Self-learner has Palumbo on a roll

Academy at Palumbo junior Aisha Muibi goes up for a shot in a game at Franklin Towne Charter. Photo/Mark Zimmaro
Academy at Palumbo junior Aisha Muibi goes up for a shot in a game at Franklin Towne Charter. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

One of the first things Aisha Muibi wanted to do upon starting her high school experience at the Academy at Palumbo was to join the basketball team.

But there was one problem. She didn’t know how to play. Her three brothers are all soccer players, so Muibi did what any problem-solving student might do — she looked up videos on YouTube.

“I really didn’t start taking basketball seriously until ninth grade,” Muibi said. “I learned how to play basketball off of YouTube. I worked every day and practiced by myself and I was able to pick myself up.”

Muibi said the epiphany came shortly before high school when she tried to play basketball at a local park and things didn’t go well. It was time to study.

“I was playing at the park,” she said. “I always wanted to be like Kyrie Irving. I like his moves. So that’s what really motivated me.”

Not only did Muibi study Irving’s moves, but she took a more serious approach by seeking out tutorial videos on shot mechanics. 

“I watched how to do layups and dribble and I learned about shot form,” Muibi said. “I learned all that from YouTube.”

Academy at Palumbo junior Aisha Muibi gets ready to shoot a free throw in a game against Franklin Towne Charter. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Now it’s tough to stop her. Muibi is in the midst of a fantastic junior season both individually and team oriented. The Griffins were undefeated in the Philadelphia Public League through Jan. 28 and 14-1 overall with the lone loss coming to St. Hubert. Averaging north of 20 points per game, Muibi has tallied more than 300 points this season and more than 700 over her career. She’s on pace to be the first female from her school to eclipse 1,000 points next year.

“Earlier this season she asked me if I thought she might score 1,000 points and I said, ‘No’,” Palumbo coach Chris Donnelly said with a laugh. “And then I looked at how she scored in ninth and 10th grade and seeing how she had improved by leaps and bounds and I was, like, wait a minute, she does have a really good chance. Now I’d be shocked if she doesn’t. It’s been fun watching her develop. She’s a really coachable player. I love this team. They are a bunch of knuckleheads but they play with such enthusiasm.”

Muibi is the only junior on a team with zero seniors. Somehow, she went from learning how to take a layup less than three years ago to being the most varsity-experienced player on the team. And it’s working out beautifully.

Academy at Palumbo girls basketball coach Chris Donnelly shares a laugh with her team during a victory over Franklin Towne Charter. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“Sometimes I think she feels like, as the senior member of the team who is only a junior, everybody looks up to her and she has to do it all,” Donnelly said. “But when she recognizes that isn’t the case, she plays her best. She’s a great athlete and she’s still a work in progress. She works hard and doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Muibi enjoys the extra challenge of providing leadership to a team filled with sophomores and freshmen. It’s not always X’s and O’s, sometimes it’s just counseling, perhaps something learned from Donnelly, who is a counselor at the school.

“Teamwork is the reason why we are where we are right now,” Muibi said. “We talk and we trust each other. I also make everybody feel like we’re all the same. I don’t make a scene like I’m the oldest on the team. I make sure everyone feels seen and I make sure everyone puts in the same amount of work. Nobody is better than the other person.”

That’s not to say Muibi doesn’t enjoy putting the ball in the hoop when the team needs to score. 

“Sometimes you got to get the bucket,” Muibi said. “Even if you don’t have the opportunity, you need to make the opportunity. I know when we need points on the board, I can trust my teammates and I can trust myself to get a bucket.”

She also trusts her phone. YouTube is still her favorite.

“She’s always bringing me film of something,” Donnelly said. “Asking, ‘Yo, Donnelly, did you see this? Can we do this play?’ She’s a little bit like a sponge, wanting to pick up things. And at the same time, I think she’s very realistic. She’s growing into this elder statesman role on the team. I don’t think it was originally in her comfort zone, but she’s starting to enjoy it and it’s been fun to watch her grow.”

Muibi enjoys watching her teammates grow along with her.

“I feel like we worked up to this and we deserve it,” Muibi said. “And we’re going to keep going because if we work together, nobody can stop us.”

Academy at Palumbo junior Aisha Muibi goes up for a shot against Franklin Towne Charter. Photo/Mark Zimmaro