By RICH FLANAGAN Two years ago, Philly Live was one of the premiere events of the live recruiting period on the East Eoast. Held at Jefferson University, high school teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Florida and more came to Philadelphia to get exposure in front of some of the best college basketball programs in the country. After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Philly Live will return to Philadelphia for two sessions on the campus of Saint Joseph’s Prep. Session I will be held from June 18-20 and Session II will be June 25-27. The event is once again being run by Archbishop Wood head coach John Mosco and Imhotep Charter head coach Andre Noble. Mosco, fresh off a Philadelphia Catholic League title and PIAA Class 6A title game appearance, could not be happier to have the event back for so many players and programs that went under recruited throughout the shortened season played during the pandemic. “It’s great for the kids and to have everyone back and playing again,” Mosco said. “Philadelphia lifted the mask mandate on Friday. We’re going to have coaches and players coming in to be recruited whereas last year it was hard for anyone to be recruited. Coaches are out, back on the road and looking at players.” Archbishop Wood (Pa.) graduated a starting lineup of five seniors, four of whom will be playing at the Division I level in Rahsool Diggins (UConn), Marcus Randolph (Richmond), Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle) and Jaylen Stinson (James Madison). An event with the intrigue and presence like Philly Live certainly helped with the recruitment of Mosco’s players and he expects the turnout from college head and assistant coaches to be vast. Kentucky, Villanova, UConn, Penn State and Providence are expected to have coaches in attendance starting Friday. In 2019, “close to 400 came over the two weekends” with the “who’s who and all of those coaches being out on the road again,” according to Mosco. Compared to AAU live period events, Philly Live allows players to showcase their talent on their own high school roster. While AAU can sometimes be a nonstop array of dunks and highlight reel plays, seeing players in a more controlled environment with the focus being more on team offensive and defensive principles gives college coaches a better overall view of the player. Mosco stresses the importance of having AAU and high school programs working hand in hand. “It’s my belief, high schools need to work well with AAU and vice versa,” Mosco said. “They’re getting exposure on AAU but they also need to get exposure on their high school team. If a kid that plays for a premiere AAU team, they may be the fifth or sixth option whereas the first or second option on their high school team.” With Philly Live set to tipoff this weekend, here are some players to watch during Session I:
- D.J. Wagner and Camden (N.J.) will be a must-watch team during Session I. Wagner, the 6-foot-3 point guard, was recently named 2020-21 N.J. Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 22.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals this season. His dad, Dajuan, won the award in 1999-2000 before going on to play for John Calipari at Memphis. The 2023 guard has led the Panthers to a 42-1 record in his first two years. Expect Calipari and his staff to be keeping a close eye on Wagner. Other Camden players to watch include 7-foot 2023 forward Aaron Bradshaw, the Roselle Catholic transfer who holds offers from LSU, Seton Hall and Miami (Fla.), and 6-5 2023 forward Cornelius Robinson, who holds offers from Siena and Rider and has seen his stock rise in recent months.
- 2022 forward Christian Fermin has taken unofficial visits to Temple and St. Joe’s and had an official visit to VCU over the last week. The 6-10 Pocono Mountain West (Pa.) big man avg. 17.5 points, 12 rebounds and 6.0 blocks per game this season and earned Pa. All-State Class 6A Second Team honors. He holds offers from St. John’s, Hofstra and St. Bonaventure, among others. His versatility is what has put him on college coaches’ radar and that should continue as he heads into his senior season.
- 2024 guard Malachi Palmer has only played one high school season but he has already racked up offers from Arizona State, LSU, Creighton, Georgetown, Maryland, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, DePaul and Virginia Tech. The 6-5 combo guard avg. 12.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season in leading Central Dauphin (Pa.) to a 16-2 record. He is one of the most heralded prospects in the state and the offers should only continue to come in as he improves.
- First Love Christian Academy (Pa.) will enter Philly Live with a plethora of Division I prospects on display. 2022 point guard Mason Manning holds offers from Baylor, Illinois, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech. The 6-1 prospect is one to watch, especially when his team goes against Philadelphia Public League champion, Imhotep on Friday. 2022 forward Fray Nguimbi boasts offers from Alabama, Dayton, Iowa State and Rutgers. The 6-9 lanky big man can play multiple positions and has expanded his range. Two other prospects to watch are D.J. Jackson, the 6-4 2022 guard with offers from Seton Hall and USF, and E.J. Paymon Jr., the 6-8 2024 forward who recently picked an offer from Ole Miss.
- Imhotep will showcase 2023 prospects Justin Edwards and Rahmir Barno. Edwards, the 6-6 athletic left-handed forward, has offers from Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, DePaul and Miami (Fla.). Barno, the 5-11 combo guard, boasts offers from Temple, Drexel, La Salle and Hofstra. Both have been sensational with Team Final this spring and this event will give them another forum to show what they can do.
- As Chris McNesby, taking over for Matt Griffin who joined Dwayne Killings’ staff at Albany, returns to the sideline at the helm of Roman Catholic, he will have two terrific perimeter players to help him get back in the swing of things. Daniel Skillings Jr. avg. 19.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game this season. The 6-6 2022 forward holds offers from Temple, Drexel, La Salle, Iona, Robert Morris and Albany. Khalil Farmer avg. avg. 19.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. The 6-4 2022 guard boasts offers from Robert Morris, Boston University, Marist, Binghamton, Albany and NJIT. Skillings and Farmer led the Cahillites to the Philadelphia Catholic League title game.
- With Nisine Poplar having moved on to Miami (Fla), 2022 point guard Jaheim Bethea will take over the Math, Civics & Sciences (Pa.) offense. For anyone who has been watching or keeping up with Team Final this spring, they have seen the 6-foot lefty leading a group consisting of Jalen Duren, Emoni Bates, Dereck Lively, Jameel Brown, Justice Williams and Corey Floyd. Each of those player’s exploits speak for themselves and Bethea has been a focal reason for that. Bethea avg. 9.0 ppg this season and enters the summer with offers from McNeese State and Saint Peter’s.
- Executive Education Academy Charter (Pa.) is led by 6-6 2022 guard Jeremiah Bembry, who holds offers from LSU, Columbia, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Rutgers, Oregon State, Temple, UC Santa Barbara and Seton Hall, to name a few. He avg. 13.8 ppg this season in leading the Raptors to the PIAA 3A quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual champion, Loyalsock.
- 2023 Reading (Pa.) guard Ruben Rodriguez is still an under-the-radar prospect but after his performance this season, particularly in March, that should change rather quickly. The 6-1 floor general avg. 14.6 points per game and hit 40 three-pointers in leading the Red Knights to the PIAA 6A crown over Archbishop Wood. He had 12 points, all in the second half, and went 3-for-4 at the free-throw line to close out the title.