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Ma'Kye Taylor giving Imhotep unexpected boost during playoff run

03/03/2024, 12:45am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Andre Noble thought Ma’Kye Taylor was being too optimistic. 

It was back in the fall, just about a month after Taylor had torn his right meniscus. The docs at CHOP told the Imhotep Charter senior it would likely be four-to-five months until he would be cleared to retake the court, putting his entire season in jeopardy.

And yet, based on the way his early recovery was going, Taylor told him he’d be back on the court during his senior year. Noble, the Panthers’ 23rd-year head coach, wasn’t counting on it.

Ma'Kye Taylor (above) made his return to the court in January. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“I didn’t even really believe him,” he said. “(After) the surgery, he came back and said he didn’t have any scar tissue, and we said ‘that’s great.’ And then he really hit his recovery really hard, but I still didn’t believe it. I was like ‘Kye, there’s no way.”

As it turns out, there was a way. 

Taylor made his way back on the court for Imhotep by the end of January, and is relishing getting to be part of one final playoff push in his high school career. The 6-foot-7 forward got his first start of the season on Saturday, helping the Panthers to a 62-47 win over Archbishop Ryan in the District 12 5A championship game. 

“(My emotions are) high,” he said. “Because I wasn’t supposed to be back this season, I was supposed to be sitting another year due to a torn meniscus, but I fought through it.”

West Chester University’s fall league was the setting for Taylor’s injury, a charge taken in late September enough to tear the meniscus in his right knee. It was the same day he’d made his college choice, committing to the University of Albany, going from a high to a low in the span of just a few hours. 

By the midpoint of the week, doctors told him that not only did he need surgery, but his senior season was in jeopardy. For a ballplayer who’d already missed his eighth and ninth grade seasons after breaking his left knee on two separate occasions, the idea of missing out on his last year with ‘Tep was a lot to take in.

“That kinda hurt,” he admitted. “But you know, I kept my head down, worked through it; this isn’t anything I haven’t been through before.”

As it turns out, those two years away from the court were a benefit for Taylor, who understood the importance of physical therapy and rehab, and how it can make the difference between accelerating the recovery timeline or delaying it. 

Before long, he was ahead of schedule.

“I knew how to go about it, I think that’s what really helped me through it, it wasn’t nothing new to me,” he said. “I would say maybe like a month into my rehab, I was moving a lot better, laterally and jumping a lot better, so it was just like, I knew I was going to be back.”

“I did not believe it one second,” Noble said. “And then it was just like, wow. Grateful for him and happy for him and his family.”

It was on Jan. 30, in a game against Mastery North, that Taylor finally took the court again. He come off the bench for ‘Tep for the next seven as the Panthers won their fourth straight Public League championship. 

He got into the starting lineup against Ryan but was still part of a constantly-rotating group of forwards along with classmate Jeremiah White and freshman Zion Green. Taylor contributed two points, three rebounds and three steals to the win, playing somewhere between a quarter to half of the minutes as part of a nine-deep Imhotep rotation. 

“It’s a balance of what we’re doing with him now, because he’s still not 100 [percent],” Noble said. “We’re still watching his minutes and not trying to do too much [...] we figured out, I think, a happy medium where he feels like he needs to be a part of what we’re doing without putting too much strain on him.

Jeremiah White (above) has stepped up in Taylor's absence. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“We needed him today. He gives us another really good body to be physical with, partnering him with Jeremiah has been really helpful. The other thing that’s really changed things is Zion Green really taking a step forward has helped us with our length.”

Saturday’s championship was a physical contest between the Public League champions and Catholic League runner-ups, who were still smarting from their buzzer-beating loss to Roman Catholic on Monday night 

Behind UConn-bound guard Ahmad Nowell (19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals), Imhotep was just too tough, too aggressive, too physical for Ryan. The Panthers grew a three-point first-quarter edge to a 35-22 lead at halftime; the Raiders got a little back to pull within 43-35 after three quarters, but Nowell and Co. slammed the door shut in the fourth.

Ryan got a 17-point, six-rebound, seven-block, two-assist effort from Thomas Sorber but the Imhotep guards found little-to-no room to operate against Nowell and sophomore R.J. Smith (11 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds), along with athletic wings Zaahir Muhammad-Gray (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Latief Lorenzano-White (5 points, 3 rebounds).

Jeremiah White put in strong work inside, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds (four offensive) and a block.

“When I was injured, and he was starting, I was watching all the games, I was kind of in his ear, even when he was having a bad game,” Taylor said of White. “He’s my counterpart so I’ve got to encourage him, pick him up. Playing back together feels great.”

Imhotep will face Pottstown, the sixth seed out of District 1, in the opening round on Friday. Archbishop Ryan gets Sun Valley, the District 1 fourth seed. 

Imhotep’s win over Ryan was the third year in a row the Panthers have beaten the Raiders in the city 5A state championship game. The two also met in last year’s PIAA state semifinals, a 72-50 Imhotep win, and would do so again if both win their first three state playoff games. 

“Every year our goals are to win the pub, win the state and try to put ourselves in the position to be nationally ranked if we can,” Noble said. “And we’re in all those positions, we’ve just got to finish the deal. And there’s some tough rounds like Abington Heights is really good, Unionville is really good. It’s not just a coronation of Ryan or Imhotep. There’s definitely some toughies in between. We’ll see what happens.”

By Quarter
Imhotep:  14  |  21  |   8   |  19  ||  62
Ryan:       11  |  11  |  13  |  12  ||  47

Imhotep: 25-55 FG (4-13 3PT), 8-11 FT
Ryan: 16-48 FG (3-19 3PT), 12-14 FT

Imhotep: Ahmad Nowell 19, Zaahir Muhammad-Gray 12, RJ Smith 11, Jeremiah White 8, Latief Lorenzo-White 5, Kody Colson 3, Carnell Henderson 2, Ma’Kye Taylor 2

Ryan: Thomas Sorber 17, Ryan Everett 12, Rocco Morabito 7, Darren Williams 5, Jaden Murray 4, Matt Johnson 2

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Tag(s): Home  Josh Verlin  High School  Catholic League (B)  Archbishop Ryan  Public League (B)  Public League A (B)  Imhotep