Obama's James Taylor goes up strong against Perry's Norman Taylor during a City League victory last week.
By Malik Vincent / Tri-State Sports and News Service
With goals of winning more than just a City League championship, Obama Academy senior D.J. Porter thinks that his team is better than just “good.”
“I think we have what it takes to win states,” he said. “We’re just a different team this year. The dynamic and work ethic on this team is incredible. We can go very far. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”
The unbeaten Eagles (13-0, 4-0) have cruised through their 2013-14 non-league schedule. They’ve claimed two victories against section-leading WPIAL powers — a 69-67 win against Class AAAA Upper St. Clair, the Section 4 co-leader, and a 49-46 defeat of Lincoln Park on Jan. 4 in Morgantown. Lincoln Park leads Section 1-A and is the Post-Gazette’s No. 1-ranked WPIAL Class A team.
“Those wins have really built our confidence,” Porter added. “It’s helped with believing that we can take on anyone. That’s our mentality. We think we can beat anyone on any given day. It’s shown us that if we work as hard as we’ve been lately, we’ll get the job done every time.”
Porter, a 6-foot-4 swingman, is the team’s leading scorer who’s averaged close to 25 points a game this season. He’s earned scholarship interest from West Virginia, Saint Bonaventure, Ohio and Youngstown State.
“D.J. continues to be a big reason why this team has been so successful,” Obama coach Nate Lofton said. “He keeps growing and developing as a leader to the younger guys all while he continues to develop as a player. His role on this team is very important on and off the court and he’s embraced it.”
Lofton is in his 14th season as a head coach. The first 12 were served at neighboring Westinghouse where he coached against a guy who would become his top assistant, Naron Jackson, a former Schenley standout.
“When it comes to the basketball part, [Lofton] has kind of let me run the show,” said Jackson, who played his college ball at Robert Morris. “We’ve split the responsibility. As a teacher at Obama, he works hard everyday to check the kids’ grades and to make sure they’re solid on their studies. And he’s allowed me to handle what’s going on on the court.”
Senior Calique Jones is the team’s point guard and has also been an important player for the Eagles this year.
“If it weren’t for [Calique and D.J.], I don’t know where our team would be this year,” Jackson said. “They worked very hard all summer to get in shape and to become leaders of this team.”
Jackson also mentioned that his number one policy for his players is to play strong defense each and every game.
“They’re expected go out there and play hard defense on every play,” he said. “We can’t have any off days on defense whatsoever. We know we have guys who can score … guys who can create. That’s there for us. But, we know that if we aren’t playing strong defense, we’ve already played a huge role in defeating ourselves and that’s unacceptable.”
The biggest difference this year as opposed to last, according to Lofton, is the team’s ability to execute on offense — from top to bottom.
“In all of my years of coaching, I’ve never seen a team have the ability to put the ball in the basket [as these guys do],” he said.
“Every guy on this team can put the ball on the ground and create solid scoring opportunities. They also execute them with regularity. It’s really unlike anything I’ve seen before. They’re really a special bunch, from a talent standpoint.”
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