Better ending this year for Imhotep's Wooten in state final

Imhotep's Khyree Wooten races for a loose ball during PIAA Class AA championship game.
Imhotep's Khyree Wooten races for a loose ball during PIAA Class AA championship game.
Posted: March 28, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK - When he wasn't drying his eyes with his sleeve, or rubbing the pit of his stomach, somehow trying to make the pain go away, Khyree Wooten had one constant thought at this time last year:

"I gotta get back to Penn State, so I can win a state title."

At the time, Wooten was not envisioning a couple of major plot twists, but stability is not a feature of modern-era basketball so . . .

The 6-1, 165-pound Wooten is now a junior wing guard at Imhotep Charter, and he served throughout the just-completed season as mostly a substitute. He spent his first 2 years at Strawberry Mansion and if he had stayed, it's not unreasonable to think he would have racked up 20 points per game, perhaps even 25.

"That doesn't matter," Wooten said. "I just want to win."

Saturday, he did just that.

In 15 minutes off the bench, Wooten shot 6-for-18 for 12 points and added two assists as the Panthers (31-3) dismantled Greensburg Central Catholic (27-4), of suburban Pittsburgh, 67-34, to capture their second PIAA Class AA championship in 3 years.

The 33-point victory margin is the highest in AA final history, besting 31 by Prep Charter in 2006 over Beaver Falls (82-51), and the triumph enabled District 12 to complete a Triple Crown weekend. Math, Civics & Sciences Charter (A) and Ss. Neumann-Goretti (AAA) had triumphed Friday night.

The PIAA went to four classifications for basketball in the 1983-84 season. Only twice - in 2003 and 1987, District 3 each time - had a grouping from the eastern half of the state claimed a title trifecta.

In 2010, after bumping off Imhotep, 49-47 in a semifinal, Mansion lost the state final, to South Fayette, by that very same score.

Wooten, already a star (334 points for the season), could only watch the last 2 minutes, 41 seconds of that game, after fouling out on an offensive push.

"I was pretty mad and upset about losing," he said yesterday morning via cell phone, as the Panthers bused back to Philly. "It stayed with me for a couple days, then I told myself I had to get back in the gym and start working to get better . . . Well, really, it stayed with me for a couple weeks."

His decision to follow the transfer winds came later.

There were rumors he'd wind up at a Catholic League power, or even at a suburban public school known for quality hoops. Instead, he wound up at a school returning all five starters.

"Both places were [possibilities]," Wooten said. "But I wasn't thinking basketball. I wanted a better education. My mom and dad were looking into everything. They thought Imhotep was the right school.

"It wasn't tough at all [to leave stardom behind]. I knew all these guys from playing with them [in AAU ball] or against them. I worked on fitting in. Doing what I was asked. I saw my role as being a stopper. That's what my coach [Andre Noble] wanted. Yeah, I always scored before, but I knew I could play defense, too."

Said Noble: "Khyree came here with a great attitude. He did whatever we asked him to do."

In this one, Wooten recorded two of his field goals on flyin'-high dunks. He posted a third as well, but it didn't count because a whistle had blown slightly beforehand, and later, well, um, ahem . . . he butchered what could have been an all-timer.

On a breakaway, he pounded the ball hard off the back rim and wound up crashing into the padding at the bottom of the basket support.

"All my friends were calling about that one," he said, laughing. "They saw it on TV. The ball slipped just as I was going for it."

Oddly, though Wooten is lefthanded he dunks righthanded.

Wait, turns out he's not lefthanded.

"I do everything righthanded - write, throw a football - except shoot jumpers," he said. "When I was real young, just starting out, I always played with my year-older cousin, Derrick Steas. He's a lefty and my dad said I was just imitating him.

"Why do I dunk righthanded? I don't even know."

Though the first quarter was competitive, at 20-15, Imhotep frolicked from there. Wooten posted 10 of his points in the 35-16 middle periods.

With 10 points apiece, starter Brandon Austin and sub Earl Brown were the other Panthers to score in double digits. Erik Copes snagged 13 rebounds and David Appolon mixed seven points with 10 boards, five assists and three steals.

Long after the Panthers danced in celebration, they were within footsteps of their locker room when Copes noted at somewhat high volume, "I've got eight chips!"

The reference: three this year and in '09, and two in '10 (counting Public League and City/State titles) while going 88-10 overall.

"Because this one would be the last, I wanted it the most," Copes said. "And overall it's one of the best.

"I knew we were coming off two shaky performances [vs. Roberts Vaux and Communications Tech in quarter/semi], but when it came down to that last practice yesterday, we had a good one."

Noble said he doesn't think about whether Imhotep could/should have collared three consecutive state titles.

Given a moment to reflect, however, he did remember something important about the aftermath of last year's state semi setback vs. Mansion.

"I wanted to see how we responded in the locker room, because we were all underclassmen," he said. "I was thinking maybe they'd be just reacting, like, 'Ah, it's over.' But they weren't. They were bawling. Tearing/crying the whole time. I was thinking, 'This is good. They'll remember this.' Obviously, it was a motivator."

Saturday, as fate dictated, Imhotep used the very same locker room in the bowels of the Bryce Jordan Center that last March was occupied by Mansion.

"I did not want that same feeling," Wooten said. "This time there was only happiness."

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