In some ways, Imani Christian looks a lot different than it did when it won its first PIAA title last season.

A super-sized frontcourt is no more after 6-foot-11 Alier Maluk transferred to a school in New York and 6-8 Virgil Hall graduated. Maluk will play college basketball at Florida State. Also departing was Dame Givner, an all-state pick like Maluk who transferred to a school in New Hampshire.

The 2023-24 Imani Christian team might not be as tall as last year’s bunch, but as they showed Wednesday, the Saints are still super and have the talent in place to march to similar lofty heights this season.

Playing its first game against local competition this season, reigning WPIAL and PIAA Class 1A champion Imani Christian raced to a 30-point halftime lead and went on to claim an 80-51 win against Neighborhood Academy at CCAC Allegheny in the Section 3 opener for both teams.

“We’re small, we’re fast. Everybody looks down on us because we’re not as big as we were last year. So if we play fast and use our athleticism, we’ll win a lot of games,” Imani Christian senior guard Nate Brazil said.

Brazil scored a season-high 25 points for Imani Christian (2-4, 1-0), which ran its section win streak to 26 games by defeating Neighborhood Academy (6-4, 0-1), which also ranks among the best teams in Class 1A. Imani Christian has not lost a game to a Class 1A opponent since the 2021-22 season. Coincidentally, the Saints also broke a four-game losing streak, all of the defeats coming during an ultra-challenging early stretch that included losses to Grayson, Ga. (ranked No. 10 in the country by MaxPreps) and Philadelphia Catholic League power Neumann-Goretti (N-G lost to Lincoln Park in last year’s PIAA Class 4A final). Imani Christian trailed Grayson by only four points after three quarters.

“It’s really not even to prepare us for these games, it’s to prepare them for college,” said coach Khayree Wilson, an assistant on last year’s team who replaced Omar Foster as head coach. “The objective is for us to play those national games so they can see what basketball looks like outside of Western Pennsylvania. So they can be prepared and see what those other guys look like and see how we can test ourselves with that.

“It just so happens that iron sharpens iron, so by the time we get back from that, we’re prepared to go ahead and do what we need to do for our section and try to go ahead and repeat.”

Imani Christian coach Khayree Wilson talks to his team after the first quarter against Neighborhood Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at CCAC Allegheny. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Brazil was one of four Imani Christian players who scored in double-figures. Fellow 6-foot senior guard Avery Wesley had 17 points (including the 1,000th of his career), 5-11 junior point guard R.J. Sledge added 12 and 6-3 junior guard-forward Markus Williams chipped in 11.

Standout junior guard Courtney Wallace led Neigborhood Academy with 23 points, while freshman guard Kedron Gilmore scored 15 and junior guard Junior Ogbonne added 10. The Bulldogs, who went 20-6 and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, played without second-leading scorer John Wilkins. The team’s previous losses came to Class 6A and 5A teams.

This game was pretty much over by halftime. Imani Christian jumped to a 46-16 lead after shooting 19 of 33 from the field (57%) and limiting Neighborhood Academy to 7-of-33 shooting (21%). The Saints ended the first quarter on a 13-0 run before producing another 13-0 run in the second.

“We understood what type of focus we were going to get from teams,” Wilson said. “We knew that, so we wanted to come out and play strong and play fast. And I feel pretty good about the way we came out and showed ourselves tonight.”

Neighborhood Academy deserves credit for the fight they showed in the third quarter. After it looked like the mercy rule could come into play, Neighborhood Academy outscored Imani Christian, 24-11, in the third to pull within 17 points. The Bulldogs, though, would get no closer.

Neighborhood Academy’s Courtney Wallace scored a team-high 23 points in his team’s 80-51 loss to Imani Christian Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at CCAC Allegheny. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Overall, Imani Christian shot 30 of 63 from the field (47%) and Neighborhood Academy 20 of 64 (31%).

It will be guard play that drives Imani Christian, and the Saints showed once again they have some very good ones. Wesley and Sledge are the team’s only returning starters, while Brazil saw a lot of minutes last season, as well. Brazil (15 points per game), Wesley (13 ppg) and Sledge (10 ppg) are the team’s leading scorers and all are receiving Division I interest.

Brazil shined the brightest Wednesday, particularly with his perimeter shooting as he knocked down five 3-pointers.

“He was great,” Wesley said. “He was hitting shots, playing defense, doing everything for us. Being a leader. He did good.”

Imani Christian, as a whole, was very good. And just because this team isn’t as big and doesn’t have Maluk and Givner doesn’t mean they don’t have what it takes to duplicate their feats of last season.

“All of the goals are attainable,” said Wilson, “and the biggest goal now after a state championship is to be a top 25 team in the country. They can be that and I believe that.

“The departure of two great young men, it definitely hurt us, but it also lit a fire under everybody because we hear the naysayers. We hear the people saying we can’t because they’re not here anymore. And we’re out to prove to the world, and not just Pittsburgh, but the whole country that Imani Christian Academy is a basketball program that is here to stay and that is going to be here for a long time.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at