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Moody sparks resurgent River Hill boys basketball

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River Hill's Walt Moody kept trying to convince himself that he had made the right decision. The extra time he had been afforded to focus on basketball, as a result of deciding to skip playing football for the Hawks his senior year, was exactly what he had been craving.

Hundreds of shots each day after school in the Clarksville gym, the opportunity to play fall league basketball — for the first time in his life, Moody was able to focus all his energy on one sport.

Yet, as he sat in the stands this fall watching his friends and former teammates roll their way to an undefeated season and the football program's second straight state title, the 6-foot-4 senior couldn't help but second-guess himself.

"I regretted my decision every Friday night until basketball season," said Moody, who went to every football game except one. "I missed being out there, being with my friends. Football is a ton of fun, especially at River Hill, and at the time it was hard to know if giving it up was even going to make a difference.

"But, I felt like I owed it to myself to find out."

Now, several months later, that decision Moody described as "easily the hardest" he's ever made is looking better and better by the day.

Capitalizing on being in the "best basketball shape" of his life, the Hawks' senior forward is averaging a county-best 21.2 points per game as of Jan. 22. He's also averaging 9.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals for a River Hill team that finds itself 12-2 overall and alone in second place in the county standings.

A year removed from going 4-19 and finishing in last place, Moody's been at the heart of the program's turnaround.

"When the game gets tight, or we need something to happen, I think the guys all naturally look to Walt," River Hill coach Matt Graves said. "They know he wants the ball and knows how to make the big play. He's a gamer."

This season, Moody has led the Hawks in scoring 12 out of 14 games and produced game-winning baskets against Annapolis and Centennial.

Being in the spotlight, though, is something still relatively new for him.

He spent his first two years of high school football on the JV team at River Hill before contributing in a support role on varsity as a junior. Lining up at wide receiver, he caught four balls for 121 yards and a touchdown for the eventual state champions. He also helped out on special teams and saw snaps at defensive end.

In terms of basketball, Moody was the only sophomore on the Hawks' varsity squad in 2010-11 but spent most of the year deferring to the team's upperclassmen. He ended up averaging 4.5 points and 2.8 rebounds a night for a team that finished 13-10.

It wasn't until his junior campaign that he really found his groove individually, averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. Even then, however, Moody says it became evident that missing the entire preseason because of football significantly held both he and the team back.

"It always seemed to take until January for me to get into basketball shape and last year, with such a young team, that killed us," Moody said. "We seemed to keep making the same mistakes over and over again and a lot of that was trying to get everyone on the same page.

"It took until the end of the season just to get to where we were in games at the end and at that point we still didn't know how to win."

Last offseason, as Moody was starting to garner some light interest from colleges, he decided it was time to go all in.

After spending the majority of the summer still waking up for 7 a.m. lifting sessions with the football team, he pulled the plug right before tryouts on the sport he had been playing since the age of nine.

"It basically came down to whether I was satisfied with being a good basketball player or if I wanted to try and become a great one," Moody said. "Playing football was fun but at the same time I was limiting my potential."

So Moody hit the gym, motivated to make the most out of his final high school season. His work, along with the chemistry he continued building during summer and fall leagues with the rising sophomore duo of Charlie Thomas and Gary Sandler, allowed River Hill to hit the ground running from day one this winter.

By the third week in December, even with a couple setbacks, the Hawks had already equaled the previous season's win total.

"Having that extra time to develop chemistry and learn as a team, it allowed us and Walt to get rid of the bad habits that had plagued us the previous year," Graves said. "By that first week of practice even, we were leaps and bounds ahead of where we were."

Since suffering a 53-41 loss to Oakland Mills Dec. 12, River Hill has rolled off 10 consecutive victories to sit just one game back of the undefeated Scorpions.

Moody and Thomas, who is averaging 16 points a game in his own right, have combined to create the most formidable one-two scoring punch in the county.

"They really play off one another well, which has made it very difficult on opposing teams … it's almost like pick your poison, especially when our guards start knocking down threes," Graves said.

With Moody serving as the team's only senior starter, the Hawks have the look of a team built for the long haul. But for Moody this is his last shot and that's exactly how he's treating it.

"We're happy, but not satisfied yet. I think we all realize how much potential this team has," he said. "The scary thing is, as good as we're doing, I've still seen it even better in practice. There's a level we still haven't shown yet and when we get there, I believe we're capable of beating anyone."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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