Open Gym: Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School – Philly Pub A Division) –

Last March I predicted that the winner of the Girard College/Sankofa game would advance to the PIAA Class A title game in Hershey. Well Sankofa won but a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum so to speak. First they lost in the second round to Lourdes Regional HS but the not so funny part was that on game day they couldn't get a bus from the school district for some unknown reason. Then the team had to travel two hours for the game cramped up in cars while their opponents were less than one hour from the game site. They arrived only ten minutes before tip off and with little time to warm up never got into a flow while their opponents shot well and advanced. With the Pub going back to a balanced 11 team A division some of the top B division teams got bumped up and Sankofa has welcomed the challenge for sure. They are finalizing another tough schedule on par with last years slate that featured games vs. PIAA Class A titlist Kennedy Catholic and 6A power Plymouth-Whitemarsh and I believe they have a rematch with P-W in December along with their tough league matchups. This team has senior leadership and will not be taken lightly and with a good blend of underclassmen mixed with the veterans has a good shot of finishing in the top half of the division.

The Backcourt:

Sankofa has lots of interchangeable parts so some guys listed in the backcourt will at times play in the frontcourt and vice versa so we'll start with 5'8' '19 Kobe Devine at the point. Kobe may be diminutive in size but he has a big heart and plays like it with jet quick burners to get to the basket and a very reliable perimeter jump shot to keep you off balance. He is a top notch defender who also has good court vision to get assists on one end and pick off errant passes at the other. He'll team with 6'3' '19 Jaymes Savage a scrappy defender who can run the floor and score in transition and is a tough rebounder who can double as a frontcourt player when needed. His defense was what opened my eyes to his game last year and nothing has changed on that front. 5'9' '20 Cannan Boswell is another player HC Isaiah Thomas is excited about as he looks like a good shooter with range that needs to move better without the ball as he tended to stand around on offense in some of the transition drills and scrimmages at yesterday's open gym.

The Frontcourt:

6'7' '19 Khalil Turner headlines this Sankofa conglomerate and I believe he's a D-1 level talent despite his lack of interest from all but one school. He dons many hats for this team from part time PG with the ability to find open teammates with deft passes to stepping out to the perimeter to knock down 3 pointers. His handle is good enough to allow him to penetrate and get to the rack for tough finishes and with some nice hops he has become a much better rebounder and defender. He'll rebound the ball and immediately head up court to start their transition game and he has improved his on ball defense but what I really like is his penchant for getting up in the paint to block shots and try to keep them in play for his team to recover the ball. He can play the 1-4 as needed and combined with 6'3' '19 Scott Spann who is more a two but often plays up front, hence this listing, they can cause multiple matchup problems for opposing defenses. Spann has improved his stroke tremendously in the last year and is now comfortable stepping out to the three line and banging in triples. He has tightened up his handle and is confident driving to the basket for in traffic layups and when cut off he no longer rushes a bad pass but maintains his compsure to deliver the rock to an open teammate. I've often said certain guys have the ability to have the ball find them and as a rebounder and defender this seems to be true with Spann as the ball seems to find him often. 6'5' '20 Derrius Ward is a wing with solid range and lift on a smooth jump shot and he's not afraid to launch if given the slightest opening with a quick and balanced release and when he's on it's a big plus for this team. He is an opportunistic defender who seems to pick up steals by reading the ball handlers eyes then steps in to pick off any less then precision pass he can get his hands on and as he gains upper body strength should become a better on ball defender as well. 6'4' '19 Jair Ballard-West is another big body up front who can surprise you with his basketball skills as he is also a football player and was not present yesterday. But on occasion he has shown an ability to score it in the paint with a physical style that gets him to the rack thru contact. His jumper looks good too and of course he is a credible defender and rebounder. The question in the early season will be his transformation from the gridiron to the hardwood.

Newcomers:

Some of their young guys were impressive as well during the drills and scrimmages and two of them should make it into the rotation this season. 6'2' '21 Symir Priester and 6'1' '21 James Fowler look like contributors in the backcourt with good ball skills who both move well without the ball and can shoot it and pass it with equal aplomb. If these two continue their growth as players they'll see some significant minutes this coming season. 6'3' '22 Josiah Turner was intriguing as well with a not quite ready for prime time game but has some promising upside as he moved well and picked things up pretty quickly in the drill work. One final piece to the Sankofa puzzle was missing yesterday and in talking with Coach Thomas this young man can definitely help in the frontcourt. 6'6' '20 Rashan Lacey has good hops and is starting to develop as a player and could be a factor for them this year. I'll have to make another of their open gyms to get a look at this young man though.

Outlook:

Moving up to the A division will be a challenge and Coach Thomas knows that his team could suffer a few more losses this season but he also realizes that to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a league, district or state championship you need to be at your best all season long and overcoming adversity is part of the process. Keeping his guys on an even keel all season will be key for this squad and I can see them surprising a few Pub A teams along the way as well as coming up short in a few tilts and kicking themselves in the rear for not executing and finishing the job. It's a fine line but this team will enter this 2018-19 campaign knowing success as the defending District 12 1A champ and while this is a new year the goal will be to repeat and try and capture a state chip. With the available talent on hand I can see them as a top 5 A division team and if they handle the rigors of a tough schedule and can get some confidence by the time the PIAA tourney rolls around I can see them as title contenders for sure with a possibility of bringing home the schools first state championship and wouldn't that be something to hang your hat on.