets at No. 16.

“It’s what happens when you have two national players,” coach Carl Arrigale said of the ranking. “Sometimes, when you finally break through, they pay attention to your program and you have a chance to hang around there.”

The two “national players” are seniors Rick Jackson and Antonio “Scoop” Jardine, who will both play for Syracuse University in fall 2007. Several national college recruiting services have the seniors ranked in the top 50 in their class. Jackson averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior, while Jardine tallied 11 points and six assists a contest. The ’06 squad defeated Roman Catholic for the Catholic League title and finished 24th nationally in the USA Today poll with a 22-6 record.

Like previous seasons, the South Philly squad will play a tough schedule with trips to Maryland, Syracuse and North Carolina this month and a visit to Springfield, Mass., in January. The slate includes games against Maryland-based Towson Catholic, nationally rated No. 13, and DeMatha, who is No. 3.

One of the additions to the Neumann-Goretti lineup is freshman Tony Cheannault, who Arrigale expects to get more time once he’s acclimated to the high school basketball system. Cheannault drew nationwide attention on the summer Amateur Athletic Union scene.

Returning junior starter Jamal Wilson is receiving early interest from a wide range of Division I schools. Arrigale said Temple University is very interested in the prospect.

“[Wilson] worked on his shot a lot over the summer,” the coach said. “He always had the athletic ability. His upside is great as far as the next level goes.”

For now, all eyes — nationally and in the Catholic League — are on the Saints as a team.