When Philadelphia University women’s basketball team plays a home game 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Gallagher Center against Bloomfield, coach Tom Shirley main focus for the televised game on ESPN3 will be to get the win.
It is truly the best game so far this season in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference. Philadelphia is 16-5 overall and 12-0 and in first place in the South Division. Bloomfield is also 16-5 and 12-0 and in first place in the North Division.
“It really is the game of the week in the conference,” Shirley said.A win on Saturday would have personal significance for Shirley. It would be his 700th career victory in his 35 years as a head coach, 27 of which are with Philadelphia. His career record is 699-325. Shirley’s record at Philadelphia is 550-252.
“Seven hundred is going to come,” Shirley said. “It is just a question of when. It would be nice to be Saturday. It certainly speaks to longevity.”
The remarkable aspect of Shirley’s accomplishment as a coach is it is one of his roles at Philadelphia. He is also the athletic director. During his 35 years of coach, 32 of them have been spent as athletic director and the other three years as associate athletic director.
Shirley doesn’t have to go far to find a coach who can relate to staying at one school for decades.
Philadelphia men’s basketball coach Herb Magee is in his 49th season. He played there when it was known at Philadelphia Textile. He never left. After his playing days concluded, the school created a position for him to be an assistant coach and four years later he became the head coach in 1967-68 season.
The Rams have been very successful during Magee’s time as head coach. His record is 1,026-404.
Philadelphia men’s basketball team, which has made the NCAA Division II tournament seven of the last nine years, is have another successful season. The Rams enter Saturday’s game 17-4 overall and 10-2 and just a half game behind first place Holy Family in the South Division of the CACC.
The Rams have overcome adversity to have a winning record.
“We lost our starting point guard the first day of practice,” Magee said. “We lost another kid who was going to be a starter. We just lost our second leading scorer last week to a torn meniscus. With all of this, we have been performing at a high level. We are very, very proud.
“That is one thing they will do is overcome adversity. For example, [Tuesday] night in the starting lineup we had a walk-on. Our sixth man is a walk-on, a former baseball player who is completing his graduate degree, and he came out for the team.”
Some of these stories and several others will be shared with the ESPN3 audience who tunes in for the men’s and women’s basketball games.
“You can’t put a price on it,” Shirley said of playing on ESPN3. “It is terrific. The exposure for the university, the department, the team, is all positive.”
Philadelphia is a college that Shirley and Magee hold in high regards and it goes beyond being able to run successful basketball programs.
“The NCAA has it President’s Award for Academic Excellence,” Shirley said. “If you have a graduation rate of 90 percent or better, you are recognized by the presidents. The three years it has been in existence, we have been in it all three years.”
Magee points out that 94 percent of last year’s graduates at Philadelphia found jobs or entered graduate programs.
“That is a pretty good percentage for a small school like ours,” Magee said. “That’s our selling point. Plus, we have a beautiful campus and it is a dynamic place to go to school and work. We see ourselves as a very high academic school that teaches life skills.”
Life skills is what Magee tries to instill in his players beyond how to shoot a basketball and rebound.
“The pleasing thing for me is when we have an alumni game and I see a bunch of my former players there and they start talking about their experience at school, the fun they had, the friends they made and of course, they always bring up how successful their teams were,” Magee said.
“These are things we try to teach them. It is not about making All-American or scoring a 1,000 points or making all-league. It is about how your team does.”
Once again, Magee and Shirley have put together teams that are having successful seasons. The women’s team is trying to make a second straight trip to the Division II tournament.
“We are a pretty experienced, veteran group of three seniors, two of whom are grad students,” Shirley said. “We have a little bit of everything. We have inside presence. We have a good shooter. We have a terrific point guard and we have what I call I defensive stopper.
“We are playing eight kids and everybody brings something different to the table. That has really helped us.”
As for the game being on television, Magee wants his players to treat Saturday’s game like all others.
“Every athlete on any level likes to perform in front of a crowd and likes to perform if they can get a stage like ESPN. They really work for that. We try not to make a big deal out of it because we don’t want them to worry about it. We want them to come out and play.
“But when they take the court Saturday, they will see a big crowd and the cameras and they will know something big time is happening. But they will give their best effort no matter if they are playing in a gym with 10 people or in a gym with a capacity crowd.”
Limestone Women’s Basketball Team Rolling Despite Four New Starters
Junior Jasmine Kearse entered this season as the only returning starter off a team that finished 34-2 and reached the NCAA Division II Final Four. In the 2013-14 season, when Kearse was a freshman, Limestone made it to the Elite Eight.
“I knew I had an important role, but coach told me not to go overboard,” said Kearse, who is averaging 21.4 points per game. “I tried to get my teammates involved and do what I could and do my part and allow them to do theirs.”
Limestone coach Corey Fox made sure Kearse understood all the burden wasn’t on her shoulders for the start of the season. He knew junior Amber Wright was ready to step into the center role and senior Maurissa Lester was ready to play guard. And senior Victoria Marshall, who saw limited action in her first three seasons, was ready to handle the chores of a starting point guard.
“A lot of the people who were here and didn’t have roles, have moved into those roles and have improved tremendously in the last year and been able to step up,” Fox said. “We are really happy with everybody getting better. We expected to be good again.”
Limestone is having another stellar season. The Saints are 16-0 overall and 11-0 and in first place in the Carolinas Conference. On Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, Limestone will play at Mount Olive in a game that will be televised on American Sports Network. The men’s game follows and will also be televised.
“It is a great opportunity for our kids to play in front of a great environment and play on TV and let a lot of family see us,” Fox said. “We are 5 hours on the road so people’s families aren’t going to be there. It is a great opportunity for friends and family to see them.”
Great team chemistry has keyed the success of this year’s team.
“The kids really like each other and get along, playing for each other,” Fox said.
“My freshman and sophomore year, we had the same team back-to-back so we knew how to play with each other and we had great chemistry,” Kearse said. “This is a whole different team, but our chemistry is pretty much the same.”
Fox said the Saints do a good job of controlling the tempo and being able to get up and down the court and play the style they want to play.
It is a formula that has led to a perfect start. Fox said the team isn’t getting caught up in being undefeated.
“We lost one early last year and it was the only one we lost until the Final Four,” Fox said. “We concentrate on the next game, doing our jobs. The next game is the biggest game. That is our focus and we will continue with that kind of focus and not worry about undefeated and those kinds of things. Once we play one, we move to the next one and have the same focus on that game.”