Daquan Bracey made a quick cut to the right and Kurk Lee Jr. sent a pass to the left, the ball going out of bounds for a turnover. The St. Frances senior backcourt was uncharacteristically out of sync for parts of an important early season game at Glenelg Country last month, the No. 1 Panthers showing the wear of playing their third game in as many days.
Trailing most of the way — by 17 at one point in the first half — St. Frances found the needed answers, and it was no surprise where they came from.
Bracey tied the game to send it into overtime and then hit the opening basket in the extra time. Lee hit two clutch free throws at the end to seal a 66-63 win. The dynamic duo combined to score 43 points.
In the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and the Baltimore Catholic League, one ingredient has been consistent in championship seasons in recent years: an experienced backcourt.
Behind the consistent and often sensational play of Bracey and Lee, the Panthers (17-4) are banking on that trend again this season.
"The leagues are so talented and most of the teams have Division I players, so normally the thing that can propel a team over the top is senior leadership," St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. "Especially the last three or four years, it's always been whoever had the senior guards. … I'm counting on those two guys to get us over the top this year,"
In their second season playing together and third for each on varsity, the pair bring many of the same qualities to the floor and their statistics are nearly identical. The 5-foot-11 Bracey is averaging 16 points, six assists and six rebounds per game this season. The 5-10 Lee, son of former Towson University standout and NBA player Kurk Lee Sr., is contributing 16 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
Both are shifty left-handed players who like to relentlessly attack the basket, can spot up from the outside and take pride in playing tenacious defense. Both surpassed the1,000-point milestone earlier this season and both are approaching 500 career assists.
Despite the similar skill sets, they have emerged as ideal complements for the Panthers.
"They're very talented players that certainly create a lot of issues for their opponents," said Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey, who had standout guards Phil Booth, Kameron Williams and Jaylen Adams to help bring home championships in recent years.
"They create shots for themselves and their teammates and they're both very good individually, but together they make a top-notch backcourt. Both being experienced seniors, I think they've figured it out and, first and foremost, they want to win."
The two first met when they were around 10 years old, playing on opposing Amateur Athletic Union teams. They respected each other's games, both standouts back then with the same qualities they share today. It wasn't until last season that they had the chance to play together — Lee played for St. Frances as a freshman but missed his sophomore year, when Bracey was called up to the varsity. The push they provide each other has been invaluable and it starts at each practice.
"It's fun because you know you're going to get better every day," said Bracey, who committed to Louisiana Tech earlier in the season. "It's not like just going to practice every day because we know we have to work hard and that makes us both better."
Lee, who said he will make his college decision sometime after the season, has closely followed his father's words to become the player he is.
"Since I was four years old, he's been by my side pushing me to be better and working me out," he said. "He's always staying in my ear with positive information because he's been through everything I'm going through now. He's played at the highest level of competition in basketball — the NBA — so I have to listen because I'm trying to follow in his footsteps."
Right now, the focus for Bracey and Lee is winning MIAA and BCL championships, well aware of the work that remains ahead as the Panthers approach the heavy portion of their league schedules. The Panthers, who reached the semifinal round in both leagues last season, have a good mix of returning talent and newcomers as they attempt to take the next steps. Myles has declared the Panthers will go as far as his senior backcourt can take them.
Junior forward Tairik Johnson is confident that will be a long way.
"They're the best guards I ever played with," he said. "They're good leaders, good teammates and they're only going to tell you how to get better to benefit the team. They really helped further my game and I don't think I'd be where I am without them."
With both capable of taking care of the basketball and willing to make the big shot at the end, the Panthers always have a good situation in the fourth quarter of a close game. The big question: Who takes the last shot?
"Whoever is going good. If he's hot, he gets it and if I'm hot, I get it," said Lee. "So it just depends on how I feel and how he feels and sometimes it comes down to the coach's decision."
Myles likes the options: "Definitely who's hot and in rhythm — it takes a lot of pressure of each of them."