High School Sports

Jephthah Appiah-Donkor leads Fife Trojans against almost-perfect Clarkston Bantams

A line drive pass screamed by Jephthah Appiah-Donkor’s outstretched arms and out of bounds during a scrimmage Tuesday afternoon, prompting Fife basketball coach Mark Schelbert to blow another whistle.

“Where are we going?” Schelbert asked, seizing the ball.

“The SunDome,” a few players shot back.

Schelbert tossed a 20-foot floater into Appiah-Donkor’s hands — the SunDome has arc, so should deep passes. Appiah-Donkor snickered, and sent the ball out to reset the offense.

It was one of few lighthearted moments during Fife’s final practice before traveling to Yakima for the 2A state tournament. Three days removed from a stunning victory against Tumwater, the Trojans struggled with complacency in an afternoon littered with whistles and adjustments. For his part, Appiah-Donkor absorbed every note.

“He’s a sponge,” Schelbert said. “He understands he doesn’t have the background from a real young age on, so he’s always receptive to advice.”

The 6-foot-5 senior post, who boasts a 7-foot wingspan, started playing organized basketball his sophomore season on Fife’s C-team before jumping to varsity as a junior, where he played off the bench.

“I kind of liked it better,” Appiah-Donkor said. “It was more comfortable because people didn’t know who I was, and didn’t double-team me.”

He’s managed the attention well as a focal point this season. Tangled between double- and triple-teams, Appiah-Donkor still averages 12.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game.

But his meteoric rise wasn’t completely fluid.

“It was actually a long journey,” Appiah-Donkor said.

His physicality, magnetism to the ball, and itch to play the game attracted Schelbert’s attention early, but Appiah-Donkor spent two seasons developing fundamentally to become consequential.

Off the court, he had minor run-ins with administration and struggled to focus in class.

“He needed a carrot dangled in front of him,” Schelbert said.

Progressive success on the court became that carrot.

“Basketball helped me be a leader,” Appiah-Donkor said. “It taught me how you’re supposed to act in a public setting. Playing basketball, you have to have discipline.”

Appiah-Donkor rounds out a class of three seniors — including freshly healthy guard Austin Woods and forward Khyri Edwards — who will lead Fife (16-9) against Clarkstonat 2 p.m. Thursday (March 5).

The Bantams’ only loss this season was by a margin of three points.

Intimidating, maybe, but Appiah-Donkor resolves the competition will erase any lingering complacency issues.

“I think them telling us we’re going to lose is all we need,” he said.

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