When the season began, Boys' Latin basketball coach Cliff Rees doubted his Lakers could duplicate last year's success, when they went 22-5. But the Lakers are determined to show the third-year coach that he could be wrong.
Boys' Latin is off to a 7-2 start and has established itself as a contender for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship in mid-February.
Last year, Boys' Latin compiled its 22-5 record behind the standout trio of Rees' son Casey (18 points per game at guard), forward Brendan Fields (10 points, 8 rebounds) and guard Colin Heacock (14 points, 8 rebounds).
"I could coach at Boys' Latin for 20 years and might not have a record like that again," said Rees, who lost all three players to graduation.
But the Lakers have moved on, and they appear to be exceeding expectations at this point.
"It boils down to the kids making plays, and that's what they have done," Rees said. "I wasn't sure what to expect because I lost three seniors who were strong and physical. We are ahead of schedule in my wildest dreams. I have told the kids, 'We have not even scratched the surface of what we are capable of doing.' "
Tte Lakers have been led by senior shooting guard Jordan Brooks, his cousin, sophomore shooting guard Blair Brooks, and sophomore forward/center Kodye Pugh, a transfer from Archbishop Spalding.
Boys' Latin surprised two teams, topping A Conference schools Loyola Blakefield, 68-64, Dec. 7; and McDonogh, 57-45, Nov. 26. Those victories gave the Lakers a shot of confidence.
"It's always a good feeling for a B Conference school to get a win against an A Conference school," said Rees, whose team has lost to Mount St. Joseph and Dulaney. "It's something I want to be able to challenge my kids with is to be able to compete with those schools."
Rees was impressed with his team's 100-97, triple-overtime victory over Georgetown Prep on Nov. 29, when the Lakers overcame a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Jordan Brooks scored 26 points, Blair had 23, Pugh added 22 and junior shooting guard Patrick Spencer contributed 20.
"My kids just scrapped and fought to make the plays to win it," said Rees, whose team is 2-0 in league play with wins over St. Johns Catholic Prep and St. Mary's.
Rees has been thrilled with the play of the 6-foot-6 Pugh, who can score, rebound, block shots and defend. He's averaging 14.9 points and eight rebounds per game.
"He's made a huge difference for us," Rees said. "He gives us a presence we didn't have last year. He can play inside or outside. He is very versatile."
The Brooks cousins have also made a difference. As the lone returning starters, each has elevated his game.
Jordan Brooks, 6-2, is averaging 13.6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game. Blair Brooks, 6-1, is averaging 13.9 points and shooting 53 percent from the field.
Each averaged about 10 points last season.
"We felt we had to contribute in many ways in order for us to win a championship," Jordan Brooks said. "We had to step up. We had matured and put in a lot of work in the offseason. That's why we have made the progress we have from last year."
Boys' Latin is also getting valuable contributions from senior forward Frederick Bopst, freshman guard Brandon Bradsher, sophomore guard George Greene and Spencer, a junior guard.
The Lakers had their six-game winning streak snapped by Dulaney, 62-57, on Dec. 13.
Two days earlier, Boys' Latin edged Old Mill, 82-81. Junior guard Devin Shewell hit the game-winning shot with eight seconds left.
"Boys' Latin is going to be very good this year and win a ton of games," Dulaney coach Matt Lochte said. "They have unbelievable guard play and Kodye, who can do a little bit of everything."