Saturday would start early, at Archbishop Carroll High. It would end late, down the Blue Route at Chester High. Two overlapping high school basketball extravaganzas put on by a man who has specialized in such things. Preparing for that and other crazy days, Jeremy Treatman sat at a Starbucks just off City Avenue, reminiscing. In the midst of the memories, his phone vibrated.
"I do have an opening,'' Treatman told a local high school basketball coach. "How about Overbrook High? The 29th, it's at Chestnut Hill College …"
Chances are if there was a marquee high school basketball game around here this century between schools that wouldn't have ordinarily faced each other, Treatman put the game together. Call the Temple grad, 51, equal parts promoter, broadcaster, matchmaker.
Henderson and Ellington vs. Neumann-Goretti guys at the Palestra. Top women's matchups from Kristen Clement through Elena Delle Donne and Maggie Lucas to current stars. Sean Singletary vs. Kyle Lowry. Dion Waiters vs. the Morris twins. Kevin Durant? Four times. LeBron overflowing the Palestra bleachers as a high school senior.
The biggest of all: the late Eddie Griffin against Dajuan Wagner, practically filling the Liacouras Center at Temple in 2000, with Jameer Nelson and Chester on the undercard. "Jan. 2, 2000,'' Treatman said, adding how the Roman Catholic-Camden game on Comcast SportsNet — he had to pay for the time himself — got a better local television rating than any Big Five game that season.
"I always wanted to be a broadcaster,'' said Treatman, who also worked as a freelance high school sports writer for the Inquirer in his 20s. "I had this crazy idea to put high school games on the radio and I did them for nine years, and then I wanted to put them on television."
He was an assistant coach at Lower Merion High for a year, and that one year happened to be Kobe Bryant's senior season. That gave him ideas he would use later on about how to fill big buildings.
He learned to keep his mouth shut, he said, about some of his ideas, since a decent idea travels. He always knew the importance of the names on the marquee.
"I didn't spend a penny on advertising on the LeBron game,'' Treatman said, referring to LeBron James' playing at the Palestra in 2002 against Maureece Rice and Strawberry Mansion High.
These days, Treatman, who also is the varsity boys' coach at Barrack Hebrew Academy, figures he makes a little more money with his summertime Play by Play Sports Broadcasting Camps, which this year were held in nine states. (For five days of overnight camping, $1,175, if you get your money in before Dec. 31.)
It was the Griffin-Wagner game, Treatman said, that changed him from a broadcaster to a businessman. The next year, he did three Scholastic Play by Play Classics events, including one with Wagner and Camden in Memphis, where Wagner had committed to play for John Calipari. That was another Treatman idea: taking top recruits to the cities where they would play their college ball.
The LeBron year put Treatman on a different map. He remembers the athletic director at St. Vincent-St. Mary's telling anyone who called about a game, "We're taking proposals; we're looking to fly all over the country, looking to give opportunities to our kids not named LeBron James. We expect X amount for appearance fee, we expect to be taken care of — hotels, buses — and we want to play in the best places and have the greatest experiences." Treatman added, "They made no bones about it — 'we make $55,000 a game at home, so you have to give us a reason to go somewhere.' "
Treatman sent a proposal. What about games at the Palestra, Ohio State, Madison Square Garden, the Dean Dome at North Carolina?
LeBron's coach called him.
"Did you say the Palestra? You can get us in the Palestra?''
The old place still has some magic.
"He calls back an hour later, 'We're going to do these games with you.' "
Which meant Treatman had to get to work, since he had deals with none of those places.
"I called the Garden,'' Treatman said. "The Garden guy said, 'We'll do it, but we want $90,000 up front.' "
Treatman remembers responding, "Well, how about $9,000?"
The guy, "90.''
So the Garden was out. But the other games were in, and LeBron at the Palestra turned into an event.
"The fourth quarter was the most amazing thing I've ever seen,'' Treatman said. "That's when I knew LeBron James wasn't just a great basketball player — he was a genius. The game was well out of hand, they had like a 40-point lead. He waved off eight players, called over Maureece Rice to guard him, told the other eight to get out, and they played one-on-one for four minutes."
Rice didn't break Wilt Chamberlain's city career scoring record that night — that came the next month — but he did break James' ankles with a move. The sold-out crowd left buzzing about the whole thing. An NBA scout that night compared LeBron to Wilt in terms of potential impact.
It's Wagner who gets Treatman gushing his gratitude, remembering how several days before Camden was to play Roman, he got a call from across the river.
"Jeremy, you sitting down."
"Dajuan broke his hand today. He can't play."
Except the game meant almost as much to Wagner as it did to Treatman.
"They wrapped up the hand,'' Treatman said. "He basically played one-handed, with his bad hand. He shot 4 for 23. He did that for me. I'm indebted to him for life. He really shouldn't have played. It hurt him bad that Eddie [Griffin] had 29 points, 12 rebounds, 7 blocks, and he shot 4 for 23. It hurt him tremendously. I'll never forget it."
Another big memory from that one was how there was a line for tickets outside the Liacouras Center and there in line was Griffin, costar of the show.
Another person central to his story, Treatman said, was the late Chester coach Fred Pickett.
"He was the first one who loved these ideas, the showcase events,'' Treatman said. "He played in everything. Everything."
Treatman is proud of the fact, he said, "we have the single biggest, one-day girls' basketball event in the country. We go from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Jan. 14, both courts, Jefferson University."
Asked about making a living off these events, Treatman said, "It totally changed. The LeBron year, the O.J. Mayo and Dajuan Wagner years were great. In 2011, the NCAA came out with a rule: You can't use an NCAA [Division I] facility anymore. So that just ended Ohio State, Cleveland State, Villanova, the Palestra, Temple. It ended the chance to have a big event. So we just do a lot of singles and doubles at high schools and small colleges."
He's not saying it slowed him down.
"I'll spend all day to get a great event — if it makes 50 dollars, it makes 50 dollars. I just find the rule …"
He didn't finish the sentence, just adding, "When I'm taking on all the risk and not doing anything wrong and I'm providing opportunities for kids and they're telling me I can't do that, but three weeks later the playoffs are in those same buildings. If it was an unfair advantage rule [for colleges] three weeks earlier, why is it not then?"
He doesn't want to give any details of "being asked to do certain things I was uncomfortable with, and I didn't do it'' to get a game together. He gave the years as 2000 to 2006 when such vague requests were made. "Nothing in the last 11 years,'' he said. "I just want to do things the right way."
Are we talking about paying players?
"No, never players,'' Treatman said.
Out of bounds to say there are people who look to help but want to be paid for that help?
"Ah, that's not out of bounds,'' Treatman said. "That's also not illegal."
For the first time, he's expecting to partner with some local basketball people on non-high school events, probably two in the spring and two more in the fall. (The Inquirer helps sponsor some of his high school events.) He knows basketball never stops. He's just busy with the camps in the spring and summer.
"I just thought there would be a lot of kids like I was,'' Treatman said, meaning kids who listened to Harry Kalas every night, and lived for sports. "The first year, 71 kids signed up. … We've got 124 the second year." So they expanded out of Philly. There are ideas to up the ante even more, have events around the calendar, in more places.
Within all this, Treatman is one of these encyclopedias of local sports, since he was there, remembering all the O'Hara girls' games he called on the radio, then Kevin Jones for O'Hara football, great Strath Haven teams. The greatest game he ever called, he said, was on WRTI, Frankford-West Philly, 1987-88 season, four overtimes. Mik Kilgore hit shots at the end of two overtime periods to extend things before Frankford won it.
This weekend, he is just as excited about the games at Carroll and Chester, ending with Chester High against Lower Merion, a storied rivalry from Kobe's time, at it again. Maybe Treatman could be in two places at once.
"I'm just such a better person when I'm busy,'' he said.
His office is always open, especially if a coach calls looking for a game.