Looking at the pedigrees of this year’s 3A boys basketball state final four, Reservoir certainly sticks out as the new kid on the block.
Each of the other three teams that won 3A region titles last week, Milford Mill (24-2), Potomac (21-3) and Urbana (21-4), have made it down to the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center for the state semifinals at least once in the last seven years.
Reservoir, however, finds itself making the journey for the first time in program history.
“Winning the region was huge for us, no doubt, but as we got back to practicing Saturday and Monday we started talking about reevaluating our goals,” Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan said. “It’s time to turn our attention to that state picture and obviously it’s going to be a challenge for us, but we’re not going down there just to be along for the ride. We’re going there, like everyone else, to win.”
Reservoir is slated to square off against Potomac at 5 p.m. Thursday in one semifinal. Milford Mill and Urbana will kick the day off in the other semifinal at 3 p.m.
Coughlan, who is in his first year leading the Gators after spending last year at Marriotts Ridge, has some history on the state stage. Although he’s never gotten to states as a coach, he was a player on the 1986 Oakland Mills squad that lost in the state semifinals.
That memory is something he’ll try to use as a motivator for this Reservoir group.
“There was a feeling after making it to this level and losing with that Oakland Mills team that once the game was over we were all just happy to be there. That upset me for a long time, because when you’re that close you don’t always get back,” Coughlan said. “So I’m trying to get the kids to understand that. I want them to enjoy this, but I also don’t want to squander the opportunity because we’re so close.”
All winter, Reservoir’s strength has been its balance. Junior guard Kyle Reilly leads the way with 10.7 points per game, but behind him there are 11 different guys averaging 2.7 points a game or more. Nine guys, including Matt Christian (8.0 point per game), Aaron McDonald (7.6) and Cody Toler (7.2), have scored double digits in at least two games.
“I had a couple people early on I was playing too many (kids), but I honestly never waivered from it,” Coughlan said. “All those guys have proven themselves and it’s really benefitted us at times. When someone’s out sick, in foul trouble or whatever, there’s someone else there to step in.
Below is a snapshot of the other teams in the 3A final four. The state championship game is scheduled for Saturday, March 16 at 3 p.m.
Last state final four appearance: 2006
Scouting report: The Wolverines of Prince George’s County have undergone a transformation over the last two years under coach Renard Johnson, who has taken a program that was 4-17 during the 2010-11 season and guided them all the way to the state semifinals.
Last year the team went 18-7 and this year the team is currently sitting at 21-3.
“We made it to the region (final) round last year and this year we were able to win it. I just think it shows a progression and shows that the program is on a steady incline,” Johnson said.
Potomac is 18-1 since dropping two of three games earlier in the season (against Douglass and Sidwell Friends) and has really developed into an offensive powerhouse. Dion Wiley, a junior guard being heavily recruited by schools like Maryland, Georgetown, Cincinnati and Miami, is the focal point.
He averages 18 points a game, while also grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out 6 assists every time out. It’s his unselfishness, though, that has made the Wolverines excel.
“He’s the most unassuming star player you’re ever going to meet … a good player, but a great teammate,” Johnson said. “He sort of sets the tone for the team and he’s getting better and better at taking over games when we need it.”
There are plenty of other weapons around Wiley, though. Walter Broddie is a freshman point guard averaging 17 points and 8 assists a night. Then there’s Romone Saunders (13 ppg, 10 rpg), who coach Johnson says may be the most important piece of all.
“Romone Saunders is our ‘X’ factor,” Johnson said. “I tell everybody, ‘We go as far as Romone goes.’ ”
With a scoring average of 76 points a night, Potomac certainly feels comfortable playing up tempo — something Johnson says he expects from the semifinal game against the Gators.
“It’s interesting because Reservoir and our team are mirrors of one another in a lot of ways,” he said. “Their very athletic from what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen and they’re not looking to slow it down and grind it out. That’s a lot like us. I wouldn’t mind a run-and-gun game.”
Last state final four appearance: 2011
Scouting report: Of the four teams left in the 3A classification, the Millers are the only one that feature championship experience on their roster. The senior trio of Bruce Watkins (11.3 points per game), Davonte Williams (8.5 ppg, 9 rpg) and Dedrick Lee (6.3 ppg) were all pulled up from the JV team for Milford Mill’s run to the title in 2011.
None of the three played much in that game, though, so they’re hungry to be back and playing predominant roles this time around.
“They definitely loved that experience (as sophomores), but this year as seniors they’ve stressed how much they want to get back and get another one,” said first-year coach Michal Silverman, who was coaching those guys on JV in 2011. “Now that we’re here, the practices have been extremely focused and the intensity is there. They see that ultimate goal.”
While the senior experience is definitely a key, the team’s best two players very well may be underclassmen Allen Costley and Justin Jenifer. Costley, a junior, is averaging a team-high 14.3 points per game to go with an average of 10 rebounds.
Jenifer, a sophomore, is right behind him with an average of 13.5 points and 12 assists a night. Jenifer, in particular, has established himself as a leader despite his age.
“He is a high major player, playing AAU ball against the highest competition out there, and I think he’s just excited for the opportunity to showcase his talents in front of the state of Maryland,” Silverman said. “His basketball IQ is through the roof and he’s our floor general.”
Milford Mill’s only two losses this season came against Bowie and Theodore Roosevelt, both by single digits. And lately, during their current seven-game winning streak, the Millers have been winning by an average of 25 points a night.
Silverman is hoping his guys can simply keep the momentum going on a familiar stage.
“We’re definitely excited about the opportunity to continue what we’ve done in years past. Getting over the hump from last year, when we lost in the region finals, was a point of emphasis in the offseason for us and now that we’re back I think the kids are excited,” he said.
Last state final four appearance: 2010
Scouting report: After an early exit in last year’s playoffs, the Hawks have capitalized on great team chemistry to get itself to the state final four for the second time in program history.
“This team is actually not as talented as last year’s team that got upset, but I’ve got three football players that compete and give us leadership to go along with the juniors that are our basketball players … it’s a great mesh,” coach John Cooper Jr. said. “They’re coachable and we’ve gotten better as the year has gone on.”
Urbana has lost just once in its last 10 games, an 11-point setback against South Carroll. The Hawk’s victory in the regional championship game over Tuscarora actually avenged a loss to them at the end of January.
Four-year varsity player Thomas Utt is the team’s leading scorer at 16 points a night and provides tremendous guidance for his teammates.
“That leadership he gives us goes a long way … not just on the court, but the little things off it too.”
Fellow seniors Darren Ambush (10 points per game) and Brendan Wharton (6 ppg, 7 rpg) are important pieces as well.
With averages of 57.6 points per game offensively and 45.28 points against per game defensively (both lowest among the teams left in 3A), one might assume Urbana would prefer a slower, methodical pace. Cooper, however, says that’s not necessarily the case.
“I like to run. But we’re kind of like a bully, we like to bully you but we don’t want you to bully us,” Cooper said. “I would love to go up and down, but I’m not sure I want to run with Milford Mill. So we’re going to get the ball up the floor, we’re just going to have to be smart about it.”