Yet Guthrie was still rebounding, scoring and terrorizing opponents around the basket. Skerry snapped him up. The next challenge for Guthrie would be adjusting to the academic rigor at Towson.

"It was kind of a whirlwind, coming from where he was, to the workload he had to take care of when he first got into classes at Towson," said Patrick O'Connell, Towson's director of student-athlete development. "It seems like it took a little bit of time for him to catch up, but now it is crazy how much he has developed in the classroom."

Guthrie's game has also developed. In his first year, the Tigers staff spent a lot of time with Guthrie improving his ball handling and shooting. He became Towson's leading scorer off the bench.

This season, he took the next step by transforming his body, and getting into the best shape of his life.

"We used to kid him all the time, he would drink a lot of soda, but he doesn't drink soda anymore," Skerry said. "He eats a lot healthier now."

This year, Guthrie has averaged 12 points a game and become Towson's best shooter off screens. Skerry takes advantage of that often, running plays specifically to get Guthrie a look. After coming off the bench for much of the year, Guthrie has moved into the starting lineup late in the season.

"Guys like him are why you get into coaching," Skerry said. "They come about as close as possible to reaching their potential as a player and a student and a person. It's been a privilege to coach him."

On Senior Day on March 1, Guthrie's brother, Anthony, who was incarcerated for five years for robbery and missed Rafriel's entire high school career, accompanied Antwan and their mother on the court for a pre-game ceremony.

It was a preview of an even more special moment to come in May, when Guthrie — "Spalding brain" — will become the first member of his family to graduate from college.

"Without basketball, I don't know where I'd be, to be honest — either dead or in jail," Guthrie said. "The opportunity I've got, I'm trying to take advantage of it."

pbarrett@baltsun.com

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