Regardless of what transpires Saturday, Feb. 15, during the City League boys basketball championship game at Africentric, a long drought will come to an end.
Linden-McKinley will represent the City-North Division in the title game for the first time since the Panthers won the championship in 1992 and went on to reach a Division II regional final.
The City-South representative is Walnut Ridge, which appeared in five City finals in a six-year span from 2011-16 but lost all of them. The Scots won their only City title in 1971 when they also captured the Class AAA state championship and finished 25-0, but there was no City title game at the time.
"That's going to be exciting," Scots coach Chuck Jefferson said.
Walnut Ridge was 16-4 overall before playing Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 11 and Linden lost to Hartley 54-53 on Feb. 8 to drop to 13-8 overall.
Both Jefferson and Linden coach Kevin Darthard are in their second seasons heading their respective programs.
The Panthers, who went 11-11 last season while finishing third in the City-North at 10-4, got the breakthrough win they were looking for when they beat Northland 43-42 on Jan. 31 and followed with a 42-35 victory over Beechcroft on Feb. 4 to advance to the final.
Linden rolled past Whetstone 70-42 on Feb. 7 to finish 12-2 in the City-North, ahead of Beechcroft (11-3) and Northland (10-4).
The Vikings and Cougars tied for the City-North title last season at 12-2, but Northland held the tiebreaker and lost to South 68-51 in the championship game as the Bulldogs won their second title in three seasons.
"This was always my goal from the start," said Darthard, a 2001 Mifflin graduate who served as an assistant at his alma mater before taking over at Linden last season. "I knew it would be rocky. I've invested in this community. I know there are a lot of things that the kids go through at home, whether it's emotionally, whether it's mentally or whether it's through poverty. So I knew there would be a cultural change, but I knew they worked hard on the court. If they went into that classroom and focused on those progress reports, I knew everything would take care of itself."
Walnut Ridge and South tied for the City-South title at 13-1, but the Scots held the tiebreaker because the Bulldogs represented the division in the City final more recently.
South beat Walnut Ridge 77-66 on Jan. 31 to earn a season split, but the Scots beat West 105-56 on Feb. 4 and Independence 95-53 on Feb. 7 to close league play.
Against West, senior VonCameron Davis scored 33 points to reach the 2,000-mark for his career and followed with a 36-point, 18-rebound performance against the 76ers.
Leading the way along with Davis, who was averaging 26.5 points before Feb. 11, have been senior forward Kaveon Ross (15.5 points per game), senior guard Qian Magwood and junior guard Leon Douglas.
Magwood had what is believed to be a program-record 20 assists against Independence.
"It's just a good week," said Magwood, who signed Feb. 5 to play football with Ball State. "Things are rolling and we're hitting our stride at the right time. We're ready to work. It's going to be a good game."
Against Beechcroft, junior forward Chance Groce and senior guard Quanial Christian both scored 13 points for Linden and junior forward Shamarion Rogers added 12.
The Panthers held the Cougars' J.J. Simmons, who entered the game averaging 19 points, to just two points.
"It's unbelievable to me," Rogers said. "We haven't been (to the City title game) since 1992. We've improved very well and have been keeping each other in the right stage of mind. Our defense (has been strong) and we've come together."
Nubians girls beat Vikings for City title
The Africentric girls basketball team earned its fifth consecutive City championship and its 12th overall with a 63-22 victory over Northland on Feb. 8 at South.
Senior guard Alexia Smith and junior guard Arianna Smith both scored 10 points to lead the Nubians, who improved to 18-4 overall. Senior forward Saige Glover and junior guard Azariah Binford both had six points to lead the Vikings, who dropped to 15-7.
Africentric is the No. 1 seed for the Division III district tournament and opens the postseason Feb. 22 at home against 21st-seeded International.
"We're going into the tournament strong," said Nubians senior guard Nyam Thornton, who scored seven points in the City final. "We've got a lot more energy and it's definitely a (good) feeling."
Northland is the 16th seed for the Division I district tournament and opens the postseason Feb. 21 against 14th-seeded Canal Winchester or 36th-seeded Teays Valley in a second-round game at the site of the better seed.
The Vikings have lost five consecutive City finals.
"We made (Africentric) have to come and really play their game to open this game up on us, so for my girls, that was a major accomplishment, and (my players) did everything I asked of them," Northland coach Jaybee Bethea said. "I think we're very prepared for the postseason."
South boys team focused on tourney
The South boys basketball team wrapped up a share of the City-South championship with a 107-67 victory over West on Feb. 7, tying Walnut Ridge for first place at 13-1.
The Bulldogs' only regular-season loss came against the Scots, 71-64 on Jan. 7, but South earned a season split with Walnut Ridge and enters the postseason at 20-1 overall.
"We might not play (in the) City (final, but) we are still considered co-champs," coach Ramon Spears said.
According to Spears, the insertion of 6-foot-4 junior forward Shermar Lindsey into a more prominent role late in the regular season alongside senior post player Samual Barton has helped his team to be a more physical unit.
Senior guards Trevell Adams and TaQuan Simington and senior wing player Marcus Johnson all are averaging between 13 and 16 points to lead the offense.
"(We're playing) a lot better, because late in the season, that's how things get with us," Johnson said.