ANC tops Penn Charter in Independent playoffs

Penn Charter's Demetrius Isaac (right) defends ANC's Jon Riles.
Penn Charter's Demetrius Isaac (right) defends ANC's Jon Riles.
Posted: February 16, 2011

THE FIRST WORD out of Rakeem Christmas' mouth was "depressing."

Soon thereafter, he described himself as being "very frustrated."

Wait. Isn't this the same guy who recently was selected to play in the nation's most prestigious high school all-star basketball game, the one that's umbrellaed by McDonald's? Shouldn't he be feeling off-the-charts upbeat for all 24 hours of each week's 7 days?

The 6-9, 230-pound Christmas, who played at North Catholic through the 10th grade, is now a senior at Academy of the New Church in Montgomery County. And the occasion yesterday at ANC - once everybody regrouped from a false alarm that emptied the gym for 8 minutes during wamups - was a first-round game in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Tourney.

The contest would be the last for Penn Charter's coach, Jim "Flipper" Phillips, who has resigned after 10 seasons. He would not go out in orthodox fashion.

"I've never been through a game like that," Christmas said. "Never want to do it again, either. That was no fun at all. Even when they had open shots, they didn't want to shoot."

Not for a long while, anyway.

ANC won, 38-22. The score after one quarter was 4-0 and PC owned no shots from the floor. Its only attempt was a missed one-and-one by guard John Moderski with 7.9 seconds remaining.

See, that was the plan, and it was working wonderfully. With his lone inside force, soph Mike McGlinchey unavailable (bum ankle), Phillips started five little guys and made the much bigger Lions chase and chase and chase, hoping to draw many fouls and cause frustration.

The Quakers' first field goal attempt (assist to Vineet Krishnan) was Moderski's left-wing trey 6 minutes, 1 second before halftime. It cut the deficit to 8-4 and PC even forged an 8-8 deadlock as Sean O'Brien converted a double-bonus at 4:05.

At 3:23, Mike Brown missed an open right-corner trey and Phillips shrieked, "Did Mike Brown just go temporarily insane?!"

ANC won the half, 16-10, and played much more disciplined defense thereafter, not allowing the Quakers to again reach one-and-one status. Coach Kevin Givens went the fight-fire-with-fire route, often using his own small (or at least midsized) lineup.

As for Rakeem . . . a look at the stat sheet did not exactly give the Syracuse signee a Christmas morning feeling. He had four points, three rebounds, one block, one assist and two steals, barely playing half the game.

Once he gets to Chicago for the McDonald's game, set for March 30, he'll have a crazy story to tell - 50 seconds before halftime, within 3 feet of halfcourt, his man-to-man lockdown forced a 5-second call on Brown.

"Ah, I've done that before," he downplayed. "Not in high school ball, though. In AAU."

As an eighth-grader, Christmas moved to Philly from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands to live with his aunt, Amira Joseph, who'd remained here after attending Drexel. His first outpost was deep Southwest Philly, but he and Joseph have lived this school year in Germantown, near Germantown Friends School, making the commute to ANC more tolerable.

In his North stint, Christmas played sparingly as a freshman. But he earned a start in the first Catholic League game of his sophomore season and responded with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocked shots as the Falcons topped Monsignor Bonner, 67-52.

"I still keep in touch with my North friends," he said. "Mostly on Twitter or Facebook."

One thing those buddies didn't learn when he did: his selection to the McDonald's game.

"My aunt got a call or e-mail about it, but I had to keep it secret for 2 to 3 weeks until the formal announcement," Christmas said. "That was rough, because I was very excited. I only told one guy, [teammate] Malcolm Lites, because I knew he would keep it to himself. He did.

"You think about the guys who've played in this game, like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Eddie Griffin, and it's a real big honor.I was excited just to be on the original list [of nominees]. I thought I might make it into the game, but I can't say I expected it. So many great players."

Anytime Christmas uses the word "excited," one has to wonder. He is the all-time low-keyer.

Want some evidence? When asked what the players will be doing in Chicago aside from playing basketball, he said he didn't know.

"I have an envelope with a paper that explains everything, I guess, but I haven't looked at it yet," he noted. "I'll look at it when I get there, then go along with what it says."

Meanwhile, Penn Charter wound up shooting 6-for-17 from the floor and two of those were end-of-quarter launches. Moderski used two treys to reach 13 points. Demetrius "Meech" Isaac, a 5-5, 125-pound freshman seeing his first extended duty, performed major ballhandling duties. (He took no shots, floor or line.) The other starter was Demetrius "Meat" Jennings.

"Seeing all those little guys," Christmas said, "I figured they'd do a lot of running around. I never expected what happened, though. That was crazy."

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