MARTIN LUTHER KING 46, CONSTITUTION 44
Martin Luther King's march to its first Public League boys' basketball championship was a chemistry-building process that involved blending a bunch of new players.
"We spent a lot of time together on and off the court," said 6-foot-8, 200-pound senior forward Jahmir Taylor. "It was important that we get to know each other, become a family. You have to be ready to handle the ups and downs of a season."
Sunday afternoon at Temple's Liacouras Center, Taylor and four other transfers helped the new-look Cougars hold off Constitution, 46-44, for top league honors.
King survived a last-second three-point attempt by the Generals, with Taylor, who last season played at Del-Val Charter, collecting the rebound that set off a half-court celebration.
"It was a through-the-roof feeling when we won," Taylor said. "I couldn't be happier. This was our goal all year long. We worked hard to make it happen."
Taylor totaled 11 of his 15 rebouds in the second half. He also blocked three shots and made two steals.
Jabri McCall, a sophomore guard who sat out last season while attending Public League rival Math, Civics and Sciences, captured MVP honors by scoring 12 of his 13 points in the second half.
"Things happen," King coach Sean Colson said of McCall's decision not to play as a freshman. "I didn't play my two years before I played [for Franklin Learning Center] in the (1992) championship game and we won.
"Jabri is tough-minded. I don't think he didn't play there because he wasn't good enough or anything. I'm happy he didn't play over there. It worked out for us."
Said McCall: "I didn't want to play last year. I just wanted to sit back and watch, and find out what high school basketball was all about. I think it was good for me."
Junior guard Sammy Foreman joined the Cougars after Vaux, which last season reached the Public League final before bowing in a thriller against Imhotep Charter, shut its doors last June.
Foreman, who contributed 12 points and three assists on Sunday, said he first intended to play for MC&S. "It was a last-minute decision," he said. "It took me a while to pick a place. I just think that, overall, this was the best situation for me."
Other junior transfers for King are guard Tyheem Harmon, who came over from MC&S, and Chase Rodgers[CQ], a 6-6 forward previously at Plymouth Whitemarsh. Harmon made 3 of 4 free throws in the final frame; Rodgers had a first-quarter bucket.
"We've got a lot of kids that people wrote off," Colson said. "People didn't really support them and now they can walk around the city and say 'Hey, I'm a Public League champion.' "
In the third quarter, the 6-foot, 150-pound McCall produced a four-point play, hitting a left-wing trey while being fouled and draining the ensuing freebie. That gave the Cougars a 28-20 advantage.
"This team has come a long way," McCall said. "In the beginning of the year, we were kind of disorganized. It took us a while to get going."
Next for King, at 8:30 p.m. Friday at St. Joseph's University, is the District 12 Class AAAA title game vs. Roman Catholic.
"I like the challenge of playing Roman," McCall said. "They're talented, but so are we. We believe in ourselves."
Constitution shot 12 for 55 from the field and 19 for 29 from the line. They were 1 for 17 from beyond the arc.
For the Generals, junior catalyst Ahmad Gilbert recorded 12 boards, six points, and two blocks.