I think it was Biggie Smalls who said, “If you don’t know … you don’t know” and somebody else famous added, “If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.” (Don’t laugh; you’re lucky I knew who Biggie was.) Anyway, I am here to help you have a better understanding about both.

If I ask you who has the best basketball team in Pittsburgh, you would probably say Pitt, ranked #4 in the nation. Or you might say Duquesne, who had their best season in 30 years. Maybe you’re thinking Gateway, Allderdice, Schenley, Peabody, Char-Valley…who?


You would be wrong on all counts. Thus, “You don’t know what you don’t know!” The best team in town is “The Saints” of Imani Christian Academy. (Okay, they may not be better than Pitt or Duquesne but I bet you this, when it’s game time, they will show up and play and play well!)

So to further your lack of knowledge, Imani means “Faith” in Swahili and represents a faith inspired break in the cycle of poverty, broken homes, drug addiction and violence for the children of Pittsburgh’s urban core.

Under the spiritual covenant of Petra Ministries and leadership of Bishop Donald Clay and the superior vision of Elder Milton Raiford, Connie and Jim Balthrop, the school has become a national role model for its process and success.

Since 1993, ICA has accepted the most neglected and rejected in society and showed them a different vision, a vision that we all should be awakened to. How about this for starters…Did you know that in Pittsburgh less than 50 percent of African-American males finish high school and less than 19 percent go onto post-secondary education. ICA has a 90 percent plus graduation rate and over 60 percent go on to college. Again, what you don’t know…you don’t know.

It has been said that “Faith is a gift” and the ultimate level of faith was delivered in the form of a gift that would prove to be just heavenly. Several years ago as a part of Petra’s ever-growing concept to enhance and improve the quality and condition of the area and community surrounding the church, the possibility of purchasing and redeveloping the vacant East Hills Elementary School became a reality.

Now in their second year of operation, with student enrollment of 205 plus for K-12 and a faculty of 25 and growing, ICA is steamrolling into the Pittsburgh educational future with an operating budget of $1.8 million and growing and the true blessing of it all is that 97 percent of the students are African-American, 98 percent receive scholarship support and nearly 60 percent go onto college. Furthermore, nearly 90 percent come from single parent families.

To no one’s surprise, the development and success of the school is due in part to the leadership and guidance of Dr. Marilyn Barnett, a highly successful, well respected educator of the highest degree and, of course, her talented and caring faculty and staff (which as a matter of fact has a student/teacher ratio of 9 to 1) working side by side with her.

Heading up the athletic department is Elder Enos Scott, school administrator and superintendent of athletics. Deacon Harvey Smith, athletic director, who brings “Big Time” athletic, competitive coaching and leadership skills; Minister Kevin Miller, assistant headmaster; and big brother Coach Jimmy Brunett make up a powerful family team that is hard to beat on any level. ICA also has an outstanding and exciting girls basketball program that is coached by Rema Hard and is also upward bound in a competitive program.

Okay, okay, I know you’re waiting for me to get back to the basketball part of this story, but to be honest with you, if I didn’t get this in the story, Elder Raiford, aka “Milt” would get Elder Tim Walker, Officer Kevin Head and Roland Slade and take me behind the church and wear me out! (And yes, he would need them!)

Why would I suggest to you that “The Spirit” are the best team in town? You may not want to take my word on it. Just talk to Oak Hill Academy who had their hands full. More importantly, talk to anyone of the teams in the SWCAC (South Western Christian Athletic Conference) that they beat on average by 25 or more points … and I mean a beat down of biblical proportions. (Sorry, I don’t know if I can say that or not. I gotta be careful here. My arms are too short to box with God.)

Athletic achievement always begins with leadership, guidance, and quality coaching and this team is no different under the firm, but free style method of coaching of Head Coach Khayree Wilson and assistants LaRoi Johnson aka “Franchise,” a former standout City League football and basketball player, as well as Connie Hawkins Summer Basketball League All-Star (now playing professional arena football in Utah); Robert Hart; and Marcus Robinson, a former great high school and college player and one of “the elite high flyers” from the Hawkins League.

To a man, the players will all tell you pretty much the same thing. They play for Coach Khayree because he cares about them and puts their individual success ahead of their basketball objectives. To the players, ICA is about family, people who care about their personal well-being and educational success and give them the individual attention sometimes lacking in other schools.

Coach Khayree, a strong man of mind, body and spirit, (small in size… mighty otherwise!) as well as a dedicated family man, made it very clear to every player coming in, “This is about family. It’s about graduating and it’s about going to the next level, no matter what it takes.”

The evidence speaks to that. Past grads include Danny Wright, a Div. I star player at South Carolina and Andrew Smith who played at Div. II Mercyhurst University and played pro ball in Europe.

This year’s class presents the same opportunities. Tom “T.J.” Jackson, point guard and team captain who averaged 20 pts., 10 rebounds and 8 assists a game, has several Div. I offers and is in my opinion the best guard in Western Pa. His co-captain “Big Zo” Alonzo Murphy stands 6″8″ and weighs in at around 250 lbs. of solid basketball force and dunks. Trust me when I tell you very soon you will hear “big” things from him as he moves onto a Div. I school as well.

“T.J.” and “Zo,” as well as the other players, talk about how much they love being at ICA, that they would not want to be anywhere else. Some have left city and WPIAL schools and have not regretted their decision to relocate. They speak well of their past schools and maintain their social ties but, for most of them, ICA offered a new and different start, a new beginning both on and off the court and most especially, in the classroom.

With a 22-8 overall record, 11-0 league record and some of the area’s best players, Imani wrapped-up the season in the top level of local basketball and more importantly, are now primed after a stellar fifteen year history to move into the WPIAL for the 2012 season.

For all that you now

know that you didn’t know at the start of this story, know this! Imani “Spirit” basketball, Imami Christian Academy coaches, staff, administration, Petra ministries, the entire operation is about God, the enhancement of our most precious gift…our children, family and community. Their ideal is that our society must address the problems of the inner city and the disadvantages that exist within and they are poised to make the difference now and into the future.

“To know Imani, is to have your heart changed.” Fred Fetteroff, board chairman.

Now you know what you don”t know!!

(To join Imani’s circle of faith giving program which offers additional ways to fund and support their programs and tax credits for business and corporate gift matching, please call (412) 731-7982 for more information.)

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