Idea for city basketball tournament a classic tale

AARON CARTER /DAILY NEWS STAFF Charles Monroe came up with the idea for the All-City Classic.
AARON CARTER /DAILY NEWS STAFF Charles Monroe came up with the idea for the All-City Classic.
Posted: May 30, 2014

MORE THAN 20 years ago, Charles "Shoob" Monroe had no idea that the argument he witnessed would help shape not just his own life, but also the lives of so many basketball players in Philadelphia.

Back then, Donnie Carr and Terrell Stokes, two South Philadelphia natives, were engaged in a debate that led Monroe, also from South Philly, to conceive the All-City Classic.

Carr, then a freshman wing for Roman Catholic, and Stokes, a sophomore point guard for Simon Gratz' consensus ( USA Today, among other publications) 31-0 national championship squad in 1993, went back and forth about which was better: Public League or Catholic League basketball.

"We used to argue about it all the time, to be honest," Carr said. "It was just a bragging-rights thing."

The verbal sparring took place at La Salle University, where the trio went to see another South Philly product, Kareem "Rab" Townes. Monroe, then an AAU coach, was already contemplating an exposure event, and found inspiration.

"I said this is it," Monroe recalled, "I have to set this up."

At 6:30 tonight at Girard College, Monroe will preside over the 20th anniversary of the All-City Classic, which now bears the name of former participant and current NBA player Wayne Ellington.

Monroe, who used basketball to navigate the streets he grew up on near 24th and Tasker, said he wanted the game he loved to do the same for others.

"Just to keep, especially the kids in South Philly, on a positive path and basically having basketball do for them what it did for me," he said as he prepped for the event inside the gym at Girard College.

A reserve guard at Franklin Learning Center (1988), Monroe, who now does social work as a case coordinator for Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, said his path took a negative turn once his basketball career ended.

"Once I stopped after high school," he said, "I started getting into, well, I didn't really get into trouble, but I was out there with the troublemakers."

That was until Littel Vaughn, currently CEO of Checkball Magazine, which touts Philly hoops, asked him to enter a team into a local tournament.

"I love ball," Monroe said as his cadence quickened, "so when he said that to me and, I knew the talent we had in South Philly and automatically I was like, 'Let me grab Rashid Bey, Terrell Stokes and Kevin Slaughter' . . . So I was excited when he asked me to do that because that was my passion, basketball was in me."

From there, Monroe, whose father, Robert, nicknamed him "Shoob," the etymology of which he is unsure, became an assistant coach a St. John Neumann and then worked various college basketball camps in the city and also at the nationally prestigious ABCD camp.

Years later, Carr, who grew up on 20th and Reed, and Stokes, who grew up two blocks away on 18th and Dickinson, planted the seed.

"I think it has done a great deal for young kids in Philadelphia," said Stokes, who was a high school all-America who landed at the University of Maryland. "But for kids in the city that didn't get that kind of recognition, it gave them something to look forward to and get their name out there."

Ironically, Stokes didn't play when the event debuted because he was a senior and it was limited to underclassmen. However, among others, players such as Carr (La Salle University), Kobe Bryant (Lower Merion, NBA) Rasual Butler (Roman, La Salle, NBA) Lynn Greer (Engineering & Science, Temple, NBA), Ronald "Flip" Murray (Strawberry Mansion, NBA) participated that first year.

Because he wanted to showcase talented players such as Bryant who were outside the Pub/Catholic League rivalry, Monroe, currently an assistant coach at the Haverford School, decided to make the event Non-Public versus Public.

Former Friends' Central star Mustafa Shakur (2003) is an apt example. Without much national fanfare from scouts, Monroe matched Shakur in the event against future Syracuse star Gerry McNamara, who had made a name at Bishop Hannan in Scranton, Pa., and had also shown well against top talent elsewhere.

"That was definitely the start for Mustafa becoming known as a big-time point guard," said Allen Rubin, longtime and well-respected basketball scout of The Hoop Scoop.

"It was close," Rubin added. "Mustafa might have gotten the better of Gerry. I know he scored more points."

Shakur won the MVP and earned an invite to ABCD Camp where he again played well and eventually earned a scholarship to Arizona. McNamara won the game's Most Unselfish Trophy and went on to star with the Orange.

Ellington (Episcopal Academy, North Carolina, NBA), Hakim Warrick (Friends' Central, Syracuse, NBA) and others share similar journeys in which they began as relative unknowns and ended as national prospects after the All-City Classic.

"I didn't have any expectations when I was building the event," Monroe said. "I just wanted to do an event that would give exposure to the talented players we have in the area."

With that in mind, Monroe, who expressed gratitude toward alums who give back financially, also emphasized that it is not an all-star game.

"Bring your game, not your name," he said, citing Ellington, a financial contributor. "He came and outshined a few guys in his class, so he went from a no-name to a guy on the national scene. Those other guys brought their names. He brought his game."

Monroe's nickname may have come from his dad, but he got something else from his mother, Estelle Monroe, who died in 2007 from complications due to emphysema.

Monroe has been juggling preparations for tonight's boys' freshman, sophomore and junior games as well as yesterday's girls' All-City Classic. For a brief moment, a look of fatigue gripped his face.

But it left as he spoke of his mother.

"That was my inspiration," he said. "When I saw how hard she worked and all she sacrificed for her [four] boys and her daughter, I think about her, because she never got tired.

"So, when I think about everything she had to go through to raise us," he said, "how could I be tired?"

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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