Wright-Downing takes one for team

Posted: March 07, 2014

WHY DIDN'T Sankofa Charter senior Anthony Wright-Downing transfer?

Much is at stake for high school athletes, considering how a college scholarship can potentially change a life's course.

And while a scholarship alone guarantees little, for decades it has not been uncommon for athletes to pledge allegiance elsewhere in search of playing time, exposure, a better fit, etc., all in an attempt to maximize opportunities.

So when the 6-1 combo-guard was advised by friends and family to seek out a more established basketball program, why didn't he jump?

"Middle of my ninth-grade year, people were telling me to leave the school because we weren't really known," he said. "And then in 10th grade, my mom and dad told me I should consider transferring because there wasn't really any exposure. But I just told them it doesn't matter what school you go to, it's about how you play.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Wright-Downing will lead the Warriors against New Hope Academy at Dallastown High in the first round of the Class A PIAA playoffs. Sankofa (9-16, 4-9 in Division B) beat Paul Robeson High (13-11, 8-4 Division C), 76-56, last week to earn District 12's No. 3 seed.

As for his decision to stay put, Wright-Downing, who typically guards an opponent's top scorer and also leads the Warriors in points, rebounds, blocks and steals, has verbally committed to play basketball at Holy Family.

"I'm really happy I stayed [at Sankofa] because I accomplished much more," he said. "And people doubted me being here, so I'm proud of that."

A 4-year varsity starter, Wright-Downing is Sankofa's all-time leading scorer (1,385). He also dropped a school-record 54 points this season against Edison and was chosen Division B MVP by Pub coaches after earning second-team honors last season.

"We had an in-depth conversation at the end of his junior year," said coach Isaiah Thomas. "Anthony and I have the type of relationship where he knows I'll encourage him to make the decision that's best for him. We both felt that if he transferred there would be opportunity for him to be seen on a different level than he would be here. But I told him he would have a phenomenal year here because he understands the program and the guys really look up to him."

Said Wright-Downing: "Recently my coach said I was a good role model because no matter what school you go to, you still have to show off your talent."

However, the decision to stay wasn't without detractors.

The jack-of-all-trades guard, who led the division in scoring (23.1 per game) and finished sixth overall in Pub play, said he caught backlash from those who assumed his point totals came from bogarting the basketball against lesser competition.

"People called me a 'jacker,' but if they saw how I play, I pass a lot," he said. "People said I wasn't good enough to play [in college] and that I was overrated, but I just kept it out of my head and just stayed positive."

"He's supportive," said fellow senior guard Luis Martinez. "If I'm having a bad game, he's always the one to pull me to the side and tell me to be more aggressive. And if I'm taking too many shots, he's not a person that comes up and says, 'Give me the ball.' He doesn't really demand the ball. He's an unselfish player that looks for his teammates."

The pair enrolled together as freshmen when the school was just a year old.

He flirted with football last season as a cornerback for Frankford, which had a special agreement with Sankofa, but he decided to focus on basketball and not risk serious injury. Besides, his younger brother, Qwamere, is the family gridder, playing defensive end as a junior at Imhotep.

The family - mom, dad and four younger brothers - lives on Torresdale Avenue, not far from Holy Family, which was important because Wright-Downing didn't want to stray far from home or his mother, Tenja, whose name is tattooed on his right forearm. He also credited his dad, William, who played at Fels, for introducing him to basketball when he was 7, and also for putting him up against older players at an early age.

"One thing I want to be remembered for before I leave high school is that I played with heart no matter who I played against," he said.

At least one game remains, and it falls on a weekend packed with importance.

"This week is a real serious week for me," Wright-Downing said. "I have states Friday night and then the SAT test Saturday morning. So, it's a big week for me and I have to stay focused."

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