Sankofa Charter over George Washington
ALL THINGS considered, Anthony Wright-Downing's first brush with high school football worked out great.
Not only did he become a starting cornerback for Frankford, he often made big plays in crucial victories.
But then, in the Public League Class AAAA final, Wright-Downing dinged his right shoulder while trying for a diving interception and the words of his basketball coach, Isaiah Thomas, kept bouncing around in his head.
"I don't want you to play football. You might get hurt."
Guess what? Hoops is not always bowl-of-cherries material.
Take Tuesday, for instance. Sankofa Charter (whose students play football for Frankford via a special agreement) was hosting George Washington in a Division B contest at Gambrel Rec Center, which is tucked away inside East Frankford's Whitehall Housing Complex, when Wright-Downing snagged a rebound and steamed downcourt for what he hoped would be an uneventful, late-third-quarter layup.
Pow! As Wright-Downing soared rimward, he absorbed a double-forearm smash from Kendale Truitt, likewise a football player. Somehow, the ball went in, and Truitt was called for an intentional foul.
"Though I did get up real quick, that was harder than any hit I got during football season," Wright-Downing said, laughing. "I was shocked when the guy did that.
"He hit my jaw when he was trying to block it, and then my body hurt from the fall. Just had to take it all on the chin and make the free throw."
Um, there were two shots. Wright-Downing missed both. Guess the comment explains why he looked rather groggy.
"Oh, I missed it?" he said. "I missed two? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. My fault. I did miss 'em both."
Otherwise, Wright-Downing was mostly special as the Warriors triumphed, 64-51. The 6-2, 165-pound junior forward shot 11-for-20 and 2-for-5 for 24 points, while adding 15 rebounds.
Wright-Downing said one of his basketball teammates, Shyheim "Smoke" Ladson, was the ringleader in getting some of Sankofa's basketball players to join Frankford's football squad. They'd played for the nationally famous Frankford Chargers' youth program and were encouraged to try the high school version by assistant Rasheed Muhammad, who'd gotten his X-and-O start with the Chargers.
"Basketball's my favorite. That's the one that can get me to college," Wright-Downing said.
"I've been doing it for a long time, and it interests me the most.
"I did have fun with football. Will I play next year? For now, I'd say no. I know it'd be tough not to do it again. But there's that injury factor, especially after hurting my shoulder . . .
"I did play in the [City Title] game vs. La Salle, but not too much. And then it was bothering me early in the basketball season. I didn't like that part."
Thomas, a Frankford product, admires Wright-Downing as a player and person.
"He's a special kid," the coach said. "He just has to work on his jump shot."
Said Wright-Downing, who lives on Torresdale Avenue, a shade above Holmesburg Prison: "He's right. I shoot it too flat-footed, mostly, and I have to get it higher. I work on it all the time."
Of his rebounding success (his high game is 22), he said: "My coaches are always telling me to box out. If you're smaller than the bigs, that's the only way to do it. Sometimes, the coaches even put me at [power forward], because they know I'm going to listen and work hard. I'm doing everything I can, workwise, to make myself a D-I prospect."
Sub Tydeus Ellison (15) also scored in double figures for Sankofa, while Dache Talbert dealt five assists and Ladson made six steals. James Jefferson (seven) and Juwan Milliner (six) helped on the boards.
Truitt, whose quick feet and instincts make him borderline unguardable, tallied 18 points before drawing a tech for his fifth foul with 3:36 left. His brother, Devante, also had 18. The Truitts halved six assists and eight steals. Rasheed Black snagged 11 boards.
Meanwhile, Wright-Downing is pretty sure at least one Sankofa guy will be still be playing football.
"That's Smoke's main sport," he said. "He's really into it."
High school coverage: www.philly.com/rally