La Salle's Tyrone Garland making his fans proud

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tyrone Garland sees daylight in the lane before slashing in for the game-winning basket against Mississippi.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tyrone Garland sees daylight in the lane before slashing in for the game-winning basket against Mississippi.
Posted: March 27, 2013

WE TAKE YOU back to 1997 and the first round of the Public League basketball playoffs.

In what still stands as the most amazing postseason comeback in city history, visiting West Philadelphia overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 1 minute, 27 seconds, to stun Ben Franklin, 78-76. The overall and end-of-game hero was a feisty guard named Donnel Feaster, who scored 19 of his 38 points in a 36-16 fourth quarter and canned the winning bucket with 3 seconds left on a 7-foot floater.

Does that last word sound familiar? It should. Especially with Southwest Philly in front of it.

By now, nationwide, everyone who's even remotely familiar with college basketball is aware of the Southwest Philly Floater, the shot that lifted the La Salle University Explorers past Mississippi on Sunday and sent them bubbling toward the Sweet 16.

The guy who lofted it? Tyrone Garland. His cousin? Donnel Feaster.

In that 1996-97 season, West's coach was a guy named James Brown. Not long before the start of the 2006-07 campaign, he was appointed John Bartram's coach.

"I'm always telling my ex-players, 'If you see any good ones, send them my way' . . . Not that they listen," Brown said, laughing. "Don did, though. That's how I got Ty."

Garland lived on South Yewdall Street, near 54th and Greenway, and spent his middle-school years at Richard Allen Prep, at 58th and Lindbergh Boulevard. As ninth grade began, he was enrolled at Delaware Valley Charter, all the way up near Broad and Olney (a half-mile from La Salle, oddly enough), but the travel was a grind, and he didn't hesitate to take Cousin Don's advice.

All he did at Bartram was ch-ching his way to 2,198 points, then the No. 3 (now No. 4) total in city history.

When Brown was asked to recount his earliest memory of Garland, he responded, "How I just put the ball in his hands right away. That's how good he was. He played in a relentless way, no fear, while still keeping himself under control."

Though Garland's game spoke volumes, his mouth might as well have been on the disabled list.

Even now, he's one of those mostly mum guys, though he does own a good sense of humor and throws out some quality one-liners.

He showed that Sunday in the interview room, when he claimed the Explorers beat Ole Miss "because we didn't want to go back to school."

In 2010, after he reached 2,000 points with a corner trey against Olney, Garland was asked what he knew about the most famous member of the Two-Grand Club, 1955 Overbrook grad Wilt Chamberlain.

"I heard he got a lot of women," he said.

Brown cracked up Monday when reminded of that gem. So did Amauro Austin, a Daily News statistician who serves as the director of the AAU program, Philly Pride, for which Garland played while in high school.

"Ty's definitely known for his one-liners," Austin said.

Back then, he was also famous for his curious habits.

"We used to think he was a vampire," Austin said. "He'd sleep all day and stay up all night. He wouldn't even like to eat a meal until after midnight. He was nocturnal. Totally nocturnal."

He was also the most popular kid on the team.

"Everybody liked Ty. Not one person didn't," Austin said. "He was loyal, honest; just a solid-gold individual. He didn't have a malicious bone in his body."

In the summer of '09, before his senior season, Garland paced Philly Pride to a sixth-place finish in the 17-and-under national AAU tourney in Orlando.

"Just an estimate," Austin said, "but I'd bet close to 200 teams were in that. We went 8-1. That's the best we've ever done. Ty was the reason."

Bartram went 73-35 during the Garland era and advanced to the Pub final in his senior season. A 58-46 loss to Imhotep Charter resulted, but "Braidheart" drilled six treys en route to 32 points. His teammates combined to shoot 5-for-37.

By that point, he was already committed to Virginia Tech, and Brown's family had provided major behind-the-scenes help.

Though Garland was always solid in the classroom, the SAT was proving to be a sticking point. Each Saturday, Brown would drive Ty to Mount Airy so he could partake of an SAT tutoring session supervised by James' older sister, Barbara Burton, a retired Philly teacher, and sponsored by Mount Airy Church of God in Christ.

"Ty was willing to put in the time, and we wanted to help him reach his goal," Brown said.

Brown then told a side story, about how he was watching La Salle's first-round game against Boise and was absolutely loving the fact in the first half that Garland was playing so well.

"I was thinking, 'Should I call my sister to see if she's watching?' " he said. "Then it was, 'Nah, if I do that, maybe I'll jinx him.' I didn't call her until after the game. She was so excited. She'd been watching . . . And she's been emailing and texting me ever since. Ty did this. Ty did that. She's loving this."

Brown, for one, was in favor of Garland's commitment to Virginia Tech; he stayed there for 1 1/2 seasons before transferring to La Salle, one of his most persistent original suitors.

"I don't think he regrets going to Virginia Tech," Brown said. "It helped him mature, physically and mentally. A lot of people just look at the basketball part, but I'm really proud of Ty for making the ACC's all-academic team [in '11]."

Sunday, of course, Brown was a nervous TV spectator as La Salle-Ole Miss wound down and the Explorers began their final possession.

"My first reaction was, 'Why would Ole Miss drop back into a zone?' " he said. "I said, 'With all of La Salle's guards, that's the wrong thing to do.' Then I saw that Doc G [coach John Giannini] had the La Salle guys spread out and I felt if the ball winds up in Ty's hands, he's gonna score. Lo and behold . . .

"I was very proud of the fact he didn't settle for a jump shot. What'd he call it? The Southwest Philly Floater. Hey, I've seen that many a time."

So, did Brown jump all over the room?

"No, but I was hootin' and hollerin'," he said.

Garland was 5-for-15 from the floor before sinking the winning shot and that brings us to the mention of another cousin, John Phillips. At Episcopal Academy, Phillips racked up 2,068 career points, and he's right behind Garland at No. 5 on the all-time city list.

In '09, Bartram traveled upstate for a Class AAAA playoff against Pocono Mountain East. The Braves forced overtime by scoring all eight points in the final 44 seconds of regulation, and Garland, who had not been shooting particularly well to that juncture, notched each and every one.

His last contribution to the regulation comeback was a 30-footer with 3.3 seconds remaining. Bartram went on to win, 72-67, and Garland finished with 40 points.

After that one, he said, "I always think about something [Phillips] told me when I was in the ninth grade. That no matter what happens in the game, you can always be a good closer. If your team is still right there at the end, you can step up and get it done. I did that. I closed it."

Ditto this time around, on just a liiiiiitle bit bigger stage.

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