About four years ago, Martin Luther King coach Sean Colson lost a game of one-on-one to his childhood friend Alvin Williams, the aftermath of which also reveals something about Colson's friendship with Imhotep coach Andre Noble.
Colson and Noble will face each other at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Palestra in a rematch of last year's Public League championship, which Imhotep won in overtime.
On the girls' side, Imhotep will play Mastery North at 1 p.m.
Four years ago, Colson said, he and Williams were at La Salle University during the summer and played to 100 by ones and twos (three-pointers counted as two, everything else as one).
Colson led, 99-94, when Williams hit three straight threes for the win.
"It broke my heart," Colson said. "He's one of my best friends on earth. But I acted like I lost the NBA championship and he was playing like it was the NBA championship."
The pair hung out afterward, but the loss was still on Colson's mind.
"He's looking at me, like, 'What you looking at?' I'm like, 'Yo, I cannot believe…' and I was up!"
Competition, however, hasn't come between their friendship.
The same has been true of Noble, whom Colson honored for his contributions to basketball in the city at Colson's MLK Day Invitational two years ago at King.
With a win Sunday, Noble would have a seventh Pub title, second most behind Warren Weiler's eight (West Philadelphia and Overbrook, four each since 1917, according to TedSilary.com.) Colson has led King to its third title appearance in his five seasons. He led the Cougars to the title in 2014.
"I don't see it as a rivalry," Colson said. "I feel like we're just trying to help Philadelphia basketball. With brother Andre, even though he's right around the corner and he's the main person we're fighting against every year because he has the best team every year, it's not a rivalry. I'm trying to beat him like he's trying to beat me, but good people are good people."
On the court, Noble's team is led by junior forwards Donta Scott and Chereef Knox.
The Panthers (24-2), ranked No. 13 in the nation by USA Today, are deep, talented, and tenacious defenders.
King (18-8) is led by senior point guard Denelle Holly Jr. and 6-foot-10 senior Will McNair.
Holly is a slippery southpaw who beats defenders with a herky-jerky handle.
McNair and his size-18 sneakers carry about 25 pounds less on his 6-10 frame, a result of an offseason running regimen organized by Colson.
On offense, the Cougars prefer a deliberate pace, choosing when to attack and when to control the tempo.
For Colson, perhaps it's an extension of his love of chess, which he said he learned in middle school at Vaux.
"I like to be a versatile person," he said. "Even in basketball. I don't just want to be a tough coach, I want to be tough, smart."
Colson mixes no words when he talks about his desire to be a Division I coach someday.
Right now, however, he's content to give his knowledge of the game back to anyone who wants it.
Colson has been a sought-after workout guru around the country and said he also works out college and NBA players, as well as middle schoolers.
"At the core of me," he said, "I like to see people get better."
By Mike Owens, Staff Writer
Junior Alana Swift leads Imhotep Charter against Mastery North, and both teams are coming off convincing victories in the semifinals.
Imhotep defeated Olney, 63-38, to earn a spot in the championship game. The top-seeded Panthers were led by Zamara Haynes' 19 points.
Ayasha Thomas added 12 points, and Jessica Charles Shayla Green and Swift each accounted for eight.
Swift scored 22 points in a 59-36 win over Sankofa Freedom in the quarterfinals. The 5-foot-6 point guard is a Division I prospect with offers from Longwood, Hartford, and Florida International.
Mastery North is coming off a 63-37 decision over Mastery South. The second-seeded Pumas also beat Motivation and Palumbo in the playoffs.
Alanis Hill, a 5-6 junior, averages about 15 points per game for Mastery North. Her best game of the season came against Audenried on Jan. 24, when she netted 35 points.