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Leadership puts Marriotts Ridge's Davis atop boys basketball class

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Ten games into his senior season, Marriotts Ridge point guard Robert Davis had already scored 30 or more points five times. His scoring average of over 27 points a night was not only leading the county, but had him on pace to potentially post the county's highest scoring numbers in almost 30 years.

But, for Davis, there was something missing — individual success wasn't translating to team success.

In those first 10 games of the season, the Mustangs were 2-5 in league play and 4-6 overall. In three of Davis' 30-point games the team had lost and of the six total losses, three were against opponents with losing records.

Davis, never one to put individual accolades ahead of team goals, decided it was time to try a different approach.

"I was playing well … I was shooting the ball and attacking the basket well, but we weren't winning and that's what I cared about most," Davis said. "So Coach (Marcus) Lewis and I talked about getting everyone else involved, making my teammates better.

"The team's best chance to be successful this year, and in the next couple years, was to have as many people as possible contributing."

Sure enough, over the final two months of the season, Davis was the leader the Mustangs needed.

The wins didn't necessarily come, but the Mustangs were competitive night in and night out. Seven of the team's final nine losses were by single digits and during that stretch Marriotts Ridge took three of the county's top four teams down to the wire.

And, while his offensive numbers dropped, Davis still ended up finishing with the top scoring average in the county among public school players at 21.6 points a night.

It was a willingness to help his teammates develop alongside him, though — particularly junior guards Alex Caffes (7.8 ppg) and Pat Clipp (4.9) — that truly sets Davis apart and make him the kind of all-around star worthy of being this year's Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.

"He's just truly a selfless young man," Marriotts Ridge coach Marcus Lewis said. "To have your best player step up and do something like that, putting the team before himself, that speaks volumes. For Robert, the most important thing was winning and he was willing to do whatever he possibly could to give us the best chance to do that."

As the first four-year varsity starter in Marriotts Ridge boys basketball program history, Davis saw plenty of ups and downs during his career in terms of wins and losses. The program's best year during his tenure came in 2011-12 when he was a sophomore and the Mustangs went 18-6 overall.

That year he had his share of high scoring games (averaging 10 ppg), but was more of a support player around leading scorers Arjun Patel and DJ Tucker. As the point guard, though, Davis said he was certainly comfortable in that role.

"We had a lot of pieces that year … there wasn't pressure on one person to be the main scorer," Davis said. "I definitely like scoring, but I'm also just as happy getting everybody involved. That was definitely a fun season."

After that year, though, the team's large senior class graduated and Davis saw his role change. He suddenly had to balance being the go-to-player and the set-up guy.

His points per game went up, however, to a robust 17 points a night to put him among the county leaders. It was during his junior year that he really developed his all-around game, establishing an ability to score anywhere on the floor.

"My midrange game got a lot better and that actually may be the strongest part of my game now," Davis said. "That was probably my weakest point when I came into high school, but after really focusing on that in practice and everything, this season I scored probably most of my points there."

This year as a senior, Davis saw all kinds of defensive game plans against him. He was the top focal point on every opponents' scouting report and yet he still consistently found a way to excel.

"He had players clutching, grabbing, doing anything they could do to get in his head. But his way of responding to that was to come out and let his play do all the talking," Lewis said. "He handled everything that was thrown at him extremely well."

Even as the losses were mounting this winter, Davis maintained his role of a team leader by never hanging his head. The Mustangs exemplified a constant fight until the very end of the season and a lot of that was because of Davis.

In the team's playoff loss to Oakland Mills, Davis went for 29 points in a 46-44 loss.

"No matter what was happening or how many losses we had, we always played hard and fought until the end … that's probably the best attribute of our team," Davis said.

With his 519 points, Davis finishes his career with 1,347 points. He's the first in Marriotts Ridge program history to eclipse 1,000 points and, because of that and his overall contribution to the program, Lewis set up a special presentation on senior day for Davis to have his jersey retired.

"That was a special moment for me," Davis said. "It was pretty much the perfect capper to (my high school career). Of course you want to win in the playoffs and go to Comcast (Center), but getting my jersey retired in front of everyone was definitely the next best thing."

Named to the first team all-county squad are:

Justin Ballmer, Atholton. As the leading returning scorer for the Raiders this winter, there was some inherent pressure on Ballmer to be the go-to-guy and the 6-foot-4 guard more than lived up to the expectations. He not only upped his scoring average by nearly four points up to 11.6 points a game, but just as importantly became a leader to his teammates.

"It wasn't just the transformation in terms of scoring that made the difference for us, it was also him becoming a vocal leader … both him and Michael (Bernetti) took on so much in that area," Atholton coach Jared Albert said. "For Justin, it was like all of a sudden you could see the confidence on his face, both in practice and in games. He came out of his shell."

Ballmer had his share of big games, scoring 17 or more points on five different occasions. But it was his performances on the big stages that truly stood out. In crucial mid-season wins over Reservoir and River Hill that ultimately helped the team set itself up to win the county title, Ballmer was the hero in the fourth quarter with game-winning shots down the stretch.

"He may not be having the best shooting performance, but at the end of the game it wouldn't matter," Albert said. "That's what shooters do … they don't live in the past, they live in the moment. When we needed big plays, he wasn't afraid to step up and make them."

Ballmer, who transferred to Atholton before his junior year from Mount St. Joseph, also made 24 3-pointers and averaged two assists and 1.8 steals a game.

Chancellor Barnard, Glenelg Country. The Dragons lost their top two scorers and a couple all-county players in Warren Powers and Kevin Boyd, but thanks to the outstanding play and leadership of Barnard the team actually won more games this winter in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.

"He had an outstanding senior season, leading a group of young guys to overachieve in an incredibly tough conference while attaining career bests across the board," Glenelg Country coach Kevin Quinlan said. "He leads in a very quiet manner, but plays hard every single day in practice and games. Chance was willing to do the dirty work."

Barnard was a scoring machine, using his shooting ability and athleticism to hit double figures offensively in every game but one (9 points against Spalding). He finished with a scoring average of 21.6 points a game while shooting 54 percent from the field. His season highs were 41 points in a win over Gilman and 37 points in a victory over Stonewall Jackson.

Barnard also excelled in other areas as well, grabbing 6.7 rebounds and dishing out 2.4 assists a night. He added 41 blocked shots on the season.

As a three-year varsity starter, Barnard finishes his high school career as a 1,000-point scorer and will continue his basketball career next year at Loyola University.

"To me the overall package is the most impressive thing," Quinlan said. "He's always been a tremendous defender, but he really spent a lot of time in the offseason getting his all-around game ready for the next level. His skill set has just expanded tremendously and it's a credit to the work he put in."

Michael Bernetti, Atholton. The Raiders went from being a below .500 team last winter to winning this year's county title and Bernetti was as crucial to that turnaround as anyone. The senior starred as a guy capable of playing a number of different positions and, thanks to his work in the offseason, was able to improve his numbers in nearly every statistical category.

"There were a lot of contributing factors, moving him to the wing, him maturing ... but more than anything it was him working extremely hard," Atholton coach Jared Albert said. "He realized what he need to improve the most was his conditioning and to help with that he ran cross country his junior and senior years. He actually ended up being one of our most conditioned guys and played the majority of every game."

After averaging 6.9 points a game as a junior, Bernetti more than doubled his offensive production this year up to a team-high 15.5 points a night. He had plenty of highlights, including six games of 20 or more points, but it was his effort against Old Mill over the holidays that stood out. Bernetti exploded for a career-high 39 points to lead his team to the 11-point win.

On the season, he also doubled his totals from his junior year in rebounds a game, up to an average of 7.1, and made 3-pointers, ninth in the county with 33.

"What he was able to accomplish this year was amazing, but it wasn't by accident," Albert said. "He realized what he wanted his senior season to be and he made it that way."

Aaron McDonald, Reservoir. In terms of breaking a defense down and getting to the rim, there were few county players better than McDonald this winter. His dribbling skills and finishing skills were difficult to guard for even the best defenders and when they played off him, he punished them by knocking down 3-point shots (22 made on the season).

"I didn't think there was anyone in the county that could stay in front of him off the dribble, so really it was just a matter of balancing when he should go and when he should shoot that jump shot," Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan said. "He became a very efficient scorer."

In truth, McDonald's senior season started slowly, averaging less than 10 points a game while the team started 4-4. But as the year went on, McDonald found another gear.

Down the stretch as Reservoir embarked on a 12-game winning streak before losing to City in the playoffs, McDonald scored in double figures in every game but one. Mixed in were three games of 21 or more points, including a career-high 28 in a win over Oakland Mills.

"Aaron is naturally a very unselfish player, which is why I think he would be a great point guard at the next level, but there are times when you have to be selfish in the best interest of the team and he realized that," Coughlan said. "And, honestly, when he's playing well and being aggressive, he demands so much attention that it opens everything up for the other kids too."

McDonald ended up with averages of 12.9 points, 3.4 assists and 2.0 steals a game.

Mamadou Ndiaye, Oakland Mills. When Ndiaye transferred in this year from Laurel High School, coach Jon Browne knew he was getting a player with elite talent. Even he, however, says he didn't anticipate the kind of immediate all-around impact that the 6-foot-7 forward provided.

"He came in ready to go and he was absolutely invaluable to us," Browne said. "We needed an inside presence, especially in the first half of the season as we were bringing guys along, and he gave us that on both ends."

Ndiaye went for 20 or more points in each of his first nine games. Later in the year, against Long Reach, he went for a season-high 32 points. Injuries late in the year hampered him, but he still finished with a 19.1 scoring average.

To go along with that he pulled down 9.8 rebounds and blocked a county-best 2.2 shots a game. He also quickly developed into one of the area's most exciting players, routinely throwing down highlight-reel dunks.

"In terms of raw athleticism, he's the best I've coached," Browne said. "He still has some growing to do mentally and emotionally, but he has the potential to be in the conversation among the best players to ever come through Oakland Mills."

Kyle Reilly, Reservoir. On a Gators' squad that thrived because of its balance, Reilly was arguably the team's most consistent piece and often served as the team's go-to-player. He was a deadly 3-point shooter, making 42 percent of his attempts and finishing with 46 made threes on the season, while also boasting an underrated ability to get to the basket.

"Kyle has never lacked confidence and the really good players have to have that," Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan said. "You have to have that mentality and willingness to let it go in big spots. He was consistent last year coming off the bench for us and naturally even more was expected of him this year, and I though he really stepped up."

Coughlan also points out Reilly's often-overlooked skills on the defensive end.

"He always wanted to guard the big players and he wanted to do it at the critical junctures," Coughlan said. "With his length and conditioning, he was extremely strong for us in that area."

Offensively, Reilly went for 15 or more points on 10 different occasions. His best game came against Atholton during the regular season, where he exploded for 33 points on the strength of six 3-pointers.

On the season, Reilly also added four rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals a game.

Charlie Thomas, River Hill. Although just a junior this winter, Thomas found himself as one of the most imposing and versatile county players. As a 6-foot-7 forward, Thomas not only dominated on the low post, but also stepped outside to knock down a career-high 20 3-pointers. His all-around skill set helped him average 20.2 points, a county-best 11.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game.

"I thought the biggest thing for him was playing with more confidence and a lot of that comes from playing with a top tier AAU team, where he plays against top-level Division I players," River Hill coach Matt Graves said. "That experience in the offseason made him more comfortable handling the ball and shooting the three, which were two areas he really improved."

Thomas scored in double figures in every game but two, including a season-high 34 points in an early-season victory over Centennial. He also posted a pair of 30-point outings. While he hasn't received any official offers yet, Thomas is already garnering significant Division I college interest according to Graves.

"He's definitely on the radar for a lot of schools," Graves said. "The key will be continuing to work on his ability to get to the basket off the bounce, because with his size and shooting ability he has the kind of game that should translate well to the next level."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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