The contrast in point guards isn’t usually quite this stark, but the end result could still be the same.
Last season, Imhotep senior Daron Russell led what coach Andre Noble called the most “dominant” team in his boys’ basketball program’s storied history.
Earlier this month in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Russell, a 5-foot-10 point guard, showed the country his wares when he helped Rhode Island beat Oklahoma and often got the best of fellow freshman Trae Young, who recently declared for the NBA draft.
This year, Noble and the Public League-champion Panthers have entrusted the kingdom to Donta Scott, a versatile, 6-7 junior who has Imhotep poised for PIAA title No. 6. The Panthers will play District 10’s Sharon in the Class 4A final at 8 p.m. Monday at the Giant Center in Hershey. The final had been scheduled for Thursday but was moved to Monday because of the weather.
The Panthers (30-2) have won 21 straight games, are ranked No. 7 in the nation by USA Today, and haven’t lost to an in-state team — on the court — since Dec. 14 of last season against Neumann-Goretti, featuring Quade Green (now at Kentucky). (The Panthers were given a loss to Constitution last season after an in-game kerfuffle halted the Jan. 9 contest.)
This season, Imhotep’s losses have come against DeMatha (Maryland) and La Lumiere (Indiana), Nos. 8 and 6, respectively, in the nation (USA Today).
Scott, whose offensive game has vastly improved, scored a team-high 27 points in the Panthers’ 65-60 semifinal victory against Bethlehem Catholic at Reading High.
His versatility on the defensive end, however, might be even more important to the Panthers’ success. With long arms, quick feet and even quicker instincts, Scott allows Noble to vary defensive schemes and matchups.
Among the most stifling is a 1-3-1 zone with Scott at the top, and that can be deployed in either three-quarter or half-court situations, slowly squeezing offenses into precarious places.
The athleticism and smarts of fellow juniors Chereef Knox and Dahmir Bishop restrict passing lanes, while 6-8 sophomore Elijah Taylor protects the rim.
Senior guard Bernard Lightsey, who hit four three-pointers in the semifinals, is one of several players who are capable scorers, which makes the Panthers more than formidable on both ends of the court.
The Panthers seek their sixth PIAA title and second in a row, after Russell’s squad smacked Strong Vincent in the finals last year. Imhotep also won championships in 2009 (2A), 2011 (2A), 2012 (2A), and 2013 (3A).
Sharon (27-2), which last won PIAA gold in 1957 when it beat Chester, 57-50, was led by junior guard James McKinney’s 18 points in the semifinals.
McKinney is a 6-2 wing. Ethan Porterfield is a 6-8 junior forward who added 11 points and eight rebounds in the semifinals.
On occasion, the Panthers will start slowly, which can give opponents confidence. Imhotep fell behind, 14-1, early in the semifinals.
The Panthers, however, are more than talented enough to wear the crown again, but settling for jump shots and their reliance on offense instead of defense are bugaboos that could yield an upset.