Conducting a winning beat

An East Passy­unk Cross­ing bas­ket­ball star is help­ing String The­ory Charter School make noise atop its di­vi­sion.

Ju­ni­or guard An­thony Brown, with ball, has proven the of­fens­ive center­piece for the Knights. (Photo provided by Eric Fun­aro)

When learn­ing ahead of last sea­son that his ju­ni­or varsity bas­ket­ball play­ers at Phil­adelphia Per­form­ing Arts: A String The­ory Charter School would earn varsity status for the 2016-17 sea­son, Eric Fun­aro ex­pec­ted that the leap would in­spire hard-fought ef­forts, par­tic­u­larly in tight con­tests. The coach con­tin­ued to call the boys’ hoop­sters hero­ic Jan. 12 as they gut­ted out an 82-72 vic­tory over High School of the Fu­ture at the Guer­in Re­cre­ation Cen­ter. 
“With each game, I be­lieve we’re be­com­ing more of a team,” he  aid from the New­bold ven­ue. “We’re real­iz­ing what can hap­pen when we stay to­geth­er and re­main ac­count­able to one an­oth­er.”
Fun­aro and his Cen­ter City-based ballers re­ceived ample sup­port at the home­com­ing con­test, with fans hop­ing to wit­ness yet an­oth­er spe­cial af­ter­noon from star An­thony Brown. A chief factor in help­ing the Knights to race to a tie for first in the Pub­lic League’s Amer­ic­an Di­vi­sion com­ing in, his scor­ing touch has cer­tainly im­pressed Fun­aro, but an­oth­er ele­ment pos­sesses more po­tency. 
“I think his pres­ence on both sides of the ball is key to caus­ing a lot of con­fu­sion for teams,” the Gir­ard Es­tate res­id­ent said of the ju­ni­or sharp­shoot­er and ball hawk. “Some guys like to score primar­ily while oth­er guys get a kick out of play­ing ex­cep­tion­al de­fense. Then there are kids like An­thony.”
“We were def­in­itely ex­cited to jump to varsity be­cause we knew we’d have to ask for more from ourselves,” Brown said to a nod from fel­low scor­ing threat Tyler Spann. “If you’re not will­ing to give more at this level, why are you even both­er­ing to play for a team?”
Brown, who resides in East Passy­unk Cross­ing, has be­come Fun­aro’s un­dis­puted scor­ing king, but plenty of teams have faltered, no mat­ter their am­a­teur or pro­fes­sion­al status, be­cause of a fail­ure to find sec­ond­ary marksmen. In last week’s con­test, the home crew wanted to prove its bal­ance as it looked to hit double di­gits in the win column.
Fans of dis­cip­lined bas­ket­ball might have felt com­pelled to cov­er their eyes in the open­ing stages, as the quick pace from the hosts and the guests yiel­ded little flow. With in­teri­or op­por­tun­it­ies res­ult­ing in tight de­fense coupled with con­found­ing misses, the Knights took to the peri­met­er, with three-point dag­gers by Brown, Spann and seni­or for­ward Moussa Gandega help­ing them to gen­er­ate a 21-14 lead after the first quarter. Its suc­cessor played out the same way, but on the de­fens­ive side, the ad­oles­cents struggled for con­sist­ency, es­pe­cially when reach­ing for re­bounds, lead­ing Fun­aro to feel they should have entered the lock­er room with a wider mar­gin. 
“I want for you to lock it down be­cause there are too many lanes open­ing up for them,” he ob­served. “We need to bring up the in­tens­ity no mat­ter who has the ball, though. Let’s get at them and make this all about com­ing through in front of our fans.”

Many loc­al sports afi­cion­ados have seen enough in­ter­est­ing match­ups that they know full well that “Any­thing can hap­pen in the pub.” Pub­lic League en­coun­ters have be­come no­tori­ous breed­ing grounds for odd cir­cum­stances, and the third quarter brought one such head-scratch­ing oc­ca­sion when it ap­peared that the vis­it­ors’ score was not cor­rect, lead­ing to cheers and jeers as the ref­er­ees looked to make sure all went smoothly.
“It is weird how stuff can play out when you’re play­ing a game that’s pretty im­port­ant for both teams,” Fun­aro said of his squad, which entered last week’s game with a 6-1 league mark, and its op­pon­ents, a 3-4 Di­vi­sion D mem­ber cov­et­ing con­sist­ency. “In this di­vi­sion, too, it’s amaz­ing how little things can be ma­jor factors in de­term­in­ing the out­come of a game.”
As High School of the Fu­ture’s coach­ing staff grumbled about the score­board, Knights’ sup­port­ers began to won­der if their hard­wood her­oes would be able to sus­tain their fo­cus, with dis­cus­sions on the prop­er tally ap­pear­ing to throw them off. For­tu­nately, though, just as the ad­versar­ies made their ad­vance, the di­vi­sion lead­ers showed why the push to­ward the play­offs will be ex­cit­ing when Guer­in is the set­ting.
“I’d say our en­ergy is the strongest part of this team,” Spann said “We were able to feed off each oth­er and the fans, too, and I think those are what got us this win.”
A thrill­ing fi­nal quarter saw the South­w­est Philly res­id­ent notch eight of his 21 points, with Brown go­ing off for 12, in­clud­ing six free throws, as the Knights com­pleted the nev­er-dull wire-to-wire vic­tory.
“This is three strong fourth quar­ters in a row,” Fun­aro, who learned about how to close out games when play­ing for coach Art Kratch­man at Gir­ard Aca­dem­ic Mu­sic Pro­gram, said. “Like with every game, we’re go­ing to find some things that you would have wanted to have done bet­ter, but this is a nice ef­fort, and it’s proof that we’re grow­ing as a varsity team.”
“We have to keep the in­tens­ity up no mat­ter the score, mo­ment, the op­pon­ent, whatever,” Brown, who pushed his league scor­ing av­er­age to 28.6 thanks to a 29-point dis­play, said. “We’re not happy just with be­ing a good team in the reg­u­lar sea­son be­cause we want to do well in the play­offs, too.”
Fun­aro re­called how Kratch­man, still patrolling the bench for the Gir­ard Es­tate-based in­sti­tu­tion, preached be­com­ing stronger as Feb­ru­ary would beck­on and in­tends to make the march to next month an ex­plor­a­tion of the Knights’ might. 
“We’ll see who we are,” the coach, whose club de­feated Es­per­anza 74-52 on Tues­day and who hosts Frank­lin Learn­ing Cen­ter today at 3:30 p.m., said. “The top five team in our di­vi­sion make the play­offs, and we think we’ll be in the thick of it all and ready to make some noise.” SPR

Con­tact Staff Writer Joseph My­ers at jmy­ers@south­phil­lyre­ Com­ment at south­phil­lyre­­tures.  


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