By Pat Dallahan (@AllBusinessPat)
ABINGTON — Jim Donofrio had to tell Mani Sajid to stop.
It was over the summer that Sajid, a sophomore at Plymouth Whitemarsh, was elevating his game to the next level, readying himself to play a significant role at the varsity level for the first time. At times, working too hard, said Donofrio, PW’s longtime head coach.
Mani Sajid (above) was nearly perfect from the floor for 22 points in his first varsity start. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Mani was actually doing two-a-days, and sneaking in on Sunday when I told him to stay home.”
This summer was a big one for the 6-foot-3 sophomore, who garnered attention from multiple college coaches from his stellar play on the AAU circuit for the Penn Warriors. However, this college attention isn’t what is driving him.
“The season’s going on right now, so I’m not worried about that,” said Sajid. “It feels good, but I got the season on my mind right now.”
Sajid spent most of his freshman season on the bench, watching teammates like Jaden Colzie, Quidre Bennett, Chase Coleman and others, in a season which resulted in a District 1 6A championship for the Colonials. Sajid made sure that he would be ready to make an impact when the time came this winter.
“I know it had to be a big season for me especially with everyone leaving this last year,” the 6-foot-3 sophomore said, “so I just wanted to put the work in, so we could be good this year.
“It was a great year to watch last year,” he added. “It was great watching them, and I just want to repeat that this year. I learned what it takes to win and that it’s gonna be a hard season, but we’re gonna love it.
With all of this hard work comes expectations to perform, both from people around Sajid and Sajid himself.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself,” said Donofrio. “We scrimmaged Roman on Thursday night and he didn’t get a basket. And he was beyond annoyed with himself.”
Whether those workouts and self applied pressure were too much for the 10th grader is up for debate, but the results speak for themselves. Sajid was ready to make an impact on Tuesday night as Plymouth Whitemarsh opened its season at bitter rival Abington, coming away with a 68-66 win.
Sajid left his fingerprints all over this game, finishing second on his team with 22 points, while coming out of the gates hot and drilling multiple clutch shots down the stretch for PW.
His biggest shot came with 3:25 to play in the game. Sajid drilled a three in response to a 3-pointer coming from Abington’s Jayden Flournoy, putting the Colonials up four points and helping them hang on against a Ghosts side that was trying to close a gap that had been 19 points at halftime.
That was his final make on a night where he went 8-of-9 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from deep.
“I had a lot of confidence,” Sajid said. “The ball was going in for me so I just wanted to keep getting it and trusting my shot.”
Sajid wasted no time getting to work, making five shots in the opening quarter, scoring 13 of Plymouth Whitemarsh’s first 20 points in the frame. Although Sajid did not see much time in the second quarter due to foul trouble, it did not affect his impact or the bottom line of his performance.
“He was a little frustrated with me last year as a freshman because he’s just so hungry to be good, and to play,” Donofrio said. “To have him go out and make big shot after big shot when it matters, that’s what I like.
As expected for an Abington/PW game, tensions ran hot for the two Suburban One powerhouses. There were some extracurricular activities in the postgame handshake line. Things started to escalate, but the teams were separated and made it to their locker rooms before any significant incident occurred.
Jaden Colzie (above) had 27 of his 30 points in the first half. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
For a while, it didn’t seem like there would be much to fight about. Colzie filled up the statsheet for the Colonials, putting up 27 first half points, nearly outscoring Abington’s entire squad by himself. The 6-0 senior finished with an even 30 points on the night, a game high, while hitting all sorts of difficult and off-balanced shots.
Despite Plymouth Whitemarsh holding a commanding 47-28 lead over Abington at halftime, Ghosts head coach Dan Marsh made it abundantly clear to his players that they had to respond strongly.
“One of the things that we had talked about, almost the whole offseason was, I was curious how they would react when we had some adversity thrown at us,” said Marsh, in his first year with the Abington boys after coming over from the girls’ side. “At halftime I told them it’s one possession at a time, now. This is about pride, you guys have to figure this thing out.”
The Ghosts, led by strong second half performances from Aaron Jones and Jeremiah Lee, came out of the locker room with a newfound energy. Despite being down 58-46 after 3 quarters of play, momentum started to sway in the direction of Abington.
Clutch buckets came from multiple Abington players, mainly Lee (19 points) and Jones (15), but Flournoy chipped in with six crucial points of his own, as well; freshman Xander Gasty came up with a big steal-and-layup late as 11 different Ghosts scored. In the fourth quarter, Abington battled all the way back and made it a one-score game, but couldn’t get over the hump.
“A loss is not a loss if you learn from it, and I think we learned tonight, we learned that we can fight,” Marsh said. “Our whole mantra this year is that we have to rely on our defense. Our offense is going to struggle at times, so we have to rely on our defense, and the first half we got selfish both offensively and defensively, and we came together, so I’m proud of them.”
Both teams are back in action on Friday in Suburban One league play; Plymouth Whitemarsh hosts Quakertown, while Abington travels to Hatboro-Horsham.
Abington 15 | 13 | 18 | 20 || 66
P-W: 29 | 18 | 11 | 10 || 68
Abington: 20-46 FG (3-14 3PT), 23-30 FT
P-W: 25-43 FG (10-21 3PT), 8-19 FT
Abington: Jeremiah Lee 19, Aaron Jones 15, Paul Glants 9, Jayden Flournoy 6, Damon Rawls 4, Kellen Ingram 4, Lathan Miller 3, Khalid Jenkins 2, Xander Grasty 2, Jacob Manigaucolt 1, Kamari Brashear 1
P-W: Jaden Colzie 30, Mani Sajid 22, Jahsier Sayles 9, Ben Marsico 6, Ehab Ahmed 1