Jerome Allen, Hakim Warrick pay it back to West Philly with Battle for I-95
With marquee event coming to Penn, hoops coach and home-grown star are focused on the community
September 20, 2011, 10:07 pm · Updated September 22, 2011, 3:28 am·
Michael Chien | DP
On Sunday night, when the bright lights shine down on the Palestra floor and the stands rumble with excitement just before the Team Philly-Team Melo tip-off, Philadelphia natives Hakim Warrick and Jerome Allen will likely take a moment to soak it in.
Warrick, a Phoenix Suns forward who grew up just blocks away from the Penn campus, will play his first official game on the hallowed court of “The Cathedral of College Basketball.”
Allen, on the other hand, will likely have some flashbacks to his own playing days at Penn in the ’90s, when game nights had fans crammed on top of one another in standing-room only sections.
But what should hit the two most of all as the ball is jumped at center court is the fact that each of them helped make this game happen — and each in turn helped give back to his home city.
It was Warrick who first got the wheels turning on a plan to recruit the best basketball players from Philadelphia to play host against his former Syracuse teammate, Carmelo Anthony, and other players from the Baltimore-Washington area. Little did he know LeBron James would later sign on to play.
Warrick made some calls and told ESPN that his first choice for a venue would be Penn’s own Palestra. The 29-year-old — who attended numerous Big 5 games at the historic gym and used to sneak onto the athletic fields at Penn and Drexel while growing up — had good reason.
“When you think of all the history of college basketball, the Big 5 and even high-school basketball as well and Philadelphia basketball,” Warrick said, “you think of the Palestra, so … that was definitely my number one choice.”
With Anthony on board, the plans for the game began to take shape and Rahim Thompson — founder and organizer of a Philadelphia high-school summer basketball league named “The Chosen League” — entered the fold.
Thompson, who had numerous contacts through the nature of his work and as a Philadelphia native, reached out to his “mentor,” Allen, for help when he learned Warrick wanted the game to be held at the Palestra.
The Penn basketball coach was more than willing to oblige, and Thompson credits Allen for pointing him in the direction of the right people, explaining that “this game would not have happened at the Palestra,” were it not for the man known to his friends as “Pooh.”
For fellow Philadelphia natives, Warrick and Allen’s involvement in making this game happen in the city of Brotherly Love should come as no surprise.
Warrick still stays in touch with the West Philadelphia Community Center, where he grew up playing basketball. He will even return this Saturday to speak and shoot hoops with the children there, according to Zamir Cobb, the assistant director at the center.
“I think [the kids] are more excited about that than the game because they actually get to be personable with [Warrick],” Cobb said.
The community center will also be one of the many area groups to receive a share of the proceeds from the game.
Allen, meanwhile, is about as committed to local youth and the city as they come.
The “Hood Enriched” program he spearheaded a few years ago has given local kids athletic and academic opportunities they may not have otherwise had, and his motivation for helping make this game happen derived from his commitment to the community rather than the prospect of watching NBA superstars take the court in his own backyard.
“I think this game came into existence because some NBA players saw a way that they could give back to the community in their idle time,” Allen said. NBA players are in a holding pattern until the league resolves its ongoing lockout.
“They were still conscious enough to say, ‘We still have an opportunity to service the community,’ and not only [do] we have an opportunity, it’s our obligation. And that’s really why I signed on to help.”
When the final whistle blows sometime around 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, Hakim Warrick and Jerome Allen should break out in a smile, knowing that they played a role in organizing one of their home city’s greatest basketball games ever.