If you followed the Simon Gratz basketball program over the years and particularly during the ‘90s, you saw some very talented basketball teams. Lynard Stewart, Simon Gratz’ head basketball coach, played on two of the Bulldogs’ greatest teams.
He was a great player on the 1993 team that featured NBA great Rasheed Wallace, who was recently inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. That team was 31-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the country. The 1994 team finished 27-1 and won the Public League championship.
Stewart, who is in his fourth season as head coach, has the Bulldogs playing at a high level this season. Simon Gratz is 10-2 overall record and is one of Philly’s top high school basketball teams. Stewart has been very pleased with the Bulldogs, who defeated defending Public League champion Imhotep Charter.
“Things are going real well,” Stewart said. “I got to often remind the kids that things that are going on didn’t start this year. It started three to four years ago. All you have to do is continue to go game by game and don’t look ahead or behind. Just look game by game and try to focus on [making] less mistakes and we’ll be all right.
“If they come out and play hard, we’ll take any result. Right now, we have played together and the guys have bonded so well.”
Simon Gratz is led by 6-foot senior guard Yassir Stover, the team’s leading scorer, who averages 18.8 points a game. Stewart has watched Stover develop into a terrific player.
“Yassir committed to me as a freshman,” Stewart said. “This is his fourth year with the program. Actually, one under the jayvee program and three under me. I told him by the time you’re a senior you can really make a name for yourself. It started last year with him playing well. Now, it’s carried over to this year.”
The Bulldogs’ other standouts include seniors 6-foot-9 Duane Satchel, 6-foot-5 Ross Carter, 6-foot-4 Kyyon Gordon and 5-foot-10 Yasir Rowell. Simon Gratz’s only losses have come against Camden High and Dwight Morrow. The Camden High game was a huge for Simon Gratz. Camden has one of the best teams in the Philadelphia area. They have Dajuan Wagner’s son, DJ Wagner, who is the grandson of Milt Wagner. He’s one of the best high school players in the country. In addition, former Temple University and NBA standout Rick Brunson coaches Camden.
“We played Camden and went into an environment with a team that has a lot of talent,” Stewart said. “They can help us get better. We set that up a long time ago when Rick [Brunson] was going to be taking over the job. When Vic [Carstarphen, a former Camden High and Temple star] was there, I was hoping to get a game last year. Now, he’s gone to [Camden] City Council.”
Stewart played some great basketball at Simon Gratz and Temple. He also had a 10-year professional basketball career in Europe. He’s learned a lot from playing for two coaching legends — Bill Ellerbee and John Chaney.
“Coach El is still around,” Stewart said. “The relationship we have is amazing. It’s not player-coach any more. It’s more friend, guider and mentor. He’s not far from the program and what’s going on. I can talk to him about anything. We talk about things in certain situations.
“Coach Chaney started coaching at Gratz. It’s like a real small triangle. Coach El and Coach Chaney at Gratz and Temple. You take something from your coaches. I took everything I got from my coaches and implement it and add a little of Lynard to it.”
Stewart enjoys coaching at Gratz. He feels a special attachment to the school and basketball program being that he played there.
“Being at Gratz is a storybook story,” Stewart said. “Ironically playing there in basketball playing for the No. 1 team in the country, and behind Rasheed Wallace being the No. 1 player in the country, just helped me blossom. So when my chance came the next year [I did well]. Then, going on to Temple, turning around and being able to coach in the same building and having these kids play on the same court I played on has been special.”
Coaching has been in the Stewart family for quite some time. Lynard has two older brothers Larry Stewart and Stephen Stewart who are assistant college basketball coaches. Larry, a former Dobbins, Coppin State and NBA standout, is an assistant at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Stephen, a former basketball star at Parkway and Coppin State, is an assistant at Delaware State.
There are a number of ex-Public League and Catholic League players such as Sean Colson (Martin Luther King), Jason Lawson (Olney), Miguel Bocachica (West Cathlic) and others who have gone into the coaching profession.
“It’s a great way to give back,” Stewart said. “It’s been real good and not just basketball when you’re a high school coach. You have to make an impact on these kids lives. It’s a great feeling for me these past four years.”