Tristan Kent experienced a growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore years, and it was then the teenager said he knew he had made the right sports decision.
Kent’s athletic journey from Oklahoma Road Middle to Liberty High School was destined to take place on the lacrosse field, where Kent was playing the sport at the rec level for Freedom. As one of the taller kids in his class, Kent dreamed of one day entering Liberty’s lacrosse program and using his size to his advantage.
Until a friend and future teammate’s father intervened, that is.
Kent recalls Brad Blankenship, a Freedom travel basketball coach and dad to Cameron Blankenship, talking him into giving hoops a try.
“So I figured, why not? And then I made the team,” Kent said. “[Cameron’s] dad really taught me a lot about basketball and made me really love the game. After that year it sort of became my main focus, and I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I could go pretty far with basketball.’ It was the first time I took it seriously.”
Consider it a net gain for the Lions — Kent kept growing and became a starting center for the varsity team, which this winter won the Carroll County Athletic League championship to give Liberty its first outright title in 35 years.
Kent averaged a double-double as the Lions’ focal point on offense, and earned Times Player of the Year honors after leading Liberty to a program record for wins in a season.
The Lions finished 20-4 (12-0 in CCAL play) and made it to the Class 2A West Section 1 final against Oakdale, the eventual regional champion. Kent led the way with 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, and he led Carroll in field-goal shooting at 64.9 percent.
Kent said he started high school standing 6 feet, 2 inches. Last year he topped out at 6-5. Now he’s 6-7, standing tall in coach Brian Tombs’ system.
“I thought at the end of last year … he started to understand what his ability level was,” Tombs said. “He became much more comfortable handling the ball and making good decisions. Skills aside — and height — he’s going to give us a mismatch for the other team every time he steps out on the court.”
Kent attracted attention from opposing defenses, which allowed his teammates chances to produce if he was unable to get clean looks at the hoop. Kent got plenty of help — guards Jack Selby (8.5 ppg), Jack Merchak (7.7), and Connor Stewart (7.0) all contributed, along with forward Peyton Scheufele (8.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
Balance became Liberty’s key to success, even with its big man in the middle.
“My teammates talked to me a lot and they guided me through it, expecting me to score a lot for us,” Kent said. “Coach kind of told me that he made the offense to go around me, to complement me, and then other people would get looks off of that too. We were able to find the open man, and the other people on my team were able to do what they do best.”
Kent said the Lions were motivated to win the county crown coming off a 14-win season last winter, even with two of their top three scorers from that team having graduated in the spring. Liberty won seven of its first eight games to open the year, then enjoyed a 10-game winning streak that extended into the postseason.
Kent shined in the regular-season finale with 25 points and 17 rebounds in a 68-54 victory over Franklin.
He added 30 blocks (1.3 per game), 16 assists, and 10 assists, showcasing all of his skills when Liberty needed them.
“Tristan’s not a selfish kid,” Tombs said. “He’s not worried about whether he gets his … but he really forced teams to collapse on him, and that gave us opportunities. It’s a lot easier to run things through him.”
Tombs said Kent also raised his basketball IQ by learning how to take over games when the moment arose. Credit some of that to his dedication to the sport — after the switch from lacrosse, Kent said he wanted to get as much hoops exposure as possible. Rec and travel teams gave way to high school and AAU action.
Kent said he plays his AAU ball in Howard County for a program called Maryland 3D.
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“I’m very happy the way it turned out,” he said. “We’re all close friends. We all know each other’s potential and that we can all score easily, so we shared the ball a lot and just trusted one another to do the right thing.”