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31 Jan 2023

The Other Big Game

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January 31, 2023 Category: Sports Posted by:

The Imhotep Charter-Camden High School game was a High School basketball clinic.

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

To get an idea of how big the Imhotep Charter-Camden High School game was to fans of high school basketball in the Philadelphia area, all you had to do was try and find a ticket to Saturday afternoon’s game at St. Josephs Hagan Arena.

The game was so popular among basketball fans that you weren’t getting into the building without help from a scalper or a press credential.

But if you were in Hagan Arena, you got to see a game between two local High School basketball powerhouses that more than lived up to the hype.

In this battle of the Panthers, the 17-2 Camden High Panthers defeated the 16-3 Imhotep Panthers by a score of 60-57 in front of 4,200 fans. The game featured three of the nation’s top College Basketball recruits, all of which will be teammates at the University of Kentucky next season.

Imhotep had a chance to take the victory in the hard-fought battle, but Justin Edwards, the nation’s top-ranked college basketball recruit, missed a wide-open three pointer that was on target, but bounced off the rim with one-second left.

Edwards, along with Camden center Aaron Bradshaw and D.J. Wagner will be in Lexington, Kentucky playing for John Calipari next season. But in this matchup of Philadelphia high school heavyweights there was no time for exchanging pleasantries, especially not in the mind of Wagner.  

“It was definitely fun playing against them, but we’re all competitors,” Wagner said. “Once we step in between them lines, it ain’t really no ‘that’s going to be my teammate’ later. That’s after the game. On the court, whoever got that red and white jersey on, (Edwards on the other team), but that’s our brother at the end of the day.”

Though Edwards would have liked to come away with the win, he managed to somehow find a silver lining behind a tough loss.

“Towards the end, I started looking around and hearing everything,” said Edwards, who led his team with 21 points. “This will definitely prepare me for Kentucky. This was an amazing environment, everyone coming out to support Philly-area public school teams, was really big.”

Of course, Edwards will expect to get some good-natured needling from both Wagner and Bradshaw.

“This was good going up against D.J. and Aaron,” said Edwards, who said that he has beaten those guys before. “I probably won’t hear the end of it from those two. It was good to play against them.”  

In a game that went back and forth, it was Wagner who put his team on back in the second half, scoring 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. If he wasn’t aggressively taking the ball to the basket, he was setting up open three-point baskets for his teammates.  

“That’s what we expect. We expect (Wagner) to take over games,” said Camden head coach Maalik Wayns, who played his high school ball at Roman Catholic and lived across the street from Imhotep Charter during his high school days. “They went to a box and one and they tried to take him out of the game, but other guys stepped up. Desear Haskins made two big ones and Cian (Medley) for us … They’re putting four people on (Wagner). He said, ‘they’re disrespecting ya’ll by playing me like this and that motivated them. That’s being a leader and (Wagner) was able to take over when it called for it.”

Wagner said he was motivated when a ball was hit into his face by an Imhotep player. With the large raucous crowd both cheering for him and against him, he decided to take the game into his own hands.

“It felt great those are the moments we all live for playing games like this and crowds like this, having the whole city out. Really our passion showed out in the second half of that game,” Wagner, who is the son of former Memphis star Dejuan Wagner and the grandson of former Louisville star Milt Wagner. (Getting hit with the ball) It’s part of the game, but my competitive spirit definitely made me a little upset and made me go even harder.”

As for Imhotep, head coach Andre Noble got everything he wanted from a strategic standpoint. The Panthers didn’t allow Camden to turn the game into a 94-foot track meet. It was a half-court game. Noble, in fact, said a couple days before the that if the game was in the 50s and 60s, he was confident that his team would come out with the win.

Unfortunately for Imhotep, the final score was the only thing Noble didn’t get right. The Panthers simply did not make enough shots down the stretch to pull out the win, especially in the closing seconds when Edwards three-pointer would have given them game.

“If we get a shot with Justin Edwards to win the game, I’m going to take that 10 out of 10 time or if it’s Ahmad (Nowell) or its Rahmir (Barno), I’m not blinking about one of those guys getting a shot to win the game for us,” Noble said after the game. “If that happens, we’re happy. If we don’t make them, we’re still going to love them. The next game, if get a chance to do it again, we’re going to do it again because we believe in those guys.”

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