Danny Shand is quick to answer the hypothetical question, taking it on with the same brash confidence the senior shows on the court as point guard of the New Town boys basketball team.
If the Titans return to the state title game and you get to the free-throw line, say, six times in the fourth quarter, how many will you make?
“I’m knocking down all six,” he states boldly, and then smiles. “I’m getting them all this year.”
The most difficult day of Shand’s basketball life came last March. In a stomach-turning 54-52 loss to Dunbar in the Class 1A state championship game, he made just one of 10 free throws.
He was devastated.
“It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “I went home and started crying because I let my team down. It was my fault we lost. If I made half of them, we would have won a state championship.”
Shand openly talked about the game and his performance just before the start of this season. He revisited the loud boos that came each time he stepped up to take a free throw, how each visit brought more and more pressure, and how he wasn’t bending his knees, following through and finishing on his tippy toes as he was coached to do.
He scored 12 points and played valiantly that day. True to form, he didn’t back down from the mighty Poets, who had beaten the Titans handily, 60-36, in the same game the prior year.
But it still eats at him.
More importantly, it has made him stronger. Shand is a better basketball player today because of it. He looks down at his finger and sees no championship ring. Shand wants one.
“Last year was difficult,” he said. “The free throws didn’t go through in the state championship. But I’m really motivated this year. I’m hungry, I’m humble and I’m working hard to get the job done.”
His tough exterior, which outlines his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, has helped make him one of the top point guards in the metro area. He averaged 12 points and 7 assists last year, bringing high energy at both ends to set the tone in New Town’s 23-win season.
This year, he wants to do more.
After two close losses against good teams — including a season-opening 46-42 loss to then-No. 1 St. Frances on Dec. 6 — the No. 13 Titans opened their Baltimore County schedule with an 87-27 win over Franklin last Monday and then beat Woodlawn, 60-45, on Thursday to even their record at 2-2.
The team has a capable nucleus with returnees Damien Hamler, Kenny Sherrod and Juwan Dorsey. But there’s no question the Titans go as Shand goes.
“Danny brings leadership, a great basketball IQ, defense and he keeps getting better and better with making the right decisions,” New Town coach Mike Daniel said. “He’s got the team on his shoulders and he’s doing a good job with it.”
One day during class, Shand told Hamler how he wasn’t afraid to go at anybody on the basketball court — not even Miami Heat star LeBron James. Shand was completely serious, and Hamler wasn’t surprised.
“He’s a very confident player,” Hamler said. “He gets everybody going. So for me, when I’m on the court and see somebody with that much intensity, it makes me want to step up my game because I know that he has my back and I have to have his back. He encourages us to do better. And for me, he’s made me better physically and mentally every practice and every game.”
The confidence and skills Shand brings to the court don’t go unnoticed, certainly not by opposing coaches, who have to game plan to stop him. He can impact a game a number of ways and his presence alone is as important as all his points and assists.
“He brings a ton of energy for his team,” Milford Mill coach Michael Silverman said. “He’s one of those players that doesn’t stop playing hard until there’s all zeros on the scoreboard. He brings the intangible of never wanting to give up and do whatever it takes to win a game for his team and himself.”
It took three days after last year’s state championship game for Shand to be able to start fresh. He went to the gym and shot 100 free throws. He shot under 50 percent last year and knows that’s not good enough. So he spends extra time on free throws every day at practice.
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to us again this year,” he said.
One of the traits of a fine leader is the willingness to take on responsibility. In last year’s title game, the Titans collectively shot 37 percent from the foul line (13 of 35) and others could have made a few more to change the outcome.
But Shand still puts it all on himself.
“I’ve got to bring a lot of leadership, because we’ve also got a lot of young guys this year,” he said. “I know they are following me and if I can be a great leader, they’ll be great leaders when it’s their turn. It’s going to be a good year.”
When Daniel was asked who he would want at the foul line with a state championship on the line, he was quick to answer, just like Shand.
“There’s nobody better to be at the foul line for us than Danny,” the coach said. “There ain’t no doubt about it.”