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Conwell-Egan stays perfect after beating Northeast

LaPri McCray-Pace leads a strong attack as the Eagles cruise to a 64-43 win.

IF YOU WALK into LaPri McCray-Pace's place in North Philadelphia near 33rd and Diamond, you better be ready to compete.

It doesn't matter what sport. Hell, it doesn't even have to be a sport.

Yesterday, it happened to be basketball, as the 15-year-old sophomore helped Conwell-Egan continue its undefeated start with a 64-43 takedown of Northeast High at Lower Moreland.

Back at home, with dear ol' Dad, it could be a culinary challenge.

"Everything in the house between me and my dad is competitive," McCray-Pace said. "If we cook, it's competitive. If we play a game, it's competitive. Who runs faster, who throws faster."

Dad, Leonhard "PJ" McCray, 36, played quarterback at Mastbaum and graduated in 1996.

His son is a 6-3, 200-pound small forward with long arms and a decent shooting touch, who scored all 11 of his points in a feisty first half.

Ah, but who is the better cook?

"Oh, me," McCray-Pace said matter-of-factly. "He can't cook to save his life."

A smile slowly slithered across his face. Eventually, his dad did get some dap for his fried-chicken skills, but the son wouldn't budge on their basketball battles.

"He played a little, but he's not good," McCray-Pace said. "He doesn't play me anymore. After seventh grade, he stopped playing me."

Coincidentally, that was around the time the youngster gave up football after a bizarre, but serious injury.

McCray-Pace said he fell during a football workout and cut his right wrist on a shard of glass.

"It was down all the way to the white meat," he said, showing a gnarled scar. "Almost to my bone."

As a result, he said his mom, Lekeya White, 34, thought football was too dangerous. Since then, his focus has been on basketball.

Now, the soph leads a team with only one senior. Fellow sophs Stevie Jordan and Vinny Dalessandro scored 15 and 14 points, respectively, for the Eagles. Dalessandro added eight rebounds.

Ibrahim Kamara is the team's only senior, and he is away on a trip to Africa.

The season is still young, but C-E doesn't seem to rattle easily for a youthful group.

After Northeast's Dalvin Johnson crammed down a sneaky, lefthanded dunk in transition, C-E responded with a 16-0, momentum-seizing run that spanned the 1:31 mark in the first quarter until Will Smart's second-quarter put-back with 5:48 remaining for Northeast.

A 9-2 push to begin the third effectively put the game out of reach.

Elmange Watson tallied 11 for NE, and Smart added six points and 10 boards.

McCray-Pace said head coach Frank Sciolla doesn't cut his players any slack just because they are young, which he suggested empowered their early spurt.

"It wasn't a coaches thing, it was really a players thing," he said. "We all talked to each other about locking down on defense . . . and that's what really helped us out in the second quarter."

Wins against Public League opponents Tacony Charter, John Bartram, Jules Mastbaum Tech and Simon Gratz have boosted morale heading into a difficult Catholic League slate.

McCray-Pace is certainly enjoying the perfect start, especially after a shoulder injury forced him to miss much of the summer (he leaned on his dad for support), but he had no idea of C-E's dearth of basketball success.

"I didn't really find that out until this year when we went 4-0 for the first time," he said. "We're excited, actually. We play as a team and we keep winning, and it feels great to be successful."