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Lilly center of Judge’s trip to Palestra

Anthony Lilly scored eight points in Judge’s first trip to the Palestra since 1999. PHOTO: Dave Picariello

If you have season tickets to the Crusaders, you’d never know it.

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Anthony Lilly can be shy.

You wouldn’t guess it the way he plays. The 6-foot-6 center battles the biggest guys on the other team, he fights during every possession, and he’s pretty vocal when he’s in the middle of games.

Off the court? Completely different guy.

“I’m shy, people don’t believe me,” said Lilly, who lives in Rhawnhurst. “On the court, I’m energetic and loud, off the court, I’m so shy. And I’m a very caring person. I try to use that to help. My team comes first. If they get in any problems, I’ll help them. Being a good teammate goes a long way.”

On Wednesday, Lilly played his final game as a member of the Crusaders basketball team, but it was a historical one for him, his team and his school.

For the first time since 1999, Judge played at the Palestra. This followed an incredible season that saw the Crusaders win nine games in Catholic League play, and followed that up with a win over Archbishop Wood in the first round to send Judge back to the University of Pennsylvania for the first time in 25 years.

It was worth the wait.

“The whole time here has been great, but we got better every year,” Lilly said. “My freshman year we had two wins. My sophomore year we won four games. Then junior year we won six games, and we won nine and a playoff game this year.

“It’s been improvement every year. I think I felt like the end of my junior year, I thought this year was going to be special. We lost to Carroll in the first round, but we played well and the whole off-season, we had a chip on our shoulder. Nobody gave us credit, but we didn’t care. We love being the darkhorse. We wanted to earn (everyone’s) respect.

“And we had a great year. We beat Roman during the regular season. We beat Wood in the playoffs. We beat Roselle Catholic during the summer. We were ready.”

Judge lost to Roman 65-57 in the Catholic League semifinal, and played the Cahillites tough from start to finish.

Obviously Lilly would have much rather advanced to the finals, but he couldn’t get too upset about what he and his teammates did.

The Crusaders enjoyed a great year, and it’s one that Lilly thinks will mean big things for the future of the program.

“That’s the best thing about this team, it’s so young,” he said. “We start a freshman. We have so many good sophomores. The juniors are great. This year’s seniors tried to be good leaders, but we had a great team, all ages.

“After the game, our coaches told us that we’d have a front row seat the next time we’re back to the Palestra, and I thought, ‘Great, I’ll see you next year.’ It won’t be 25 years before they get back there. And I’ll be back when they are.” 

Lilly is happy for the future of the program, but he’s also happy he was part of the resurgence.

This year’s success allowed him to do what every high school basketball player in the Catholic League dreams about when the balls are rolled out in November.

He played at the Palestra.

“It meant everything, honestly,” Lilly said.”It was great, you could see all the support. We sold all the tickets, and our student section was crazy. They were showing out for Northeast Philly. You put on that jersey, you have to prove people wrong. We lost, but we got there and had a great year but it was a great experience. 

“My final game as a Judge basketball player at the Palestra, playing there in front of all those people? It meant a lot. My mom, my dad, my brother, my grandmom and my friends in the student sections were all there. The crowd, we feed off them. I know I do. I just go out and love everyone cheering and yelling. It’s just been a great year.”

Final game as a Crusader, maybe.

Next year, Lilly hopes to continue his basketball career, and he’s heard from a few schools. He’s still looking. He does have a major picked out.

“I want to do criminal justice,” Lilly said. “I feel like I’m more of a guy who helps people. I think being a cop would be great, but there’s more options. Cybersecurity. There’s a lot you can do in that major.”

Wherever he goes, he’ll never forget the memory of playing at the Palestra.

More importantly, he’ll never forget playing for Judge and its coaches, including headman Chris Roantree.

“I’ve had a great career here, became a lot better,” Lilly said. “Playing for Judge has been great. The coaches here do a lot for you. These past three years, all of our coaches have been great. They made me better. And even my freshman year, Coach (Sean) Tait. I’ve had a great career. The Palestra was great, but it’s been great start to finish. And they’ll be back next year.”

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