Constitution sinks teeth into PL title

Posted: February 26, 2012

THIS IS A basketball accomplishment Craig "Poppy" Slade can sink his teeth into.

Yes, all of them.

That revelation might surprise the folks who saw Constitution, which now boasts a championship in only its third Public League season, battle Math, Civics and Sciences Charter in a quarterfinal back on Feb. 18.

Two minutes before halftime, Slade planted himself in the lane at the north end of Southern High's gym and took a violent-contact, elbow-first charge from Quadir Welton . . . And there went an upper front tooth, bouncing along the baseline.

Craig's father, Scott, immediately zipped him to Children's Hospital, so he missed the rest of that game. Ditto for the semifinal triumph over John Bartram . . . doctor's orders.

But Slade suited up and made important contributions Saturday, before a nearly full house at the Community College of Philadelphia, as the Generals thrashed Boys' Latin Charter, 85-60, and then all pearly whites were visible during the unabashed, oncourt celebration.

"They were able to save the tooth," Slade confirmed.

The 6-7, 210-pound senior forward contributed six points and 10 rebounds and played no-points-allowed defense on BL's very important third wheel, D-II signee Carlos Taylor (UMass-Lowell). Then he talked tooth.

"You'd be surprised how long a tooth is, when it comes all the way out with the root," Slade said, laughing. "That thing was probably as long as my pinky. I couldn't believe it.

"I was behind our bench [[being checked by a trainer]] and I wasn't thinking about being hurt. All I wanted to do was get back in the game. Then I saw all the blood - I also had cuts on my upper and lower lips - and I realized this whole thing was pretty serious."

It remained that way, too.

"I didn't know for sure I'd be able to play," Slade said. "At times, the pain was unbearable.

"Plus, two different times in practice this week I got hit in the mouth and that started up the pain all over again. The second time was [Friday]. At night, I did a little extra workout at the 'Y' around my way, then I went home and got a good night's rest. I woke up and everything in there felt good. Like, pure."

Pub championships are nothing new for a Slade. However, this is No. 1 for this generation, and for this specific branch of the family tree.

Craig's uncles, identical twins Mark and Mike, were star linebackers for Abraham Lincoln's 1979 football kingpins. Another uncle, William, better known as Randy and then a sophomore, was the important sixth man for the 1985 Murrell Dobbins Tech basketball squad that featured Eric "Hank" Gathers and Greg "Bo" Kimble. By '87, he was a first-team Coaches' All-Pub honoree.

Though Scott, also a basketball player, won no titles, he was a second-team Coaches' All-Public pick (19.1 average) for Martin Luther King in 1984. And, yes, he has stories.

"Just last night," Craig said, "he was telling me about the night before that 1985 championship game. How there was too much stuff going on in Hank Gathers' neighborhood, so he stayed the night at our family's house.

"He told me Hank was saying, 'I'm going to control this game by grabbing rebounds and running the floor.' That's what I wanted to do, too."

All other Generals achieved their pregame goals as well because, tooth be told, this one was over early.

With 1 minute, 9 seconds left in the first quarter, Savon Goodman, the king of high-wire acts, powered home a slam off a steal (turnover No. 7 for BL) to give ConHigh, a special-admit School District member located on 7th Street below Market, a 13-4 lead.

Some other scores of note were 22-8, 30-14 and 44-23, then the bulge hit 30, at 57-27, with 3:03 left in the third quarter on another Goodman slam. By the end of that session, it was up to 33, at 70-37. Roughly 80 percent of the spectators had departed by the time the deep/even deeper subs finished up.

The 25-point victory margin ranks No. 2 in Pub finals history to Simon Gratz' 62-36 dissection of Communications Tech in 2006.

"The best thing was, we kept up the defensive intensity," said coach Rob Moore. "Up 20 at halftime, it's easy to lose focus. That didn't happen. I preach that, to always play hard defense."

Moore's plan was to run his bookend little guys, starter Tamir Bolger and sixth man Amonie "Moonie" Holloman, non-stop at BL's franchise scoring machine, Maurice "Doo-Wop" Watson. Also, he wanted to blanket dangerous wing guard Yahmir Greenlee with Daiquan Walker and have the springy Slade stalk Taylor.

Watson settled for 14 points while hitting just 33 percent from the floor. Greenlee managed 20 points, but 16 came during the game's mostly meaningless playground-ball stage. Taylor missed all four of his floor attempts and never ventured to the line.

With 15 points, great defense and mostly flawless floor-generaling (seven assists), Walker earned the MVP trophy. Guess what? His status was also uncertain.

"He was on crutches [Friday]," Slade said. "Then we had a little shootaround today and he looked OK. Still, he shocked me with his performance."

Said Moore: "He was fine at Wednesday's practice, but when he woke up Thursday he said his foot was all stiff. He thought he fractured it. Good thing he was OK because we really needed him."

Goodman, a former Villanova commit (he's back on the market) and transfer from Academy of the New Church, shot 8-for-13 (five dunks) and 8-for-12 for 24 points while adding 12 rebounds, three assists and six steals. Fajion Jones had 13 points and seven boards while Holloman hit three treys en route to 15 points and Bolger posted three pilfers.

Slade, who lives near 50th and Spruce, is also a transfer. He played last winter for Monsignor Bonner alongside his brother, Scott, then a senior.

"I still talk to a lot of my former teammates and I saw the coaches one day recently because I was staying at a friend's who lives right around the corner," Craig said. "I'm happy for everyone that Bonner's gonna stay open."

He's also thrilled for himself.

"It means a lot to get another title for the Slades," he said.

He added with a laugh, "One of us had to win one. We needed more success in this family."

Online high school coverage at philly.com/rally.

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