Open Gym: Math, Civics & Sciences Charter School ( Philly Public League ' A Division) –

For MCS Charter last season ended a bit short of their intended goal but in terms of growth this program came a long way. Playing in the meat grinder of the Pubs A Division the Mighty Elephants held their own and entered the league playoffs on a bit of a hot streak. They took care of business with wins over Penn Treaty Charter and Frankford HS to reach the quarterfinals as the Class 2A school would match up with 5A Martin Luther King HS. In a well played game they came up short but had qualified for the district 12 playoffs and a shot at the State tourney. After beating Paul Robeson HS to corral that state berth they came up against Constitution HS a fellow A division member who had advanced to the Pub semi's the week before. This game was a back and forth affair that saw MCS garner the win 69-66 and nab the district's #1 seed that came with it. With a potential rematch versus the Generals much anticipated by area hoop heads they both advanced with comfortable wins in their first two contests. In the state quarterfinals Constitution held up their end of the bargain by winning their game but MCS perhaps looking ahead had a clunker of a game and lost 71-58 to a plucky bunch from PA coal country Holy Cross HS to end their season. Shortly thereafter HC Danny Jackson decided to step down and longtime assistant Lonnie Diggs took over.

The Backcourt:

The Public league has gone back to a balanced division setup so the A division has increased from six teams and a double round robin schedule to eleven teams playing each other once on a rotating home and away schedule. Imhotep Charter will no doubt be the league favorite but after that the 2-7 spots could be wide open and MCS has as good a shot as any to earn a high seed for the Pub playoffs with their backcourt talent. As they have a dearth of height on this years roster the guard play will be paramount to their success. 6'3' '19 Jihad 'Squid' Watson will be the pulse for this Mighty Elephant squad as the under recruited playmaker will guide the offense with his crafty ability to get the ball to open teammates with such stealth and quickness that some of his passes wind up as baskets before the opposition realizes he's already passed the ball. His handle is like a yo-yo on a string and when defenders give him some room he rises up and buries a slick lefty three ball with a quick release and beautiful rotation. He's a master at penetrating the paint for quick strike buckets or deft feeds to cutters and did I mention he plays defense too. 6'1' '19 Semaj Mills seems like he's played Philly HS ball for about eight years but that perception may be derived from the fact that he has played at a couple different schools. Nevertheless he is a scrappy combo who can penetrate to the basket or pull up and hit off the bounce jump shots. With Watson directing things Mills is given the chance to make some plays so he can take advantage of some of these situations. 6'2' '20 Jabbar Slaughter is another likely starter who compliments the other two by making hustle plays on either end of the court. He has no qualms about going inside for a tough finish or to grab an in traffic rebound and he'll get in your grill to defend all over the floor if it gets the team a W. two more guys who will be fighting for minutes will be 5'11' '20 Niaeem Edwards a scrappy kid with a nice jump shot and 6'2' '21 Nisine Poplar who has a solid handle and budding PG instincts. He stuck his nose in on defense and was a crafty passer with good timing.

The Frontcourt:

This team as I mentioned lacks real size although they have a frosh big who stands 6'9' but we'll get to him later. 6'4' '19 Zahir Jackson will start up front out of necessity but that is not a bad thing as he is more a three man anyway. He can handle the ball efficiently and get to the basket with powerful moves that he finishes with good touch and the ability to take on contact. He's comfortable on the wing while not shying away from trading paint down low and he has shown to be a heady rebounder with good instincts and some bounce to go up and get them. He will also get down and dirty to defend using quickness on the perimeter and good old fashioned hard work in the paint. While Zahir may not be flashy or a spectacular athlete that catches your eye by jumping out of the building to slam on someone's head he is tremendously productive whether you notice him or not. 6'5' '20 Tvon Jones in my viewings has been a reliable defender with a strong frame who can rebound the ball well and is very astute in getting the rock to a ball handler to start the transition game. He has shown me that he is a very opportunistic scorer in that he doesn't look to score it every time he touches it but moves without the ball looking for seams to slide into and where he can receive a scoring pass from any number of Mighty Elephant pseudo point guards. He has good timing on the offensive glass to get put back baskets and while not an instinctual passer he does at times recognize a defensive switch to feed the ball opposite for a good look or a kick out to avoid the double team. To me his real value will be his ability to use that sturdy frame to defend the post with weakside help if needed.

Newcomers:

While one open gym and one Big 64 viewing is not nearly enough to evaluate the freshman on the MCS roster Coach Diggs was very high on these guys and from the sound of it wouldn't hesitate to throw them in the crucible of a Pub battle if need be. Let's start with 6'9' '22 Nadir Barron who oddly was not present at the open gym I attended. Seems it was his birthday and I believe his Grandmother was taking him to dinner to celebrate. Coach Diggs tells me that he's very raw but is working diligently in the gym to improve his game and admitted that without much size he will use this young man so he gets some learning on the job training. Two other frosh that he's high on are Darryon Prescott and Naseem Parks who show some promise but probably won't help a lot this season unless the dreaded injury bug hits the team. Another freshman who could help is 5'9' '22 Ali Brown a quick and scrappy defender with some improving ball skills but his Father Stan Jones an assistant at West Catholic last year recently was named HC at Philly Pub's High School of the Future (a Bill Gates school). While Coach Diggs told me that Coach Jones was leaving his son at MCS he also would not be surprised if he wanted to switch over and play for his dad so we'll see how that plays out.

Outlook:

I'll admit that selfishly I was hoping for an MCS/Constitution rematch last year cause it would have saved me a long drive to Bethlehem, Pa to watch the much delayed by snow semi between the Generals and Holy Cross as that fourth meeting between the two would have been local but sometimes the basketball gods have other plans. For this season I do expect Imhotep to win the league but for MCS a district final vs. Constitution in my opinion is pretty much a lock at the 2A level as those two are the best of that classification in the Philly area. I also believe the Mighty Elephants have learned from the past and I suspect that Coach Diggs will be prepared to avoid a similar fate this coming season. Depending on how the bracket plays out this team has enough talent to advance to the 2A state title game in March and once there I can see them winning it. I also realize that as a defending champion the Generals will concede nothing so you can bet that I will make every effort to attend their regular season tilt to gauge the temperature between these two worthy opponents.

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