The John Carroll boys basketball team has found a safe haven for the basketball when games come down to the final seconds.
It's a place that breeds confidence, comfort and, ultimately, victories.
Clock ticking down? No problem. Defenders locked in? No problem. Self doubt? Not from Rodney Elliott Jr.
When the ball is in the hands of the 6-foot-1 senior point guard, the Patriots can almost guarantee that something good will happen.
A captain and two-year starter, Elliott has hit four game-winning shots this season to lead the No. 5 Patriots to a 24-10 mark as they head into Wednesday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs. The defending league champions earned the fourth seed and will host Calvert Hall in the quarterfinal round.
"You can play rec ball all the way through the pros and may never get one of those type of moments — it's extremely rare," John Carroll coach Tony Martin said. "To see one kid have that many game-winning shots in a season — I've never been a part of anything like it in 25 years. I told Rodney the other day in practice that he's having a special year and to enjoy the moment and keep working hard. He's a humble kid and deserves it."
Being the last-second hero is nothing new to Elliott.
His first game-winning basket came when he hit a jumper in an under-9 recreation league at the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center in East Baltimore. After the victory, his father, former Dunbar and Maryland star Rodney Elliott Sr., gave him some advice that he remembers for every game.
"My father told me 'From this point on, this is what you have to do — you have to be brave. You have to want to take that last shot and believe you can make it,'" Elliott Jr. said.
In addition to making a bunch of important shots late in games, Elliott took on a bigger role for the Patriots this season.
Last year, he was mostly a distributor in a lineup that featured forward Jarred Jones and a deep backcourt in which players competed for playing time.
After Jones moved on to Loyola University and underclassmen Kamau Stokes and Justin Jenifer transferred to Dunbar and Milford Mill, respectively, Elliott became the key component in a backcourt suddenly full of inexperienced players.
He's averaging 17 points, 3.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals, taking care of the basketball and providing leadership for the younger players.
"This year, my role has changed a lot," Elliott said. "I'm being more aggressive and my confidence is higher. But like always, we have great players helping out, so it's not just me but also my teammates."
Elliott's late-game success and poised play during the rest of the game may be attributed to growing up in the spotlight.
After all, he shares the same distinct jaw line and eyes as his father. So every time he walks into a gym, everybody knows whose son he is.
Elliott Sr., a 6-foot-8 forward who many know as "Noodles," played internationally for several years after his college career with the Terps from 1994-1998.
"It's a good feeling," Elliott said about following his father in basketball. "It can be hard sometimes living up to what he did. He went to Maryland and then had a great career overseas. I just embrace it, listen to his knowledge of the game and I'm just trying to go as far as he did or even farther."
Elliott, who is receiving attention from a number of mid- and low-level Division I colleges, has always made his father proud.
"Everybody knows he's Rodney Elliott Jr. — Noodles' son. We get it everywhere we go. But he's done a great job of carving out his own niche," Elliott Sr. said.
Elliott Sr. jokes when asked how many game-winning shots he had in his career. Clearly, Elliott Jr. has one-upped his father in that regard.
Actually, you could say he has "three-upped" him — and that's just this season.
"I may have hit 50 game-winners in my life, but only one counted," said Elliott Sr., who hit a game-winning shot a couple years ago in Paris to help his team clinch a playoff spot. "The other ones were on the playground by myself. I would be winding down the clock — 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — and even if I missed, I would get fouled and win the game on the free-throw line."
With Elliott Sr. playing out of the country for most months each year during the younger Elliott's childhood, summer provided quality time for father-son bonding.
Elliott Sr. showed his son the importance of hard work, dedication and practice as they worked on his basketball skills in the gym.
In addition to practicing, they spend hours watching basketball games together, giving Elliott Jr. a deeper understanding of the game.
After Elliott hit a jumper with 3.8 seconds left to lead John Carroll past No. 1 St. Frances, 42-41 on Jan. 18 — this coming right after he completed a 27-point performance with a deciding jumper at the buzzer in a 54-52 win over Glenelg Country two nights earlier — he found himself in a similar situation in the Patriots' next game against Archbishop Spalding.
With the game tied at 50 and the ball again in Elliott's hands, the Cavaliers quickly collapsed on him out front with five seconds to play. Elliott found an open man, sophomore guard Elijah Long, who buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer for another dramatic win.
"Before the game during warm-ups, Rodney helped me with my shot," Long said. "I kept fading away and he told me to jump straight up and down. By him telling me, it gave me more confidence. When I shot that last shot, it came natural to me. I just pointed over to him and he smiled. Him being so composed in a game just really calms the whole team down and it helps us get through the clutch moments."
The Patriots have to rely on their defense with less offensive firepower this season. They play hard and smart. And Elliott sets a quiet, but confident tone with his play.
Rarely will you see Elliott show a great deal of emotion on the floor. He's always calm and collected and leads by example.
But this season, he has shown exuberance after his late-game heroics. Following one of the winning baskets, he saluted the crowd. Another time, he displayed a flex pose.
Asked about the adrenaline rush that comes with taking and making a game-winning shot, Elliott quickly returns to character.
"As a team, we can't always put ourselves in that situation where we have to count on that last-second shot. We need to open up leads, so we can get more sound wins. But, yeah, it's a great feeling hitting that shot."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun