Building something special at Imhotep

Noble's team winning the right way

Posted: March 21, 2007

ANDRE NOBLE produced a champion in his first season of coaching varsity basketball at Imhotep Charter High.

His first season of coaching anywhere, actually.

It was the 2000-01 school year and Noble, a Boston native fresh out of Lincoln University, was getting accustomed to life as an educator.

Knock, knock, knock. Eager students at the door.

"We were a new school with no sports program," Noble said. "Some of the kids wanted to know if we could start a basketball team. I said I'd look into it, and that we'd certainly try."

Try? Try excel.

In short order, Noble has turned Imhotep into one of the city's most respected programs for how his kids play and behave and meet their academic challenges. The next big step could come tonight - 6 o'clock at Ben Franklin High - when the Panthers meet Prep Charter in a PIAA Class AA semifinal with a spot in Saturday's state final, at Penn State, on the line.

This will be the teams' third meeting this winter. PC is 2-0, thanks to wins that yielded the Public League Division C regular-season title and the PL/District 12 AA title.

Noble was a wide receiver - "A very small wide receiver," he kidded - at Boston's Latin School, and played no basketball (though he was indeed a fan). He concentrated strictly on academics while at Lincoln, which he attended on a partial academic scholarship, and never envisioned becoming a coach.

Now, he wonders how he lived without it. Goes to show, there's much to be said for instant success.

Noble helped to form the Charter Schools League in 2001-02 and Imhotep, located at 21st and Godfrey, not far from La Salle University, won the first two championships. Freire dislodged the Panthers in '04 and they've since become a Pub force.

This year alone, Imhotep boasts three Division I signees in guard Jermaine Washington (Central Connecticut State) and frontcourters Tamir Johnson (also CCS) and Kashief Edwards (Niagara). (PC has two in the Memphis-bound twin towers, Marcus and Markieff Morris.)

"Winning the charter league that first year was addictive," Noble said. "I just wanted to learn more, learn more, learn more, learn more, learn more." (Yes, he said it five times.) "It's funny, I look back at tapes from back then and it's amazing what I didn't know. We didn't have nearly as much structure.

"I must have 150 [coaching] tapes. I'm an avid clinic- and camp-goer. I always want to do better. That's just my personality, in everything."

Noble's primary job at Imhotep is dean of students (translation: disciplinarian). He's also the athletic director, the hoops coach and . . .

"Nah, that's it. I don't need any more jobs," he cracked.

He was asked to check out Imhotep by a former vice principal, Cozette Ferron, he had known from his Lincoln days, and he maintains great respect for the school's founder/driving force, Christine Wiggins.

"At first, my thought was to try this place for a year and then, if I thought it wasn't the right fit, to move on," Noble said. "But I love the passion of the students, the work ethic of the staff, the vision of the administration . . . I come early and generally leave late. Going to work is never a burden."

Noble said his coaching approach is simple.

"I always tell the kids that I'll work very, very hard for them, and that all I ask is for them to work hard," he noted. "I do feel I'm pretty successful at reaching kids and helping them grow into young men. When you see that happen, it's very fulfilling."

Noble is grateful for the early coaching guidance he received from Greg Dennis, formerly of Girard College, and Rap Curry (the former Saint Joseph's University star) and Clyde Jones, now the AD and coach, respectively, at Penn Wood High. His first Imhotep assistant was Kenny Nelson while his present sidekicks are Chuck Morgan and Charles Thomas.

The majority of Noble's family remains in Boston.

"Every time I go back, they ask me, 'Are you thinking about coming back?' " Noble said. "I always say, 'Absolutely not!' I love the spirit of this city. I have since I just made visits when I was little."

In time, Noble could picture trying to advance to the college level.

"You always have to check out any options that might come along," he said. "I love Imhotep. There's no way I'm desperate to move on. I want to give this program longevity." *

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