Something looks familiar in the Howard County boys basketball scene these days.
It was just two seasons ago that Oakland Mills ran the table in the regular season, going 22-0 and then winning the District V championship before falling in the Class 2A South regional final to finish with a 25-1 mark.
This season, eighth-year coach Jon Browne -- who has a 108-64 career record -- has the No. 12 Scorpions at 11-0 with a talented squad that features dominating size, led by Mount St. Joseph transfer Lavon Long and Dajuan Dent, and top-to-bottom balance.
An Oakland Mills grad, Browne was a standout runner in his high school days -- winning three state titles in cross country and two more in track. He graduated from Clemson and then returned to Oakland Mills, where he is in his 18th year as a tech ed teacher.
Browne has been part of the boys basketball program for 17 years and also has been the golf coach since its inception in 2004.
When he's not teaching or coaching, Browne loves spending time with his wife, Allison, and their three daughters -- Kerry, 12; Kailtin, 8; and Meghan, 3.
And, from his college days at Clemson, he developed a love for barbecue.
"It's all about the swine!" he said.
What has been the key to the undefeated start?
I think we're a little bigger than people think -- Dajuan Dent is almost 6-foot-7 -- and obviously Long has had a huge impact for us. They've been cleaning up a lot of our messes inside. Even if you beat us on the perimeter, you get down there and those guys block a lot of shots and change a lot of shots, and they get a ton of rebounds, so they've been the real key. But we've also had some balanced scoring and different guys step up every game. The last three or four games, we've had multiple guys in double figures besides those two, so it's been a good balance.
What is the key when you get a prominent transfer in like Long as far as blending them into the system?
Your team has to adjust to them. Obviously, Lavon is a huge transfer for us. There's some growing pains along the way in that he has to learn our system. We've been using him a little differently than he's been used to being used in the past strictly as a big guy. We've put him out some in the perimeter -- he's one of our best passers and probably leads our team in assists -- he can handle the ball, he can shoot. But just getting everybody on the same page and when he comes out and plays the 3 position, somebody has to go to the bench. It's about keeping the kids happy with playing time and, at the same time, trying to find that balance between keeping everybody motivated to play and trying to win games at the same time. There's an adjustment period and hopefully now in January, we're used to everything, but there's always growing pains. But these are good problems to have -- when you have superior players coming in and you've got to find ways to make them fit in -- we'll make that work every time.
Do you see any similarities with this year's team compared to the dominating one you coached 2010-11?
It was a completely different team. That was a very mature team that played together for many years. But, at the same time, I don't think it was as balanced and we weren't as deep that year. We had two to three really good players and a couple of guys that filled some holes. I think this year we have more depth, and I have more confidence in my bench and we're relying on way more guys to score for us. We're not relying on one guy to fill up the stat sheet for us. There are similarities in that we're off to a great start, but that year I expected to be off to that start and this year has been a pleasant surprise. Night in, night out it gets harder every time out because every team is trying to knock us off, but the kids have responded. I don't think we've played our best basketball, but we've continued to find ways to win.
What do you enjoy most about coaching?
It's probably the relationship you develop with the kids. Just coming back from the break, I was fortunate to see so many of my former players. Those relationships keep you going -- I get calls from them all the time and obviously the success of the program, the more people from the community comes out, and it lets me see more people that I haven't seen in a long time. To see so many people that were part of the program at one point -- from the '70s, '80s, '90s, 2000s and today -- to have those relationships with all those people is probably the best. I like winning, don't get me wrong, it's one of my favorite things to do, but beyond that your relationship with the community makes it for me.
How do you implement the success you enjoyed in running into the basketball program?
That was a long time ago. But I think it's all about putting your best foot forward, giving it all you got was something I learned from running in high school and you can succeed with hard work. Those are simple lessons and the more you put into anything, the more you get out of it. I love to win, I tell that to the kids and I know a lot of people don't have that same school of thought these days. But I think winning is the most enjoyable thing in the world. If you put enough time in it, and obviously you have to have some talent, you're going to enjoy your experience as an athlete 10 times more than if you're not winning. So it's just the general attitude that you scrap it up every day, bring your lunch pail to practice and go to work. You play like you practice and we've been able to get maximized potential out of a lot of kids over the years and we continue to do that.
What can we expect to find from one of your day's work at the barbecue?
Certainly pork products. I love to do a pork butt, some pulled pork, baby back ribs is one of my specialties -- I've always loved the swine more than anything. I like to mix up my sauces -- maybe some North Carolina or some South Carolina -- maybe a vinegar base or maybe a mustard base. You never know what you're going to get -- it just depends on how I feel. It's all about low and slow baby -- I do love applewood, too.