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Will Anozie, Saleem Payne show out at Donofrio Classic

CONSHOHOCKEN >> At Valley Forge Military Academy, the offense runs through Will Anozie. The senior led the state in scoring with 34.1 points per game while the team averaged 51.2.

At the 60th Annual Albert C. Donofrio Classic at the Fellowship House of Conshohocken, Anozie is playing with Gibbs Elite and has to change up his game. After scoring 14 points in the first round of the tournament, the Houston, Texas native scored 13 points Wednesday night in an 83-80 win over Danny Rumph.

“I really like to pass and see other people do well also,” Anozi said. “I get a good amount of shots here, too, but it’s great to actually have a game like I did today — 13 points, five assists. That’s great to see them go finish and pass me the ball, play great defense. It was a great team effort and we got the win. That’s always the best part of it.”

Gibbs Elite’s Will Anozie scored 13 points against Danny Rumph Wednesday night.

Anozie, who scored his 1,000th point during this high school season, showed his ability to score in a variety of ways. After starting the scoring with a three-pointer, he converted a layup through traffic, had an offensive put-back and hit a few midrange jumpers in the first half. In the second half, he got to the free throw line when he took on a pair of defenders in the paint to draw a foul.

Other than Anozie, the six players on Gibbs Elite are from the Pioneer Athletic Conference — two players from Boyertown, two from Spring-Ford, one from Owen J. Roberts and one from Pottstown. Anozie was asked to join this team for the Donofrio Classic after he scored 51 points for Valley Forge Military Academy during the regular season.

“They can play,” Anozie said of his first-time teammates. “They can shoot really well. We all have each other’s backs, so it’s really fun to play with them.”

Anozie’s hoping the Donofrio Classic will help him get some opportunities to play at the college level. He’s already heard from some Division III schools, but hopes he may attract more attention in the quarterfinals next week.

“Next week we have a big game against DJ Wagner,” he said of a possible matchup against one of the top high school players in the country. “That’s when all the big people are going to come out. I’m excited for it.”

No Payne No Gain

When Saleem Payne transferred from Cheltenham to the Phelps School after the 2020-21 year, one area he wanted to improve was his three-point shooting. If Wednesday night was any indication, the Danny Rumph combo guard succeeded.

Payne knocked down a team-high three triples and scored 20 points in the second round of the Donofrio Classic.

“I got smarter as a player and a leader and this season I’ve just been working on my three,” he said. “A lot of people are like, ‘He can’t really shoot threes,’ but I just don’t shoot them. I can really shoot the ball. I’m working on my threes, my passing and vision and just being a smart player. I think I improved a lot.”

Danny Rumph’s Saleem Payne scored 20 points against Gibbs Elite Wednesday night.

Payne, who will graduated from the Phelps School in 2023, added eight rebounds. 

Danny Rumph only had five players Wednesday night, so everyone had to play all 40 minutes. The 5-foot-11 Payne didn’t seem to mind the full workload, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the second half.

“I needed a little breather one time,” he said, “but the little timeouts were good enough for me. It was a good experience – good game — I love that type of game. I think if we had one more (player) we would have won for sure.”

This was Payne’s first time playing in the Donofrio Classic after attending the tournament as a spectator for a few years. 

“I always watched it,” Payne, whose team had a first-round bye last week, said. “Bones Hyland, I know Brandon Austin played here before, a lot of people played here — Kyrie Irving they said played here before. It was a good experience for sure.

“It’s an honor to play in it because first of all, I like games like this with crowds, people I know from the city, people who know who I am and want to see what the hype is about or see if I’m underrated or overrated. I like playing in stuff like this. These are my types of games.”

Payne still lives in Cheltenham and is very close with his old team. He said he went to almost all of their games this season.

“I was at near every game,” Payne said. “That’s still home, still family. They’re still my guys.”

Payne’s been in touch with some colleges, talking to UNC Greensboro and LIU, but wants to get some Division II offers and get the attention of Division I schools. 

“The live period is coming up so I know what I have to do at Spooky Nook this weekend,” he said. 

“If I just keep leading (my team) and look good in front of the coaches I think I can open some eyes and make some noise this live period.”

Gibbs Elite moves on

For the second time in as many games, Gibbs Elite overcame a double-digit deficit to advance in the Donofrio Classic. Their three-point win over Danny Rumph sends them to the quarterfinals and a matchup against the winner of the Yellow Jackets and Primetime next week.

Trailing by double digits late in the first half, Gibbs Elite trimmed its deficit to five, 39-34, at halftime.

In the second half, Boyertown’s Jake Kapp hit five threes to score 19 of his game-high 29 points and Pottstown’s Nyles Bunn-McNeill scored 12 of his 16 points to lead Gibbs Elite to the 83-80 win.

“Once we get into the flow of the game we can shoot,” Anozie said. “We just play, get stops, shoot, make shots. I don’t know how, but we always come back to win the game. It’s great.”

Gibbs Elite tied the game, 39-39, one minute into the second half and built a six-point lead multiple times, but Danny Rumph kept responding. MCS’s Jaheim Bethea had 13 points in the second half while his high school teammate Khalif Crawley had 12 and Payne 11 to keep the five-man Danny Rumph squad within striking distance.

Danny Rumph got within one once, 60-59, and two twice late, 80-78 and 82-80. A lane violation cost Gibbs Elite a free throw to keep their lead at one possession, 83-80, with 21.5 seconds remaining. Crawley and Payne got looks from three in the final 10 seconds, but neither were able to fall and Gibbs Elite celebrated its victory.

Bunn-McNeill finished with 16 points for Gibbs Elite while Boyertown’s Zach Ward had 10.

Crawley led Danny Rumph with 27 points and 13 rebounds while Bethea added 18 and Middleton’s Jaden Rodgers had 12.

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