Khalil Turner (above) and Sankofa made it to the second round of the PIAA Class A tournament last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Ray Dunne (@RayDunneBTB)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of 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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Sankofa Freedom is beginning to climb the ranks on the hoop scene.
Entering the eighth year of the school’s existence, the Warriors are fresh off a District 12 Class A championship and their first state appearance since the 2013-2014 season. After a first-round win over High Point Baptist in the state playoffs, Sankofa’s run came to a halt against Faith Christian in a 55-27 loss in the second round. However, the Warriors’ core was just getting started.
Despite losing Ibrahim Dabo and Rasheed Ross to graduation, Sankofa returns four of five starters from last year’s team that finished 16-11 (6-6 Public League ‘B’ Division). At the core of this team is its outstanding junior class, featuring Khalil Turner, Scott Spann, and Kobe Devine, among others.
Turner, a 6-6 guard, has established himself as one of the more intriguing prospects in the area given his height and ability to bring the ball up the floor. As the point guard, Turner creates match-up problems for guards because of his size and for big men due to his quickness. He was voted to the third-team All-Public ‘B’ Division team a season ago as one of only two sophomores to be voted onto any team in the division.
While Turner has shown his ability to distribute the basketball and attack the basket, his jumper has been a question mark at times. The progression of his shot could allow him to take greater advantage of smaller opponents on the perimeter and spread the floor for his teammates. This was a main focus of his offseason.
“We worked on a lot of getting up a lot of shots, the muscle memory, (and) a lot of ball handling,” Turner said.
Beyond the attributes, Sankofa head coach Isaiah Thomas sees Turner as a player who grasps what it means to be a point guard at his size.
“Khalil is a guy who plays really fundamentally sound, he’s very versatile in the positions he can guard,” Thomas said. “His decision making on offense, his shot selection, the way he likes to drive the ball, and the way he make his teammates play better.”
Aside from Turner, the junior class boasts last year’s leading scorer in Scott Spann. A 6-2 wing, Spann was an honorable mention in the coaches’ All-Public B Division last year. Not only a scorer, Spann rebounds well for his size. As for junior guard Kobe Devine, he and senior forward Omar Long have become three-and-D specialists for the Warriors.
“(They) are guys who can consistently knock down the open jump shot and we’re going to count on them to do that as well as anchor our defense,” Thomas said. “Omar does an incredible job of talking and always being in the right position. Kobe spearheads our defense with his ability to zig-zag the basketball, and puts pressure on the other team’s guards.”
The Warriors are also expecting big things out of sophomore guard Derrius Ward after he made solid contributions to the team in his freshman year. The 6-4 guard runs the point well and figures to assume that role whenever Turner is off the floor.
In spite of the overall youth of this team, they are not lacking experience. Devine and Turner have been playing varsity since their freshman years and eight out of the ten players who scored in last year’s District 12 A title game will be big parts of the rotation again. The run to the state tournament also provided important experience in big game situations. Thomas sees experience as a big help for the goals in place this season.
“It meant everything because for them, states is a different atmosphere. It’s played in different gyms, the refereeing is different...the amount of pressure is different, it’s not the same level of competition you see on a consistent basis,” Thomas said. “So for them, last year being mostly underclassmen just to go out there and participate in states and get a feel for it, I think they’ll be more prepared for it this year. It won’t shock them as much.”
Sankofa better be ready to play in games right away as they open up their season with a slew of difficult games. They open up their season at District One powerhouse Plymouth Whitemarsh on December 8th. As if that isn’t enough, they take on a tough Martin Luther King team on the road in their second game on December 11.
In late December, the Warriors will play in the Christopher Dock Holiday tournament on the 22- 23 and then travel to Erie for a Christmas tournament on Dec. 28-29.
January will feature the majority of their Public League B Division schedule as they wrap up non-league play with a trip to Malvern Prep and another to Council Rock South in the first week of 2018. The only coach in Sankofa’s short history believes that this team’s build will last well beyond the regular season’s end on February 1.
“We want to win a state championship. That’s our goal. That’s it. That’s our focus. That’s we feel like we want to accomplish this year. Guys are willing to sacrifice, guys on that are willing to lead us everyday,” Thomas said. “These guys with the experience and the skill they have, we are aiming for and feel that a state championship should be our goal and that is what we are aiming for this year.”