Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)
Andre Noble appeared to already have a sore throat by the way his raspy voice sounded in mid-November, and the legendary Imhotep Charter coach had yet to blow a whistle or shout out an instruction during practice.
The Panthers enter this season under an unusual scenario: Imhotep is the three-time defending PIAA Class 4A state champions (2017, 2018 and 2019), though it hasn’t lost a state playoff game since March 15, 2016, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In other words, no one on Imhotep’s current team was even in high school the last time the Panthers lost a postseason game. In fact, the current PIAA state 6A classification system didn’t even exist the last time Imhotep lost in the state playoffs.
Rahmir Barno (above) and Imhotep Charter are largely untested but unbeaten in state playoff action. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
In 2020, the Panthers reached the state quarterfinals, before the season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, Imhotep went 14-0, before a player on their team contracted COVID, which ended that season.
Before that, you would have to go back to the 4A state classification system to dig up the last time Imhotep lost a state playoff game, Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in the 3A state semifinals to eventual state champion Neumann-Goretti, 76-69.
Imhotep will play at the 5A PIAA level this season.
This current team hasn’t tasted chocolate in March, nor has it tasted defeat. But Noble feels he has plenty of proven quantities to return to March, starting with 6-foot junior point guard Rahmir Barno, a two-year starter, 6-7 junior small forward Justin Edwards and 6-2 sophomore guard Ahmad Nowell, a transfer.
They’ll be joined by 6-4 senior wing Mo Abdullah (Rider), 6-6 sophomore forward Jeremiah White, 6-2 junior guard Yahmir Satterfield, 6-8 senior forward Chad Anglin, a transfer from Roman Catholic, 5-11 senior point guard Ronny Raphael (Gannon) and watch for 6-7 sophomore forward MaKye Taylor.
Barno has received offers from VCU, Temple, Hofstra, Drexel and La Salle, while Edwards is blowing up. He just came back from a weekend visit from Kentucky, which offered, adding to a growing list that already includes Temple, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Miami, Maryland, UConn, Pitt, Virginia Tech, LSU, Auburn, Penn State, Georgetown and Seton Hall.
A transfer from Houston High (TN), Nowell averaged 11.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, and 4.7 rpg last year and has offers from Auburn, Kansas and Memphis.
This is a very deep, talented team, which Noble says he’s going to need to iron out a starting rotation.
Justin Edwards (above) emerged this summer as one of the nation's best prospects in the 2023 class. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Our schedule is absolutely loaded, which will give us experience to be in tough spots and know how to navigate,” said Noble, owner of nine Philadelphia Public League titles and an impressive 414-92 career record (81.8% winning rate). “I think our guard play is good, and we shoot it well. If you told me today, from what I saw in the fall, I would say we don’t guard it great like great Imhotep teams of the past.
“That’s the question for this team if it’s going to be really, really special. That’s the challenge for this group. If they can get locked in on the defensive end, and they have the ability to do it, we can be special. That’s one of the things with this group—how well will they guard it. This is a team that has national aspirations.”
It has the talent and the coaching to get there.
“Our goals are always to win the Public League and state championship, and one of our goals is also to be recognized as one of the best teams in the country,” said Noble, whose state playoff record is 51-7. “Our guys recognize what happened the last few years, but they know our goal is to be one of the best teams in the country. They’re not running or hiding from the expectations.
“I don’t know if the kids think of the last two years with a chip on their shoulders. The games we have way before the state tournament will be super challenging. Our third game of the season is against Roman Catholic (Dec. 15 at Cristo Rey High School). We better be ready for those games.”
Senior guards Naji Reid (0) and Ronny Raphael (2) give the Panthers two more experienced, versatile perimeter pieces. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
One of the biggest keys to the Panthers success will be Barno and his composure. With two years as a starter, he’s seen everything and will carry the thermometer of the team.
“I would definitely say we’re coming into this season trying to prove a lot of people wrong, and prove that we are one of the best teams in the country,” Barno said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture. I know we get respect locally and throughout the state. But there is always a lot of talk nationally that we can’t compete nationally, and we know we can.
“We want Imhotep to be back in that national picture, where we haven’t been in the last couple of years. Everything will be about locking in as a defensive team, because we share the ball and we shoot well.”
Edwards was very excited, returning back home after his official visit to Kentucky.
“Kentucky offered me on Friday and they’re looking at me as a wing,” said Edwards, who has played every position for the Panthers. “I think we can be pretty good this year, even though we play a national schedule. I think we’re all in an unusual spot, because we’ve never won a state championship and never lost a playoff game.
“None of us have state championship gold medals. With us having a full season, I think we can do that. I think our biggest concern is when we’re not playing to our potential. We have the talent. And we have a secret weapon, everyone will find out just how good Yahmir Satterfield got since last year.
“As long as we play together, we’re going to be fine. It’s a goal for me to win a state title before I go to college.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.