La Salle’s Tyrone Garland in the mold of Philly basketball

03/27/2013 6:04 PM

08/06/2014 12:36 AM

There was nothing left for Tyrone Garland to do — virtually no way he could become more legendary within his hometown. No way he could satisfy the impossible demands of playing college basketball where he grew up. He had to go.

So Garland, one of the best players to come through the Philadelphia Public League — a league that helped launched the Hall of Fame basketball careers of Wilt Chamberlain and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and bred within them a brand of toughness recognized only by other Philadelphia players — left.

It didn’t matter how aggressively La Salle was recruiting Garland, trying to persuade the fourth-leading scorer in Public League history to stay home. The decision was made. Garland would play at Virginia Tech.

Maybe Garland would come home someday. Maybe the pull to return would be too strong. In 2010, those ties weren’t completely cut, but they were loosened significantly when Garland traveled south.

"I talked with my family and we just decided it was best for me to leave Philly so I could focus on basketball," Garland said before revealing the second part of the story.

"Obviously things didn’t work out there. It wasn’t the right fit, so I had to come home."

Home was ready for Garland, and La Salle was eager for a second chance to get the star guard. He chose the Explorers, landing back in the only city he had ever known, ready to play the Philadelphia brand of basketball after two years of taking it on the road.

But there was a reason Garland left in the first place. When your name is frequently mentioned in the same sentence as Chamberlain, one of three other players to score more than 2,000 points in the Public League, it’s almost impossible to live up to expectations.

Garland was home and he was a star and he was surrounded by hype again, and that may not have been what he needed.

"There was a lot of pressure coming back," Garland said. "Everybody was like, ’I hope you’re better than good’ and ’I hope you didn’t transfer for nothing.’ And I put a little bit of pressure of myself, like if I come back home I have to play well. I think that’s good I put that on myself, because it motivated me to work hard in the offseason and polish my game up for this season."

Of course Garland used the pressure to his benefit. What was he going to do, run from it? Fear is not an attribute of a basketball player from Philadelphia, especially not one of the best the city produced.

When asked Thursday the attributes that the best Philadelphia players share, Garland said, "be tough — be all tough — and be fearless." If those terms are overused and watered down elsewhere, they still mean something in Philadelphia.

Garland, a 6-foot-2 junior, used those characteristics to score 26 points in his second game after sitting out the first semester this season after transferring. He used them to score 17 points Sunday in the NCAA Tournament’s third round against Mississippi following a 1-for-8 shooting performance in the second round against Kansas State. He used them to show the world where he came from.

"Playing in the playgrounds all our lives, we’re taught to be tough and not back down from anybody," La Salle guard Ramon Galloway said.

Garland used those characteristics to get La Salle to the Sweet 16, where it plays Wichita State on Thursday night at the Staples Center. Garland scored the game-winning points against Mississippi on a drive to the basket with the clock winding down. Tough. Fearless.

The shot? The Southwest Philly Floater. It would have played anywhere in circumstances like those, but it became legendary — or at least a trending topic on Twitter — because of its city of origin. Just like Garland.

"I think that’s what we go by, being tough and all that," Garland said. "I think all our guards and all the players from Philly are tough, and that’s what we try to go out there and show every night on the court."

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