Thirteen years ago, Mike Francis had to watch as members of the Old Mill boys basketball team cut down the nets after defeating his North County Knights to claim the Class 4A East Region title.
On Saturday, though, there was Francis, cutting down the same net after leading Old Mill to this year’s region title. The fourth-year head coach of the Patriots leads his team into Thursday’s Class 4A state semifinal after his team came from behind and defeated Annapolis on Saturday to capture Old Mill’s fifth region title and the first for Francis as a head coach.
“It means a lot that I was able to do it,” Francis said. “That was the one that seemed like it was getting away from us. I feel like I’ve had a couple teams that could have done it, but didn’t. This group right here doesn’t like losing.”
Francis will lead the Patriots (22-4) in Thursday’s state semifinal at the University of Maryland against Bladensburg (14-12) of Prince George’s County, the South region champion. The Patriots are in the state semifinals for the fifth time and are looking to advance to the state final for the second time after reaching the title game in their last appearance in 2010. They fell in the semifinals in their previous three appearances in 1992, 2005 and 2006.
The winner of Thursday’s game will play either defending state champion Perry Hall or Gaithersburg in Saturday’s state final.
Though Bladensburg comes in with a record just two games over .500, Francis knows not to overlook the team that plays in one of the top counties in the state and has the player of the year in Prince George’s County, Daniel Oladapo.
“They play a serious schedule,” Francis said. “They started to gel late. I saw them against Wise and they didn’t play as poised and they didn’t execute as well as they did against Roosevelt on Saturday.”
The teams actually have a common opponent in Woodlawn. Old Mill defeated the Warriors, 63-58 on Jan. 12, while Bladensburg fell to Woodlawn, 64-59, on Dec. 27. Old Mill lost to Dunbar the day after beating Woodlawn at the Basketball Academy at Morgan State, but hasn’t lost since.
The Patriots feature a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging in double figures, led by Avion Robinson’s 15 points a game. He was clutch in Old Mill’s last two playoff wins with a combined 49 points in wins over Meade and Annapolis, including nine points in the fourth quarter and overtime in the win over Meade in the Class 4A East Region Section I final and 21 fourth-quarter points in Saturday’s win over Annapolis in the region final in a game the Patriots trailed by seven midway through the third quarter.
“These are the moments we live for,” Robinson said. “Me, Daevone (Johnson) and Mahzi (Thames) talk about leaving Old Mill as Old Mill legends.”
Hollique Johnson averages 12 points and eight rebounds, Daevone Johnson follows with 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals and Thames has been a welcome addition as one of the first players off the bench and has still managed to average 10 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals for the Patriots, who average 63 points a game.
Like Robinson, Daevone Johnson came up big when it mattered most. He scored all eight of his points in the second half of the victory over Meade, including a free throw with less than a second left that forced overtime. He was even better in Saturday’s win over Annapolis with a team-high 27 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
“It would be big (to win the state championship),” Johnson said. “That’s what we’ve been waiting for all season. It’s all we’ve been thinking about since we played at Maryland last year.”
While the Patriots didn’t play in the state tournament at Maryland last year, they did participate in camp over the summer. After winning the title in their bracket, the team posed for a picture and Francis told them the goal was to get back to Maryland in March.”
“I absolutely remember him saying that,” Robinson said. “Ever since he made that goal, that’s been our goal. We’re here, so we just need to finish it.”
Stopping, or at least containing, Oladapo will be the key. The 6-foot-7 forward averages 24 points and 11 rebounds a game. He was the player of the year in Prince George’s County as voted on by the coaches and has scored more than 1,000 points in his career.
“He’s legit,” Francis said. “He is very skilled and is able to handle the ball. They play through him a lot.”
Francis saw the Mustangs earlier in the season, then hurried down Route 295 following the victory over Annapolis on Saturday and watched the Class 4A South Region final between Bladensburg and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“He was very unselfish (on Saturday). He gave the ball up to guys who were open and they made shots,” Francis said. “That makes it tough. When you have a guy who is so dominant and can make things happen, teams have to pay attention to him. Then, when he’s sharing the ball with other guys, that makes the team very tough to beat.”
Tyshaun Walker averages 13 points, five rebounds and three assists and 6-foot-6 forward Tyriq McAdoo averages 12 points and nine rebounds per game.
Bladensburg is in the state semifinals for the eighth time, but first since 1979. The Mustangs have played in the state final in six of their seven appearances in the state tournament, winning state titles in 1960 and 1973.
Francis said the team hasn’t sat down and watched film of the Mustangs yet, opting to wait until closer to Thursday.
“We won’t watch film until probably the day before,” Francis said. “This is the ‘Snapchat age,’ so we don’t usually watch film until the day before or the day of.”
Old Mill is hoping to become the second county team to win a state title since 2015 when Meade broke a 25-year drought for the county with its first state title.
“Representing the county means a lot,” Francis said. “It’s special for me to be in the same place as people like Gerald Moore (Arundel), Mike Rudd (Glen Burnie), Pete (Corriero, Meade) and of course John Brady (Annapolis). Those guys have represented the county well.”