Neumann's Fowler Teaming With Success

Posted: April 14, 1997

Racial tension?

What racial tension?

Though St. John Neumann High is located at 26th and Moore on the fringe of troubled Grays Ferry, James Fowler, African-American, says he feels completely comfortable in the largely white student body.

``I'm the most popular guy in South Philly,'' he said, laughing. ``Whatever little racist activity might be going on in the neighborhood, it doesn't come inside our school.

``Everybody's cool. I get along with everybody. I'm treated like I'm one of them. I don't have nothing against nobody.''

Fowler's popularity rating surged from good to great last month as he helped Neumann - with four blacks among the six key players - win its first Catholic League basketball championship since 1985.

``With us, color didn't matter,'' he said. ``All we wanted to do was get it together as one unit.

``When you walk the hallways, you can still feel the excitement. Everybody's still talking about the championship. And when I go other places, I'm still getting congratulations from people I haven't seen in a while. It's a nice feeling. Real nice.''

Fowler was talking yesterday at St. Joseph's University after the 11th annual All-Star Labor Classic, which had given him a second opportunity over the weekend to display his talents.

His team, the City, was squashed by the Suburbs, 100-78, but Fowler hustled for 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists in his standard 12 minutes of playing time. In the All-City Basketball Challenge Saturday night at the Salvation Army Gym, Broad and Fairmount, Fowler had contributed 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists as Blue outlasted Red, 135-125.

``I'm a little tired, but not much,'' Fowler said. ``I'm always playing anyway. Might as well be in real games.

``It's good to get around and play with and against guys you're not that familiar with. Some of these suburban guys, I didn't know anything about them.''

The City's first unit included four Catholic League representatives - Fowler, Neumann teammate Victor Thomas, Roman Catholic's Curtis King and West Catholic's Jasmine Williams - and Public Leaguer Sharif Brown (Edward Bok Tech).

``We did great,'' he said, correctly.

And the other two units, with eight PL players among the 10, messed things up?

``I didn't say that,'' he said, laughing.

Fowler had to be careful. He played at West Philadelphia as a freshman and sophomore, but classroom woes cut short both of those seasons. He has made impressive progress since transferring to Neumann, but likely will be ineligible for freshman eligibility.

Division I St. Francis (Pa.) is taking a look and Hagerstown, a national junior college power in Maryland, has offered a scholarship. Prep school is also a possibility.

Fowler credits his academic recovery to coach Tom Dougherty and assistant Charles Monroe.

``They're always telling me, `James, you have to do this. James, you have to do that,' '' Fowler said. ``They stay on me. It helps. If I stayed at West Philly, maybe I wouldn't be ready to graduate. That was my pattern - play most of the season, then slack off and become ineligible. That wasn't going to help me get anywhere.''

Since Neumann's season ended, Fowler has been working as hard as ever. Maybe harder.

``I've been playing every day and lifting weights. Lots of weights,'' Fowler said. ``I've gone up from maybe 180 to 190, and it's muscle. As soon as school is over, I go into the gym with my brother, Devon, and some of the other guys like Rashime Middleton, Greg Robinson and a young guy coming up, Milton Rodwell.

``In the first part, we take turns lifting weights and shooting jumpers and then we come together for a workout. People always say my `jumpie' is suspect, but it's getting good now. If you work hard enough at something, you have to get better.''

STAR GAZING Girard College's Dan Young, who missed the postseason with an ankle injury, treated his large rooting section of schoolmates to 10 points and five rebounds . . . Strawberry Mansion's Tyree ``Skyree'' Jones had eight rebounds and the dunk of the day . . . Brandon Dalton (Radnor) led the Suburbs with 16 points. Bill Phillips (Carroll) added 12 points, eight rebounds.

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