A jagged path to leadership includes three high schools, all big-time hoops programs, plus two colleges. That’s the part you may know, David Beatty’s basketball resume. Beatty fills in more, how he almost never got going in the sport, and some missteps, all leading to 20th and Olney, and now a captain’s role for the La Salle Explorers.

“He’s a great story,” said La Salle coach Ashley Howard, putting Beatty at the top of the list of players he’s coached, “in terms of the growth he’s made as a person.”

A 6-foot-2 guard, Beatty averaged 10.7 points a game last season, which led the Explorers. He often added the tougher defensive assignments.

None of that was new. Past teammates liked having Beatty with them. His competitiveness helped fuel success at Archbishop Carroll, at New Jersey powerhouse St. Benedict’s, and at Beatty’s last high school stop, a fully loaded Imhotep Charter. But Beatty describes how his nature was missing a turnoff valve. It really hurt him when he went to the University of South Carolina, ready to take on the big-time.

“I never had anybody talk to me like that in my life,” Beatty said of Frank Martin’s on-court intensity. “I know he was just trying to toughen me up, be a better man.”

Beatty said his response was the problem.

“I just wish I was more mature,” Beatty said of his season at South Carolina. “I was, like, talking back, trying to argue back. I know now it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Part of the issue, Beatty said, he’d come in as the hot freshman, the big recruit. When workouts began, he was putting the ball in the basket. He was running with the first team. Just before the opener, Beatty remembers Martin telling him they were going to change things up, run the offense through the big men. Beatty would come off the bench.

“That, like, killed my motor,” Beatty said. “I realized this man controls everything. My minutes were up and down.”

He kept working, Beatty said. He thought his work ethic was as high as anyone’s, but he knew he handled it wrong. Time to come home, and time to analyze the meaning behind words.

Again, don’t get it wrong. Beatty was not some prima donna. When he showed up at Imhotep Charter, Fatts Russell was the man, and there were a slew of younger Division I talents.

“Dave was a great teammate when he was at our place,” said Imhotep coach Andre Noble. “I remember one game, he didn’t score a field goal. I was watching him after the game, he was so excited and happy. He’d had a great impact on the game, but he didn’t have a field goal. I mentioned that to the team. Those are the things that build teams.”

Beatty, then playing for Imhotep Charter, tries on his 2017 PIAA 4A basketball state championship medal.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Beatty, then playing for Imhotep Charter, tries on his 2017 PIAA 4A basketball state championship medal.

It almost didn’t happen

Beatty goes back further and deeper, to his beginnings in the sport, how it almost didn’t happen. He grew up in Strawberry Mansion, one of the city’s traditional hoops hotbeds, but he was more into football. Ask him about leadership, and he believes it started at a young age, watching his mother leave at 4 a.m. for work.

He started going to an after-school program at the YMCA on North Broad Street, except he was often skipping the school part, he said, heading right to the after-school.

“I got caught one time by this coach,” Beatty said. “He knew I should be in school. He made a deal with me. If he got me on a [travel] team, I’d go to school.”

Beatty believes that was key to everything that came after. His reputation grew around the city as he picked up an MVP trophy playing for Finley Recreation Center on a championship team, had strong games against older guys at open runs at Girard College and other spots.

For high school, he went to Archbishop Carroll, where Derrick Jones was the high-flying star.

“Me and him became real close,’' Beatty said of Jones, the current NBA slam dunk champion with the Miami Heat. “That’s my brother. He took me everywhere, all-star games, everywhere. It kind of felt like we were a band, and he was a rock star. Everywhere we went, everyone knew who he was, wanted autographs. And he would always perform. I never saw him have a bad game.”

Beatty (front), then at Archbishop Carroll, battles for the ball with Neumann-Goretti's Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble (right).
Beatty (front), then at Archbishop Carroll, battles for the ball with Neumann-Goretti's Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble (right).

The move to St. Benedict’s after his sophomore year, Beatty said, was really about his mother looking to get him out of Philly, away from bad influences. He’d grown close to Nate Pierre-Louis, the future Temple guard, then at St. Benedict’s. He was excited to play with Pierre-Louis, except Pierre-Louis transferred before Beatty got there.

He remembers outsiders doubting that team, thinking they didn’t have the usual assortment of St. Benedict’s stars. Beatty proved them wrong, leading his team to a high national ranking.

What he didn’t know, and what his mother didn’t want to tell him, she was diagnosed with cancer. His sister told him. Imhotep was a good stop for his senior year. Playing with Fatts Russell, now at Rhode Island, was a good experience. They’d know each other before but had never played together.

"He’s a super hard worker,'' Beatty said of Russell. “I’ve never seen anybody, besides myself, be such a hard worker. We made sure we guarded each other every single day. Talking trash after practice.”

Beatty was the one heading for the brighter lights of the Southeastern Conference, but it has all worked out, he believes.

He preaches to his teammates, he said, about the need to bring “super max energy” every day in practice. “If not, it’s going to be a bad practice,’' Beatty said. “The games, you’re automatically going to be pumped up. But the practices, Ash always says, the pressure is not on you to perform, the pressure is on you to prepare.”

He tells the freshmen you don’t fake the energy but kind of act it out until it becomes real.

Beatty drives against UMass defender Tre Mitchell in March.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Beatty drives against UMass defender Tre Mitchell in March.

Not hard for Beatty, his coach said, since he has always been a gym rat.

"It starts with that fact,'' Howard said. “The challenge for him was controlling his emotions during games. He got better doing that. Even during this pandemic, he’s focused on meditation and doing things to help him stay calm and be an even-keeled dude. Part of his emotional deal was, he’s such a fierce competitor. He gets fired up. He plays with that chip on his shoulder.”

Seeing Beatty encouraging teammates, getting them organized, a formal captain’s role became a no-brainer. Beatty has been part of the local basketball scene for so long, it’s easy to take him for granted. They’re just not doing that right now at 20th and Olney.

"I think this year we have more than enough to win,'' Beatty said. “We are putting the right pieces together, getting better every day, not taking two steps back.”

He’s taken such steps, just believes he knows how to avoid them now.