Losing the three leading scorers from last season could deflate any basketball team. The Laurel boys basketball team not only recovered from such a void, it turned the losses into a positive.
Fourth-year coach Torrence Oxendine's squad displayed a ton of fight this season while recording an 8-14 mark after bowing to Northwestern, 79-70, in a Class 4A South Region opener Feb. 28.
"We beat Northwestern both times we played them during the regular season," Oxendine said. "But they were really well coached, and beating a team three times is hard to do."
Even though Laurel fielded one of the smaller —if not the smallest — team in Prince George's County play, the Spartans refused to be bullied on the court by more imposing rivals this winter.
To be sure, because their tallest starter was Eric Elue at 6 feet, 2 inches, they had matchup problems with most foes.
And that's the reason Oxendine had his team on the move as often as possible.
It helped immeasurably to boast the speed and quickness Oxendine enjoyed to keep the offensive pace at a rapid rate.
Transition started with Kirk Hawkins running the point.
The fleet 5-foot-7 sophomore averaged 13 points and six assists per game this season.
"He's came along really well," Oxendine said. "He's a lightning-quick guard who just needed to learn how to change his pace a little bit and cut down on turnovers. He was learning more with each game."
Junior Ramelo Cardwell (6 feet) and senior Devonte Cook (5-10) held down the front court with Elue on the wing.
"We had to stress boxing out and getting into transition," Oxendine said. "We tried to get up and down the court because we were at a disadvantage in half-court sets."
Senior Frank Williams (5-9) manned the shooting guard spot and was the Laurel leader in scoring — averaging 16 points per game.
"The kids are great about taking instructions," Oxendine said. "But we had to execute to be successful."
All-county football player Cailen Walker (5-11) averaged 12 points per game off the bench and Aubrey Golder (6-2) added another 10 points per outing to the Spartans' cause.
"We were a small, scrappy team who would get after you," the coach said. "We played every game close and we played hard all the time."
Three-point shooting specialist Afolabi Oyeneyin (5-10), who led the team in treys despite playing competitive basketball for the first time a a senior, was another key contributor along with classmate Shaquille Griffith (6-0), the team's most complete and best defender.
"He can defend all five positions on the floor," the coach said.
Junior Derrick Solee (5-7) is "a player to watch for next year," Oxendine said. "He was coming on strong of late."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun