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PIAA 5A Boys Championship Preview: Imhotep Charter vs. Exeter

03/23/2023, 7:00pm EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

From afar, it may look like there isn’t much left for the Imhotep Charter boys basketball program to chase.

Eleven Public League titles. Six District 12 championships. Eight times as state champion. When late March rolls around it can feel like the Panthers have been there, done that.

This Panthers group has invoked that feeling more than others with 20-point-plus wins routinely piling up during a run to Friday’s PIAA Class 5A title game for the second straight season, where the Panthers will face District 3 champion Exeter at 8 p.m. at the GIANT Center.

But coach Andre Noble said Imhotep's tradition always gives his players something to strive for or carry on.

Imhotep senior Justin Edwards goes up for a dunk Monday against Archbishop Ryan. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“They've seen so many groups of Imhotep guys and they talked to some of the older guys, some of them got funny competitions,” Noble said. “Justin (Edwards) has a funny competition with Fatts (Russell), so he's always like, ‘Well, what did Fatts do?’ in terms of his motivation.

"And some of our grads have called them and you know, just check in with them and tell them to go get it. The ‘Tep family culture, as you know, has passed on and, and those guys have, you know, always with our younger guys connected with them through social media and stuff like that. So that's been another cool thing that we've seen happen here.”

Imhotep’s senior group is a class Noble has watched blossom into one of the program’s best. Senior 6-7 wing Justin Edwards, a Kentucky commit, and senior guard Rahmir Barno, a Florida Gulf Coast commit, are the headliners, both 1,000-point scorers along with junior guard Ahmad Nowell.

They came in as skinny freshmen and turned into two of the best players in the state — for Edwards the country, ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2023 by ESPN. They finish up their illustrious careers on Friday night.

“I think the big thing is like you already start thinking about, ‘Wow, I'm gonna miss these guys,’ because you're around them so long since they were 14,” Noble said. “Just seeing some Justin, Rahmir pictures when they were coming into ninth grade and seeing them now, it's like we smile and joke about it. We’re excited about the next journeys for them, but we are gonna miss these guys. They've been great for us.”

Nowell, Edwards and Barno are joined in the starting lineup by senior guard Yahmir Satterfield, who’s developed into a lethal catch-and-shoot threat during his first season in the Panthers’ starting lineup. He’s long dreamed of making history at Imhotep. Nowell and junior forward Makye Taylor, another Division I prospect, join them in the starting five with a deep bench behind them.

Senior wings Baasil Saunders and Amaury Hunte and junior forward Jeremiah White are some of the first veterans to come off the bench. Freshman guard R.J. Smith and freshman forward Zaahir Muhammad Gray are getting early postseason experience.

COVID halted Imhotep’s run in the PIAA playoffs in 2020 and kept the Panthers from the state postseason in 2021. After grabbing state gold for the first time since 2019 last season, Imhotep’s seniors hope to finish their careers with back-to-back state titles

“We’re extremely excited,” Taylor said after Monday’s semifinal win over Archbishop Ryan. “This group has only been there once because of COVID, so it’s nice to send our seniors out, especially Justin and Rah and Yahmir, out with a bang.”

Imhotep has wins over Holy Ghost Prep (85-33), Muhlenberg (68-32), Abington Heights (65-38) and Archbishop Ryan (72-50) in the state tournament. Exeter dodged a few more bullets during its run to the title game, which included an overtime win over Peters Township in the state quarters and a 51-47 victory over District 10 champ Cathedral Prep in the semis. The Eagles haven’t lost since a Feb. 17 loss to Reading, hanging with the Red Knights in both of their matchups this season.

Seniors Anthony Caccese, a 6-6 Delaware football offensive lineman recruit, and Zyion Paschall are All-Berks County players for Exeter. Junior guard Kevin Saenz and junior wing Reece Garvin are two more double-figure scorers for the Eagles. Senior Teddy Snyder, junior Alex Kelsey and freshman Aidan Dauble beef up the rotation.

“They're talented, they play hard,” Noble said of Exeter. “They've played other teams that have athleticism and done really well in those games. So we expect it to be a competitive game, and we gotta play well.”

The Panthers are confident, yet cautious, as they look to finish off their dominant run against the Eagles.

“It’s gonna take a lot of concentration, good practice, focusing on film and what that team likes to do, but I definitely know Brother Andre is going to come out and prepare us for that situation, so it’s just about how we go out and perform,” Nowell said after Imhotep’s semifinal win over Ryan.

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