Constitution's Gilbert rises to occasion in second half

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Constitution's Ahmad "J.R." Gilbert is sitting pretty while reaching for ball in second quarter against Martin Luther King.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Constitution's Ahmad "J.R." Gilbert is sitting pretty while reaching for ball in second quarter against Martin Luther King.
Posted: January 09, 2014

WHAT MAKES the Constitution High basketball squad so dangerous? Well, when its top scoring talent, Ahmad "J.R." Gilbert, nets just two first-half points and the Generals still lead, the simple answer is depth.

Sprinkle in some stingy defense and you get a 65-49 victory over previously unbeaten Martin Luther King (8-1, 2-1) last night in a Public A contest at Ben Franklin High.

"The whole game plan, even in practice, was to get my teammates involved first," Gilbert said after the game. "Don't even worry about scoring. Just do the little things like rebound and box out.

"So, I did that in the first half and we had a nice little lead. But, in the second half my whole mindset changed, and I just wanted to go out there and get a bucket."

The 6-6 junior forward undersold his second half a tad. After all, he did finish with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Gilbert's second-half 20-spot came on 6-for-7 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul line (7-11, and 7-10 overall).

After facing top-tier talent at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas earlier this season, Gilbert said confidence isn't an issue for the Generals (9-2, 1-0), winners of five straight.

"It was like if we can compete out in Vegas then we can compete anywhere," the 17-year-old Gilbert said.

Constitution went 2-2 on the trip with a 71-37 loss to Mater Dei (Calif.), which is ranked No. 2 in the nation by MaxPreps. Gilbert was named first-team All-Platinum Division.

However, last night his teammates did the early lifting en route to a 22-13 halftime edge.

Raheem Liggins, a 6-5, 250-pound power forward, finished with 11 points (seven at half), 10 boards and three blocks. Floyd Preito, a 6-foot, 165-pound senior guard, chipped in 12 points (five at half) and five assists.

The second half belonged to Gilbert, who accounted for nearly half of Constitution's 43 points.

"When I get into a rhythm with the jump shot nobody can take me out of the game," he said. "I'll go to the hole first, and then work my way outside. Once that starts falling, it's like nobody can stop me and it'll just keep going."

His blend of size and skill has college coaches clamoring. He's also added 20 pounds to his 170-pound frame from last year.

The lithe lefty, who lives on Sharswood Street (near Lancaster Avenue), reported offers from Rhode Island and Hofstra as well as interest from all city schools.

The J.R. stands for junior. Ahmad Sr. was a forward on Overbrook's 1983 Pub title team.

Ahmad "Ahkkie" Gilbert later played junior-college ball at Mount Aloysius, near Altoona.

"He's shown me that it takes hard work and dedication to win a championship," said Ahmad Jr. "I love my dad. We have a good bond where all we talk about is basketball. He helps me with my weaknesses . . . he's been a real good father, just showing me the ropes around life, really."

Senior couldn't attend last night, but mom, Tanya, and older brother, Leon, made the trip. With Constitution hoping to make another deep playoff push (it was stopped by now-closed Comm Tech, 78-75, in the quarters last season) dad should have ample opportunities.

"For sure we [want a title]," J.R. said. "All we have to do is come out with the same mindset and just keep a level head because right now we're playing well."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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