Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Team of the Week for March 28, 2023

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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 | 9:01 PM


Imani Christian boys basketball coach Omar Foster thought his team’s journey this season got off to a rocky start.

Well, if the Saints’ beginning was shaky, their finish was smooth sailing with plenty of gold in their two playoff tournament treasures.

For the first time in school history, Imani Christian won WPIAL and PIAA Class A championships.

“I learned so much as a coach throughout this journey. It’s actually made me a better coach and a better man,” Foster said. “Getting my guys to buy in and accomplish this goal was tough. It was tough, but it all paid out in the end.”

The Saints came marching into the new season sideways, losing four of their first five games.

However, those losses were against Class 4A district and state champion Lincoln Park, eastern power Devon Prep, City League champion Allderdice and 6A playoff team North Allegheny.

“We fell like steel sharpens steel,” Foster said. “We wanted to play the toughest schedule, and we believe we played one of the toughest schedules in the WPIAL. We played a really tough schedule to build us to this moment. That was the method that prepared us to be at the top in the end.”

Last week began with a rematch of the WPIAL Class A title game as Imani Christian battled Union.

In the district finals, the Saints led by three points at halftime but outscored the Scotties 40-20 in the second half to win the WPIAL crown.

It was never that close in the PIAA semifinals.

Imani Christian started strong, racing out to a 22-9 lead after one quarter, then finished stronger, outscoring Union in the final quarter, 21-4.

The combined first and fourth quarter score of 43-13 helped the Saints clinch a trip to Hershey and the state title game with a 72-40 victory.

“We had a goal: to win a state championship,” Foster said. “So it really didn’t matter who we played. We were going to play hard, we were going to be focused, and we were going to be really, really prepared.

“We tend to wear teams down. We’re prepared to play for four quarters with full-court press, zone press, whatever it takes for us to win the game. I tell my team, we want to play that fourth quarter just as strong as we played the first quarter.”

In the 32-point victory, all five Saints starters scored in double digit points led by 6-foot-11 sophomore Alier Maluk’s 20 points. Sophomore R.J. Sledge had 16 points, sophomore Dame Givner scored 13, junior Virgil Hall had 12 and junior Avery Wesley added 10.

In the state championship game Thursday, again it was a quick start that propelled Imani to victory as it led District 5 champion Berlin-Brothersvalley 19-13 after one quarter. By halftime, the Saints led, 39-24.

Despite the fact Imani Christian was about to put the wraps on a state championship victory, 81-64, Foster still found he was focused on the game as the final seconds ticked away.

“I was excited, but for some reason, I was in coaching mode,” he said. “Even at halftime when we were up 15, I was yelling and my kids were like, ‘Coach, we’re up 15,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t care.’

“I wanted that victory for my kids so bad. Once it was all said and done, I was happy, but it’s about the boys.”

The bad news for all the Class A teams in the district and state is there were no seniors on this Imani Christian team that won 19 of its final 20 games and finished 23-6 overall.

“We are one, and it took all of us to stay focused and stay humble,” Foster said. “We’ll be working hard in the summer in trying to get ready for next year. We’ll see.”

Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Teams of the Week

Week 11 – Uniontown Red Raiders

Week 10 – Neshannock Lancers

Week 9 – Deer Lakes Lancers

Week 8 – Penn Hills Indians

Week 7 – Monessen Greyhounds

Week 6 – Seton LaSalle Rebels

Week 5 – New Castle Red Hurricane

Week 4 – Hampton Talbots

Week 3 – Mohawk Warriors

Week 2 – Central Catholic Vikings

Week 1 – Thomas Jefferson Jaguars

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