Skip to main content

Through adversity, Africentric girls basketball captured its 17th district title in 20 years

Second-year head coach Janicia Anderson has the Nubians ready for the regionals

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With nearly every key player back following what might best be described as a transition season, the Africentric girls basketball team had every reason this winter to believe it might return to the state prominence it has enjoyed at the small-school level almost since its doors opened two decades ago.

There have been bumps along the road, including losing one of the nation’s top recruits to an early-season injury, and the Nubians also have experienced an emotional roller-coaster as they prepare for their 17th regional tournament.

Africentric was the second seed for the Division III district tournament and defeated third-seeded Fairbanks 48-26 on February 23rd at Big Walnut to give second-year head coach Janicia Anderson her first district championship.

Then on February 26th, long-time assistant coach David Rhodes died of an illness.

Anderson, a 2006 Africentric graduate, and Nubians assistant coach Tyesha Moss, a 2008 Africentric graduate, both got to know Rhodes when they were student-athletes.

“We lost an important person in our village,” Anderson said. “David Rhodes devoted more than 15 years to our program and loved the Lady Nubians and Africentric. It’s a tremendous loss for us, and we dedicate our season to coach Rhodes.”

The Nubians take a 20-4 record into their regional semifinal March 1st against Cincinnati Country Day at Springfield, with the winner to play Versailles or Sabina East Clinton for the regional title on March 4th.

Africentric, which was sixth in the final state poll and is the only ranked team remaining among the four in that region, has eyes on making it to the state tournament for the 12th time.

There is only one senior key player in guard Ariel Grace.

“It’s been great and it’s been hard,” Grace said. “As a team, we’re like sisters, so getting here is an accomplishment and we just want to keep going. Us getting knocked out early (last season) made us more hungry to go further. It’s just been about defense, making the extra pass and being unselfish.”

Will McKinney headed the program during its first 18 seasons, guiding the Nubians to 14 City League championships and 16 district titles.

Africentric won two Division IV state titles and five Division III state championships, including capturing titles in 2018 and ’19, and had advanced to a Division III state semifinal in 2020 before the remainder of the tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next season, the City League delayed the beginning of its season until January 25th, 2021, and the Nubians went on to earn a regional runner-up finish while going 11-3 overall.

McKinney stepped down during that offseason, handing the reins of the program to Anderson.

Last winter, with Kamryn Grant averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds, the Nubians lost to Worthington Christian 43-37 in a district championship game to finish 20-5.

Grant’s star continued to rise during the AAU season last spring and the 6-foot-1 junior has scholarship offers from a list of schools that includes Bowling Green, Dayton, Marshall, Pittsburgh and Ohio State.

However, during a 50-36 win over Cincinnati Summit Country Day on November 26th in the Journey to the Tourney at Lakota West, Grant went down with a right torn anterior cruciate ligament that has kept her on the sidelines since then.

She’s expected to miss the coming AAU season and summer activities but should be ready to return by the end of September.

“Since I tore my ACL and watching them, (Africentric has) been getting better and better,” Grant said. “I was an important part of the team, so they’ve done a good job adjusting to the adversity of not having me.

“Rehab is going well. It’s actually really hard, though, and I feel like I’ll be prepared because (the work during rehabilitation) is not a joke honestly. I definitely feel like since I tore my ACL that I’m mentally tougher and it makes me want to work harder.”

In Grant’s absence, junior wing player Natiah Nelson and freshman guard Jeniya Bowers have emerged alongside Grace as go-to players.

Bowers has been averaging 15 points and three assists and Nelson averages 15 points and seven rebounds while Grace averages eight points and four assists.

While Bowers had 11 points to lead the way against Fairbanks, junior forward Samairah Thompson and junior guard Taelynne Clayborn both scored 10.

Thompson averages eight points and seven rebounds.

“My role is pretty much the same as last year but I’ve had to step up in my leadership, get rebounds and be stronger,” Thompson said. “We’ve definitely been working with each other. We had to block out the noise together so that we could pull through and get this win (over Fairbanks).

“Defense is something Africentric has been known for. I’m just ready to win state with my team and that way we can prove something to everybody that didn’t think we could do it.”

Africentric, which went 389-70 under McKinney, defeated Northland 56-13 on February 4th to win its eighth consecutive City League championship.

The Nubians’ last loss came January 28th when they fell 58-48 in the Nubian Classic at home to Pickerington Central, which won a Division I district title February 25th.

That game has served as a turning point in what the team has put together during the postseason according to Anderson. 

“They’ve just bought into what I’ve asked them to do,” Anderson said. “They trust each other and there’s just a sisterhood and a bond that they’ve shared and with the adversity we’ve faced.

“(Grant) blew her knee out on a fast-break layup in the second game of the season, so that’s been a part of the adversity. Once Kamryn went down, we’ve always coached our next player to step up. All eggs aren’t in one basket and we coach everybody the same way, so losing her was big but other kids were ready to step up. That’s how it’s been every game.”