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Prepping for Preps '21-22: Imhotep Charter (Girls)

11/29/2021, 9:15pm EST
By Sean McBryan

Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
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(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. The complete list of schools previewed can be found here.)

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Janai Smith dribbles a basketball

Janai Smith (above) averaged double-digit points in her junior season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Imhotep girls basketball head coach David Hargrove hoped his team would be able to safely navigate the pandemic and finish the year playing its best basketball last season.

The Panthers did that by winning the Philadelphia Public League title over Mastery Charter North and taking eventual PIAA Class 3A state champion West Catholic to the brink in a four-point loss in the District 12 Class 3A final.

In a normal season, Imhotep would’ve been headed to the state tournament, but West Catholic received the only District 12 bid in a COVID-reduced state bracket.

Six senior Panthers have graduated, including leading rebounder Monesjia Harvey; senior all-state third-team selection Janai Smith returns to resume her role as hardwood alpha after putting up 14.7 points per game last season for Imhotep, which went 9-6.

Senior Taniyah Finney (6.0 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.6 steals), junior Samaya Stevens (5.5 points, 5.2 rebounds) and 6-4 senior center Mikala Rambert (3.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks) will be relied upon to supplement Smith, with lots of underclassmen filling out the rest of the roster.

“Every year is new,” Hargrove said. “With this crew we definitely have a brand new group. We do have some returning experience with our top four players. Behind that is a lot of youth, so we’re really trying to get our older ones to learn to lead and our younger ones to become dependable role players.”

Smith, who also averaged 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 steals last season, as well as Finney and Stevens will be the ball handlers; Rambert will play in the post and the rest of the rotation is a work in progress.

“Still working on it,” Hargrove said about the rotation. “(Smith and Stevens) we’ll definitely rely on, along with Taniyah Finney. Those are going to be our three primary guards and they’re going to have a lot of responsibility on their hands. We know Mikala Rambert will play the middle a lot. Behind her, we have a couple freshmen that we’ll try to bring along as the year goes on.”

Hargrove, who became coach in 2016, mentioned five freshmen who could get significant chances to contribute: guards Jamee Johnson, Calista Gaymon and Senaya Parker, as well as Torii Evans and Anise Geiger, who will back up Rambert in the post.

Taniyah Finney shoots a basketball

Taniyah Finney (above) will be one of the primary ball handlers for Imhotep this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The biggest task for the Imhotep coaching staff as the season inches closer: Prepare the upperclassmen to evolve into leaders that can help in guiding the underclassmen in becoming productive contributors.

“We’re just trying to get them to understand their roles as leaders,” Hargrove said of the experienced players on his squad. “In settings like this [at a preseason showcase at Kutztown University], we give them a little bit more responsibility individually so as it scales toward the season, once they come as a collective, it will be a little stronger.”

Smith’s game was on full display at the event, as she tallied 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks in a 43-31 loss to Abington. 

The Panthers missing out on the state tournament in 2021 might not seem like a huge deal. It does when considering the last time they missed it before that: 2011.

Imhotep had made the PIAA tournament nine straight seasons (four times in 3A, five in 2A); it’s still looking for its first state title on the girls’ side.

The Panthers went to the 3A quarterfinals in 2020 after winning three straight playoff games before COVID canceled the showdown with Delone Catholic; they went again in 2019, losing 47-43 to Trinity, and in 2018, losing 57-42 to Dunmore. Overall, they’ve gone 170-72 in the last 10 seasons, good for a 70.2% winning percentage. The next step is getting further in the state tournament.

Imhotep needs a collaborative effort between upperclassmen and freshmen to maneuver through its regular season slate and compete for a district title in order to do so.

The Panthers tip off for their season-opener on December 10 against Penn Charter then have a Columbus, Ohio, road trip in late December when they’ll face tough Columbus Northland and Dublin Coffman teams. Paul VI (N.J.) and Bethlehem Catholic are two other notable January opponents that’ll act as a gauge to see how well the young squad has meshed.

“This season will be a true process of growth,” Hargrove said. “Our success will be in how we show up every day in practice and that energy will carry over to the games. The goal is to be the best version of ourselves when the games matter the most.”


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