Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
NORTH PHILADELPHIA — Audenried junior Aniyah ‘Rambo’ Howard and sophomore Shayla Smith’s strong play on the court together goes back to their relationship off the court.
The pair grew up on the same street and played ball together at the Lonnie Young Recreation Center.
“I was in 8th grade,” Smith recalled about their first meeting. “She was in 9th [grade], I think.”
“[Head coach Kevin] Slaughter called me and was like ‘well you think she’s good?’” Howard added. “I’m like ‘yeah she can shoot.’”
“We got closer over time because we live down the street from each other, so we live together, go out, and play ball together and stuff like that, and we created a strong bond with each other.”
Howard and Smith’s strong bond forged in the neighborhood has translated into Audenried’s first Philadelphia Public League Championship in school history as the Rockets took down two-time defending champion Imhotep Charter, 56-48 Saturday afternoon at the Liacouras Center.
Smith starred all season for the Fighting Rockets, becoming league MVP and the fastest player in Public League history to score 1,000 points. But when Smith got into foul trouble, Howard stepped up, earning game MVP honors with a 17-point, 13-rebound double-double performance.
While Howard kept Audenried ahead, Smith returned in the fourth quarter and scored nine of her 13-points in the final frame.
“We don’t have a championship in any sport,” the 10-year head coach Slaughter said. “We don’t have a championship in checkers. We don’t have a championship in art. We don’t got none of that.
“We bringing it home.”
“It felt good to be the first,” Howard added. “Nobody ever did it [before us].”
The championship game was sloppy. Both teams committed over 20 turnovers each and struggled to shoot the ball early on. But Slaughter’s unit, which will next face Lansdale Catholic in the District 12-4A championship, is packed with “nuts and bolts” or scrappy players, and they made enough plays down the stretch to secure the win.
With Smith sidelined due to foul trouble as early as the first quarter, Howard didn’t shy away from the moment. The junior embraced Smith’s offensive responsibilities while maintaining her effort on the glass.
Smith did not doubt that Howard couldn’t get the job done.
“When I was in foul trouble,” Smith said. “I already knew she was gonna step up. There was no doubt.”
The Audenried girls basketball team celebrates its first Public League championship on Saturday at the Liacouras Center. (Photo: Courtesy PPL Athletics)
Audenried's Aniyah Howard, left, and Shayla Smith helped the Rockets to their first Public League championship. (Photo: Jared Leveson/CoBL)
Slaughter was less confident at first, but Howard wanted the responsibility.
“I knew Rambo wasn’t scared of these girls,” he said. “But I was worried she might’ve been scared of the moment, the atmosphere. But when Shayla had to sit down for so many minutes, I started telling (Howard) to flash high, catch, face, and go. She’s used to getting it down low, but once she started bringing the ball up the floor and dribbling it, I was thinking, 'oh no, she ready.'
“She didn’t care where she got the ball, she just wanted it, and the fact that she wanted it I was like ‘okay, we’re good.’”
Howard scored eight of her 17 in the first quarter. When her shots weren’t falling in the second and third quarters, she scrapped and clawed for every board and minimized extra possessions for Imhotep.
Rambo’s performance was big-time, as she played well enough and allowed Slaughter to sub Smith back into the game at the right time.
But when senior Shyann Osborne’s and-1 layup put the Rockets up 49-45 in the fourth quarter’s final minutes, the game tipped in Audenried’s favor and ignited Smith.
“We don’t really expect much from Shyann,” Slaughter said. “(But) when she went by that girl and got the and-1, it did so much for us emotionally because it was almost like my best players felt like, ‘Wow, yeah we got some help’. That play lifted us. … The whole energy in the gym turned around.”
Imhotep sophomore Anise Geiger scored on the next possession, cutting the Panthers’ deficit to 49-47 with a minute to play. Like Howard, Smith embraced the moment. She received a pass on the right wing, heaved an ill-advised 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining, and got them all.
“That last three you took,” Slaughter called to Smith during our interview. “I didn’t ask you to shoot that. You had balls of stone for that one.”
“I know I can make that shot,” Smith added. “I make that shot all the time. It’s just doing it one more time.”
Smith never doubted Howard’s ability to bear the offense’s weight when she sat because of foul trouble. Likewise, Howard knew that Smith’s 3-point dagger was money.
The first thing Howard noticed about Smith’s game back at Lonnie Young was her shot.
“Shayla wasn’t this good in eighth grade,” Slaughter said. “But (we) sent her to different trainers and put in extra work. She became the player for us this year. And Aniyah Howard man, I couldn’t be more proud of the kid.”
Imhotep: 9 | 9 | 9 | 15 | 15 || 48
Audenied: 12 | 9 | 15 | 20 || 56
Imhotep: Cooper 12, Geiger 11, Taylor 6, Hawthorne 6, Stevens 5, Mann 4, Ebo 2
Audenried: Howard 17, Smith 13, Neurell 12, Shelley 6, Cheeseboro 3, Osborne 2, Thornton 1
Imhotep boys roll West Philly for Public League 3-peat
Six of ‘Tep’s seven seniors have played under head coach Andre Noble since they were in ninth grade.
The group has built a close relationship with him, and 2022-2023 has been all about giving his senior class a proper send-off.
By proper send-off, Noble means championships.
“We’re so close,” he said. “We’ve been around each other for so long. Baasil Saunders is the only person who’s not a four-year guy. The other six seniors have been here since ninth grade, so to be able to see them grow into the young men they are is cool.”
“It’s about seniors,” he continued, “that our seniors get to go out as winners. That’s big about this program.”
The Imhotep boys basketball team celebrates with the Public League championship trophy on Saturday at the Liacouras Center. (Photo: Courtesy PPL Athletics)
The Panthers won their third-straight Public League title Saturday with a 72-43 win over West Philadelphia due in part to their senior class that’s headlined by the nation’s number one recruit, Justin Edwards (Kentucky), who earned game MVP honors after scoring 24 points.
The speedy Rhamir Barno (Florida Gulf Coast), three-and-D specialist Yahmir Satterfield, and the dynamic Saunders are the most significant contributors to Noble’s senior class. They have helped add to ‘Tep’s accomplished history, bringing the program its 9th, 10th and now 11th Public League titles.
Imhotep secured the first of potentially three championships this season with Saturday’s victory over West Philly. Noble’s squad now has a chance to achieve the coveted three-championship sweep: a Public League title, a city title and a state championship.
The nationally-ranked Panthers were the Pub favorites and will enter the District 12-5A title game against Archbishop Ryan and PIAA 5A tournament as overwhelming favorites as well, but this year’s ‘Tep team is staying focused, taking the postseason play one game at a time.
“It feels amazing,” junior guard Ahmad Nowell said about winning the Public League. “We went into the game like we never played (West Philadelphia) before and going in with that intensity like this is our last game, just go hard, that helped us a lot going through the game.”
“I’m gonna miss all my (seniors). Practice is the hardest part of the day. It’s harder than games. Working hard everyday in practice is definitely what I picked up from this older group.”
The 19-year head coach Noble knows that his team is talented. Their 24-3 regular season record is no fluke. But if this ‘Tep team wants recognition as being in the upper echelon of Imhotep teams, they must win all-three chips.
Noble, whose resume includes 11 Public crowns, six District 12 championships, and eight state titles, will ensure his squad is prepared for the challenge.
“Monday, we’re right back at it,” he said. “We got Archbishop Ryan on Thursday [in the City championship], who is a really good team. We’ll enjoy tonight, but we’ll start doing our homework on Ryan tomorrow.
“This could be one of our best teams. Our best teams have won Public League, City, and State titles. So they have some other work to do to be in that kinda group.”
WPHS: 9 | 11 | 6 | 17 || 43
Imhotep: 17 | 21 | 13 | 21 || 72
WPHS: McKie 9, Bey-Moore 8, Jackson 7, Butts 6, Hester 6, Fields 4, Washington 4, William 1
Imhotep: Edwards 24, Nowell 19, Satterfield 7, Barno 6, Henderson 4, White 4, Myatt 2, Smith 2, Gato 1, Kennedy 1