Nobody cheers. It's not that kind of crowd. Inside this little gym in Conshohocken, don't tie silence to indifference. Regulars get to their spots early. More than a few keep score. They aren't rooting for squads so much as storing memories.
You ever been to the Fel? You going to Conshy tonight? Who's playing tonight at the Donofrio? Questions leading to the same place, this little gym between Fifth and Sixth Streets just off Fayette Street, inside the Conshohocken Fellowship House, home of the 57th annual Donofrio Classic.
Walk past the photos on the way in. Kobe Bryant lifting an index finger. His father, Joe, as 1972 co-MVP with Mo Howard, whose own son Ashley played here and is now a Villanova assistant. There's Amile Jefferson, only guy to win four straight Donofrio titles, which meant Jefferson came back as a senior after signing with Duke.
Teams are put together for the single-elimination tournament, and players often recruit each other. Fans fall in and out of love with players, sometimes in minutes. The night often starts with a similar question. Lonnie Walker going to be here? The names change in the question, but Monday night there was the answer in a corner of the gym. Walker, the Reading High star, fresh from a state title and the McDonald's all-American game, was ready to play on a loaded team full of guys from around the state. His point guard, Eli Brooks, from Spring Grove, in York County, is headed for Michigan.
Conversations reflect the level of talent:
"You have to see this kid jump."
Last Monday, while the rest of the hoops world was preparing to watch the NCAA title game, a bunch of Villanova players - Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Jalen Brunson - were in the second row, there for their soon-to-be-teammates, Collin Gillespie from Archbishop Wood and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree from Neumann-Goretti. (They all left in time to catch North Carolina-Gonzaga.)
Earlier this week, Villanova fans were back for another look. A guy named Beefer, down from the Poconos, huge Villanova fan, loved what he saw from Gillespie before a collision put Gillespie on the ground gasping for air with a rib injury.
"That kid is the next John Stockton," Beefer announced. "Not Bobby Hurley. John Stockton."
Whatever Gillespie's future, Conshohocken regulars will remember his 32 points against the Hunting Park Warriors, featuring Imhotep Charter sophomore Donta Scott and more city stars. Final score, 110-106. Bill Wright, who saw Wilt against Russell at Convention Hall and hasn't missed a Donofrio game this year, came over and said he's a big fan now of Wood junior Tyree Pickron, who had dropped a string of crucial threes.
The second game, a sprinkling of St. Joseph's fans wearing Hawk colors got a glimpse of future Hawk Taylor Funk, hitting three-pointers. The memories pile up. They almost pile on.
Joe Castaldi: "I keep notes of all games I see," and his notes from last year's title game: "127-126, triple OT!" Delaware freshman Ryan Daly, who had 36 in that one, was back this year to root on the Old School Cavaliers, who included his brother. (They went down Tuesday to Positive Image from the city.) In 2015, another thriller, when Tony Carr, now at Penn State, got hot in the final, as Team John Hardnett squeezed past Raw Sports All Stars from Harrisburg.
Arcadia assistant Raheem Scott remembers the night the late Eddie Griffin "might" have had a quadruple-double in the first round before taking off for the McDonald's all-star game.
Maybe you saw Aaron McKie for the first time playing for the Sonny Hill Sophomores or Juniors, got your first glimpse of Rasheed Wallace or Al Harrington down from North Jersey with the Roadrunners, announcing to Norristown sportswriter Gordon Glantz in the bathroom afterward that he was entering the NBA draft.
Before Mike Vreeswyk played for Temple, he played in Conshy for a Bucks County team that went on a run to the semifinals. He remembers for a specific reason.
"It's the first time Coach Chaney saw me live," Vreeswyk explained. He already had a lot of Division I offers, but he had a big game that night against a Sonny Hill team that included Pooh Richardson and Rodney Blake. Vreeswyk's future Owls coach, John Chaney, got there a little late, but he must have seen enough. "He found a pay phone at halftime and called my dad and urged him to give TU a chance," Vreeswyk said.
There are surprises even for the players. Former Temple player LaMont Ferrell said he remembered playing for a Sonny Hill team in the '80s, "and as I spun baseline a little white guy came out of nowhere and goaltended my shot. I found out later that guy was going to North Carolina, and his name was Jeff Lebo."
Two games a night, 7 p.m. first tip, Monday through Thursday for three weeks - first game was March 27, with the title game at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday. These days the Donofrio games are played during a dead period for Division I recruiting. Maybe it makes the level of competition more impressive, some playing just to play.
Some did have their future on the line. Plenty of Division III coaches were in the building this week hunting for uncommitted talent.
What about the little guy putting on a little scoring show?
"He has no grades. Junior college," a D-III coach said. "He'll end up in Division II, maybe low Division I."
Bill Wilson, who coached the team that won those four straight with Amile Jefferson and one more title before Jefferson, walked in and sat in a folding chair past the baseline. Wilson was in pharmaceutical sales but had played and coached college basketball in Ohio - he racked up 323 assists at Wright State from 1976 to 1980 - before moving here and falling in love with this little tournament. This big little tournament, Wilson made clear. He coached Khalif Wyatt here to begin his run. One year he had Jefferson and Daniel Ochefu as his big men and Maurice Watson Jr. as his point guard.
"It's hard for me to come back, honestly," Wilson said. "I miss it so much."
He found a place in the bleachers for the second game, the Roadrunners from Jersey, featuring a lot of Newark East Side guys, knocked off by a team from Philadelphia's northern suburbs when a last-second Roadrunners shot didn't fall. The door on the Fifth Street side of the Fellowship House flew open, remaining regulars moved out to their cars. No need to ask if they'd be back.