Africentric Early College girls basketball coach Will McKinney was careful in his words when asked to assess what he thought of his team's opponent in the City League championship game Saturday, Feb. 9, at Columbus South.
"They've got Jordan on their team," he said. "I'm not going to say anything about her. You've got to respect her, period. She deserves to be Ms. Basketball. Not only is she a great player, but her leadership is impeccable."
The player McKinney jokingly referred to as Michael Jordan is Northland senior guard Alexis Peterson, who signed with Syracuse last November and has the Vikings in the City championship game for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in five seasons.
The City final is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Peterson scored 40 points in a 114-57 win over Columbus International on Feb. 1 and was averaging an area-best 28.4 points through 20 games. A starter since her freshman season, she had 568 points this season and 1,658 for her career before Northland's game against Eastmoor Academy on Feb. 6.
The Vikings were 17-3 before playing Eastmoor despite being without senior post player Jasmine Weatherspoon all season because of a knee injury.
It's uncertain whether Weatherspoon will be able to play in the City final.
A year ago, Peterson scored 19 points as Northland beat Africentric 45-37 to win its first City title since 1998. The Nubians beat the Vikings 69-38 in the 2009 City final and 60-52 in the 2011 title game.
Africentric defeated Eastmoor 92-61 on Feb. 1 to improve to 15-5 and run its regular-season City League-South Division winning streak to 112. The Nubians are 5-2 in City finals.
"We're happy to have the opportunity," Northland coach Dean Washington said. "We basically have started over this year with Alexis and (junior guard) Brooklynn Peterson. (Africentric) has (6-foot-2 senior post player) Marley Hill, who definitely brings an inside presence. We've had our problems with Africentric in the past."
Against Eastmoor, Hill, a University of Cincinnati signee, had 34 points and 22 rebounds. Junior guards Darianne Seward (20 points), Sierra Harley (17) and Ayrielle Stith (15) also were key contributors.
Other key players for Northland include Peterson (12 points per game), junior post player Aliya Colvin (9.5 ppg, 7.0 rebounds per game, 3.5 blocked shots per game) and sophomore post player Miesha Howard (10 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Last week, Africentric was fifth in the state poll and first in the area coaches poll in Division III. Northland was fourth in the Division I area coaches poll.
"You're wasting your time if you try to stop (Alexis Peterson) because she's going to do what she's going to do," McKinney said. "We just have to do the things that we've been doing to the best of our abilities. We've got to hustle, rebound and take care of the basketball and play our best defensively."
Nubians boys clinch berth in City final
The Africentric boys basketball team landed a spot in the City championship game with a 56-42 victory over visiting Eastmoor on Feb. 1.
The Nubians will play Northland or Brookhaven for the City title Feb. 16. The Vikings are 12-0 in the City-North and the Bearcats were 9-2 in the league before playing Columbus East on Feb. 5.
Brookhaven plays host to Northland on Friday, Feb. 8.
The only other time Africentric played for the City title was in 2005 when it beat Brook-haven 44-43 in overtime. The Nubians went on to win the Division IV state championship that season, but later had to forfeit all 27 of their victories when it was determined they had used an ineligible player.
Northland has won 96 consecutive City-North games and the past six City championships.
"It's just another step closer to the goals we want to accomplish," Africentric senior guard Trevon Saunders said. "We definitely want to get to the (City final)."
Africentric was 16-2 overall and 12-1 in the City-South before playing Columbus West on Feb. 5. Eastmoor was 12-6 and 10-2 before playing South on Feb. 5.
Even if the Nubians and Warriors finish with identical league records, Africentric wins the tiebreaker because it beat Eastmoor in both of their meetings.
"(Saunders) and several of these guys in here were in a basketball camp with me when they were in sixth grade," coach Michael Bates said. "They played together and overall over the years just developed this closeness. I appreciate them sticking with me."
Caslin enjoying final season with Mifflin
Becoming a high school boys basketball coach 14 seasons ago helped Mifflin coach Gene Caslin fulfill one of the items in his "bucket list."
Caslin will be retiring from teaching after 33 years at the end of the school year and is planning to retire from coaching after this season as well.
During his tenure, Mifflin has won Division II district championships in 2001 and 2011 and Division I district titles in 2004 and '05. The Punchers won their district title in 2011 despite finishing 12-13.
Caslin believes his team could make its presence felt in the district tournament again this season even though it was 8-10 overall and 5-6 in the City-North before playing Beechcroft on Feb. 5.
"When you do it long enough, you'll have some good years and some bad years," he said. "I've won four district championships and my teams always played hard.
"I'll be 60 in May, and I plan to do a lot of traveling. It's just time to give this to somebody younger."
Senior forward J. Murrell was a second-team all-district selection a year ago and again is one of the team's top players. Senior forward Javonte Bing and senior guards Kamaron Green and Vincente Mills are other key players.
"I'm going to miss the classroom because teaching is my passion," said Caslin, who has been a history teacher at Mifflin the last 13 years. "We're (8-10 before Feb. 5) and it's a team like some of those that went 11-11 or 12-12 and won a district championship. We've got a good group of seniors. It's one of those years where we're starting to play better."