East Xtra: Surprising Westinghouse reaches City title game
Westinghouse's Affani Brown drives to the basket against Brashear during a City League semifinal game.
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The blue and gold of Westinghouse High School will be on display again Saturday in a City League basketball championship game.
That's really not all that unusual. The Bulldogs girls team has been a City powerhouse for decades.
But this time, it will be the boys team that hasn't made the big game in 17 years playing for a title.
"It's amazing some of the things that this team has gotten accomplished," Westinghouse coach Tariq Francis said. "These young men have stuck together and are on the verge of achieving something very special. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Led by senior Robert Bailey's 30 points, the Bulldogs (14-8) clinched their first title game appearance since the 1995-96 season with a stunning 68-47 upset of favored Brashear Monday at Allderdice.
Bailey, a 6-foot-1 guard, is one of six seniors who have fueled this Westinghouse team, one that had lost to its semifinal opponent in their previous two regular-season meetings, although the two did finish tied for second place in the City League standings at 6-4.
As the team's leading scorer at 23 points per contest, Bailey will lead his Bulldogs into the City title game against Perry Traditional Academy, which knocked off the league's top seed, Obama, 80-79 in overtime, in the other semifinal game Monday night.
"It was an exciting feeling," Bailey said. "We knew from the beginning that we were going to have a shot. That was one of our goals and I'm glad that we were able to accomplish it."
Francis, a Newark, N.J., native, gives a lot of credit to his top assistant, Freddy Harris, for the team's success this season.
Harris was a power forward on the Robert Morris men's basketball team from 2005-08. He has been given the responsibility of developing senior Affani Brown, who is 6 feet 9 and has a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
"He's been a special project of mine," Harris said. "He went from being a 'B-team' center two seasons ago to being one of the top big men in the City. It's been an awesome thing to see him grow and develop in what is his second year of organized basketball."
Brown pulled down a game-high 21 rebounds in the semifinal round.
"As of now, Affani's talent is a bit on the raw side," Francis said. "But as he gets a feel for how the game should be played, he's got a tremendous future ahead."
One part of the team's success, according to Francis, has been the dedication that the players have displayed away from basketball.
"As most of us know, some of the things that happen in everyday life in the Homewood community can be a distraction for some of these kids," he added. "The school has established an after-school program in which all of our young men are required to attend.
"It's been a real help in keeping them academically eligible to compete."
Bailey said he makes it a point to attend the program on a daily basis. Also stating that it helps him "stay focused."
"Sometimes it gets rough," Bailey said. "So, when we can go and get help with our studies, it makes things way easier on us. It also takes stress off us so we can do what we need to do on the court."
Praising all of his senior leaders, Harris noted that Bailey leads the team not so much emotionally, but by his actions on the court.
"The guys don't really expect Robert to say much," he said. "They just know that when they put the ball in his hands, he's going to do something to help us. He's going to make the right pass or put the ball in the hoop.
"It's great to be able to have that kind of player on our team."
First Published February 21, 2013 12:00 am