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June 21, 2011As much as coaches like to hype the importance of new facilities, quality gear, and regular television appearances to recruiting success, the magic formula ultimately comes down to two things: Winning and relationships.
It's especially true for those colleges classified as mid-majors. Look no further than the marriage between Robert Morris, a small Division I school near Pittsburgh out of the Northeast Conference and David Appolon, an Imhotep Charter graduate and an early signee for the Colonials last fall.
How does such a match happen? Certainly Appolon was watching when Robert Morris nearly took down his hometown Villanova in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. But dig deeper into the roster and the connections begin to pop out.
Second year head coach Andrew Toole, the youngest coach in the NCAA, played college hoops at Penn. Prior to assuming the head coaching duties, he served as Mike Rice's top assistant and recruited the Philadelphia area heavily.
So when Appolon started hearing from Toole and Robert Morris, he was talking to someone who knew Philly and knew Philly basketball. Not to mention a few familiar faces. Appolon is now teammates with Northeast Catholic graduate Velton Jones, Communications Tech/Monsignor Bonner graduate Lijah Thompson, and Chester graduate Russell Johnson. All Philadelphia area natives, all products of the Toole/Rice pipeline.
"I knew Lijah from high school. When I was playing my tenth grade year, we beat him by 30," Appolon recalled with a smile. "And I've known Velton all my life. I grew up playing with him in different rec leagues."
Appolon is already at Robert Morris, and he's participating in the popular Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am summer league. The league opened Monday night at the Greentree Sportsplex and features college players from Pitt, West Virginia, Duquesne, Youngstown State, Robert Morris, and numerous far-flung local products and smaller colleges.
For Appolon, it's a chance to quickly bond with his RMU teammates while getting a few summer classes under his belt. Coincidentally, he's on a team with two of his Philly friends: Jones and Thompson.
"It feels good, because it's like I'm back home," Appolon said.
Appolon's team (which also includes Pitt's John Johnson, Khem Birch, and J.J. Moore) lost to a team Monday night led by Pitt's Isiah Epps and Dante Taylor, as well as RMU teammates Coron Williams and Lawrence Bridges.
Jones and Thompson didn't play due to injury - in fact, Thompson and Johnson likely won't play at all this summer - but Appolon is already settling in. He showed off a bit of his range with a couple three-pointers, ran the point occasionally, crashed the boards, and set up a few nice plays.
It's the exact recipe Robert Morris wants in the fall, as Appolon is expected to contribute immediately off the bench.
"David can play at all three of the perimeter spots for us," Toole said in a release announcing Robert Morris' recruiting class. "He has great instincts on how to play the game and can do a variety of things, from scoring to rebounding to defending."
As for the relationships, Appolon will have it easier than most. He'll have a handful of veterans to lean on for questions and guidance, and Jones gave him the scoop on the school and the coaching staff when Appolon visited, saying that the staff would "show him love" with support while also pushing him.
"He didn't really pressure me too much," Appolon said. "He said it's a good school, but he said that no matter what, I should choose what I want to choose. But coming here, I'd have to be able to work hard to be able to play."
After all, if Appolon doesn't put in the work, he won't just have a coach to answer to. He'll have three Philly friends barking at him, too.
For those in the Pittsburgh area interested in watching the summer league games, they play every Monday and Wednesday at the Greentree SportsPlex. Parking and seating is limited, but admission is free. The tripleheaders start at 7:00 p.m.
PaPreps publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com
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