When Imhotep Charter won its third consecutive Public League title last year, becoming the first program to win three in a row since West Philadelphia's five straight from 1974 to '78, it became the city's latest dynasty.
But the Panthers' road to a fourth title will be their most difficult. In a realigned league, the five divisions are based on recent results rather than enrollment size. Imhotep joins Bartram; Boys' Latin; Communications Tech; Constitution; Frankford; Simon Gratz; Math, Civics & Sciences; Philadelphia Electrical; Prep Charter; Southern; and Vaux in the Public League's top group.
And though it is the reigning PIAA Class AA state champ, Imhotep (31-3 last year) lost its top three players to graduation: Erik Copes (George Mason), Ameen Tanksley (Niagara), and David Appolon (Robert Morris). Realignment will make for tighter games across the board, and Imhotep has the depth and program pedigree to remain a contender.
Still, as Panthers coach Andre Noble concedes, it appears another reigning state champion is the front-runner to win the Public League in 2011-12.
Math, Civics & Sciences (26-5), which has lost in the league semifinals three years running and won the Class A state title last season, is "loaded," Noble said.
The Mighty Elephants return just one starter, 6-foot-6 junior swingman Jeremiah Worthem, who averaged 15 points and about seven rebounds as a sophomore. Their depth and size in the frontcourt make them a force. See: 6-6 Quentin Davis and 6-7 Quadir Welton.
MC&S will face a challenging nonleague schedule that includes nationally ranked opponents in Chester and Friends' Central.
Constitution, last season's Public League runner-up, remains formidable. Simon Gratz provides for a perennial big-school player, as well.
Imhotep, which graduated nine seniors, will go as 6-2 Khyree Wooten and 6-6 Brandon Austin, a returning starter, go.
"There's no such thing as a rebuilding year for us," Noble said.