Loss in City semifinals motivates Obama Academy's senior standouts
Along with battling the City League's five other teams, Obama Academy seniors D.J. Porter and Calique Jones must beat complacency.
They were starters last season when complacency won.
“This year, we're not taking anyone lightly,” said Porter, a 24.4-point scorer for the undefeated Eagles (12-0, 3-0) who want the City League title and state playoff trip that they missed last season.
Then, the talented Eagles were 16-2 before being upset by Perry, 80-79, in the City League semifinals.
In hindsight, the Eagles believe they took Perry lightly. They already had beaten Perry twice and were anticipating an easy third.
“We were disappointed with our performance in that last game,” Obama coach Nate Lofton said. “(The players) were looking forward to the City championship game. It's an old cliché: Never overlook an opponent. But they were thinking it would be a cakewalk.”
Memories of that season-ending loss have yet to fade.
“After that loss, I was hurt,” Jones said. “I was hurt for myself but mostly for the seniors last year. They wanted to win. It was a horrible ending to a really good season. … We came back with a mindset that we didn't want to be like last year's team.”
The Eagles use a five-guard lineup led by Porter and Jones.
Porter (6-foot-5), son of former Pitt standout Darelle Porter, has drawn Division I interest. No City League player has scored like him since Schenley's DeAndre Kane (31.1 ppg) in 2007-08. Porter had 28 in Tuesday's 68-65 victory over Allderdice.
Jones (6-0), a quick point guard who averages 14 points per game, has Division II potential, Lofton said. They form the best scoring tandem in a City League that's shrunk to just six teams.
“(As a coach,) you have to find ways to challenge them,” Lofton said. “(You start to become complacent) once you see you're better than others. That's just natural instinct … but I see that they're more focused and they have more determination.”
The three new starters are senior Alan Hord (6-0), junior James Taylor-Lane (6-0) and senior Chris Noel (6-1). Hord and Taylor-Lane, a Central Catholic transfer, are new to the program.
Senior Marcus Johnson (6-2), a standout wide receiver this past fall, and junior Khalid Bryant (6-0) add depth.
The group has averaged 73.5 points with notable wins over Franklin Regional (89-82), Upper St. Clair (69-67) and Class AAA No. 4 Central Valley (77-56), which has lost just once. But Lofton sees room for growth.
“Even though we've won 12 games, we're at 50 percent of where we could be,” he said.
Darelle Porter helped assemble the non-league schedule. The team's upcoming contests include a Jan. 26 matchup with Vincentian (13-0), which averages 94 points.
“He was trying to get us the toughest opponents we could play,” Lofton said. “A record means nothing if you've got a soft schedule.”
A 10-game City League schedule provides only so many challenges. Obama Academy faces Perry (4-8) on Friday afternoon, their first matchup since last season's playoffs.
“I can't wait to play them,” Porter said. “That loss is still sticking with me. There's a lot of motivation.”