Friendship: The Promise

The strange sort-of love story of two South Philly basketball stars

Arrigale knows how lucky — blessed — he is to have two of the nation’s top 50 high-school hoopsters in his program. And he knows how much he owes to their bond. “You see friendships shifting,” he says, “but those two guys are always there for one another. They’re kind of each other’s family.” Scoop and Rick do everything together — hit the movies, hit the diners, hit on girls. But be aware, ladies, that the competition is formidable. “We’ve built a crazy relationship and chemistry,” Scoop says of him and Rick. “We live for each other. Even when we argue, we get back together. Ask anyone. We’re the best of friends.”

In games, it’s Scoop’s job to inbound the ball. He watches for the open man, but he likes to go to Rick, laying the ball up high, above the defenders’ reach. They’re point guard and big man, yin and yang, even when it comes to tattoos. “Mine says ‘Best-Kept Secret,’” Scoop announces, with a touch of pride. Rick doesn’t have a tattoo. If he did get one? “It would probably be my aunt’s name,” he says softly. “She’s passed on.”

SO LONG AS nothing more than the Catholic League championship was at stake, Scoop and Rick were rock-solid. But then the NCAA scouts started circling. Scoop was foremost in their sights; he’d been on the radar since he was 12. By junior year, though, Rick was in the spotlight, too. The trouble now was finding a school in the market for both a power forward and a point guard. College coaches assemble their teams with great precision, weighing potential players’ differing strengths, maturity levels, styles, heights, builds. …

Coach Arrigale got dizzy just thinking about it. “Antonio liked Villanova,” he remembers, “but they didn’t have a scholarship for Rick. Rick had Georgetown, Wake Forest, UConn, but they didn’t need guards. Virginia looked like a possibility, but then they signed a guard.” To make a crazy situation even crazier, Scoop was being up-front with the recruiters, saying, “Well, do you want Rick, too? Because I’m not coming if Rick’s not coming.” There was something downright perverse in his insistence on a package deal. He and Rick stood on the brink of blindingly bright futures. Heck, they stood where 99.9 percent of America’s high-school boys would gladly have sold their souls to stand.

And you know what? It wasn’t any fun. It only made Scoop anxious. “Every time a college talked to me, I liked them,” he says. “Every day, I had a new favorite college. Coach used to snap on me.”

Rick sympathized. “They get on your nerves,” he says of the recruiters. “Calling you and calling you. They all say the same thing. And they promise you stuff.”

“You don’t know who wants you for you,” Scoop says plaintively, “and not just for the basketball.”

Both boys were getting plenty of advice. “This sport is not in the greatest position right now,” Coach Arrigale says. “There are so many people involved with these kids at such a young age that maybe don’t have their best interests at heart.” Some of those people were trying to divide the two friends, whispering behind one or the other’s back: “Scoop doesn’t pass you the ball.” “Rick’s not giving you the looks.” Arrigale was worried: “It doesn’t take much to drive a wedge between young men.”