EVERYONE has heard of Sweet 16 parties, held to help girls celebrate that rite-of-passage birthday.
Here's hoping not too many of you are aware of Sweaty 17s, and especially have not been forced to partake.
"They're like hell. That's what they're like," Jai Williams said yesterday, allowing just the hint of a smile to cross his face.
The 6-9, 240-pound Williams, a junior, plays basketball as a power forward/center for Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter, and already he boasts offers from La Salle and James Madison. While at the same time he loathes Sweaty 17s, he knows they've contributed to his improvement.
So, what are they?
Punishing runs. They begin on one side of a gym and end on the other. And 17 comes from the number of times guys must run across the court (widthwise, not lengthwise) back and forth in exactly 1 minute.
(Actually, the sessions are merely called 17s, at least at PET. But Sweaty 17's sounds better, right?)
"If you don't finish a 17 in 1 minute, you have to do another," Williams said. "And then another. I wound up doing thousands. If you're not in great shape, there's no way you can do those in a minute."
Williams offered those comments, among others, shortly after PET trimmed visiting Communications Tech, 68-63, in a Public A game. He was standing in the southeast corner of South Philly's EOM Athletic Association facility, not far from where a leaky roof had forced student manager Andre Worthen to wipe wet spots at least 100 times.
Williams finished with 17 points, the same number of rebounds and nine blocked shots. Even better, his tongue never hit the floor.
"Last year," he said, "I never would have played well in a [fast-paced] game like this. Conditioning, that's the main area where I've improved.
"I worked out three times a week all summer in this place. With no air conditioning. I always did the 17s. We always had lots of water, but even then, I'd get cramps. I'd get so tired. It was crazy.
"I did a lot of conditioning stuff with my AAU team, too. That stuff's never fun, but if you want to get better, there are things you have to do. It's all about working hard. Trying to become as good as you can be."
Williams shot 8-for-12 from the floor and was perfect (6-for-6) in the second half. CT had no true inside force, so many of Williams' buckets came on low-block power moves (in addition to an alley-oop dunk). But on one occasion, he dribbled into the lane with his left shoulder facing the basket and used his ample frame to shield the ball from a defender while converting a leaning flip.
Williams' first basket came on a high-low play that began with a feed from 6-8 senior forward David George, who is receiving heavy Ivy/Patriot interest. With his time limited by foul trouble, George had to settle for four points, though he did snatch 13 rebounds.
The first half was absolutely crazy. CT attempted 47 shots, and it's doubtful more than seven - OK, maybe eight - were launched from areas beyond the blocks. CT's guys put their heads down and barreled to the hole again and again.
Eight of Williams' swats occurred before halftime.
"The blocks all come down to timing," he said. "Sometimes, the guy will jump into you and get the call from the ref, so you have to be careful of that. But if blocks are possible, you have to go for them. They can really energize your team."
In the second half, the Phoenix mostly went with a standard approach and created a 58-58 tie with 1:28 left on a layup by Terrell Parker (pass from Kevin Brown).
PET went ahead for good, at 61-60, with 0:41 left as Koran Snead hit the front end of a one-and-one for his only point. CT came up empty, and 5-8 Khaleem Taylor made perhaps the play of the game, going strong to the hole and overcoming the efforts of two frisky defenders. Not only did he make the basket, he then sank the free throw.
At 5.0, Basil Malik hit a left-wing bomb, right near the wet spot, after the ball was barely nudged toward him by a prone teammate at the left side of the lane. Sandwiching a walking violation by Tony Parker, Terrell's twin, PET then went 3-for-4 at the line.
Junior guard Hakeem Baxter led the Chargers with 24 points, and he packed 12 into the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Rich "Eggy" Hoskins (17) and Tony Parker (13) topped CT. Parker added 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals and one of the best fly-high, perfectly timed follow dunks you could ever hope to see. Kevin Brown (also six steals) and Basil Malik halved 18 points.
Williams, who lives on Viola near 42nd in Parkside, has also generated interest from schools such as Saint Joseph's, Temple, Drexel, Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth.
Assuming he does well on the SAT, he envisions making his choice by the end of this school year.
And when does he think he'll be where he wants to be, in terms of skills/polish?
"During this season," Jai Williams said. "That's because I know how much hard work I've put in."
Aren't Sweaty 17s wonderful?