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Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Liberty's Tristan Kent 'didn't get pushed around' in leading Lions to a county title

Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Liberty's Tristan Kent 'didn't get pushed around' in leading Lions to a county title
Liberty senior Tristan Kent is the 2019 Carroll County Times Boys Basketball Player of the Year. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Tristan Kent’s mission was clear for his senior year as the leader of Liberty’s boys basketball team.

Kent had a stellar junior campaign, one in which he helped the Lions win 20 games and claim a county championship. He averaged a double-double, led Carroll in rebounds per game and field-goal percentage, and powered Liberty to its first outright county title in 35 years. But even with a growth spurt on his side, Kent felt something was missing.

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“Last year, at times, my opponent would just out-muscle me,” Kent said. “I knew that this year, if I wanted us to go to where we went, I knew I couldn’t be pushed around anymore.”

The 6-foot-7 forward stuck to a workout regimen throughout the offseason, and said he saw big-time results. Kent put together another double-double season, led Liberty to another county crown, and earned his second consecutive Times Player of the Year honor.

Kent’s season was cut two games short because of an ankle injury, but not before he scored 18.1 points and grabbed 11.8 rebounds per game. He improved both of those averages from a year ago, and shot better than 60 percent from the field for a second straight winter. But he wasn’t satisfied going into the year, and felt the need to bulk up.

Kent said he met once a week with a personal trainer at Merritt Clubs Eldersburg, who gave him a regimen to follow when the two weren’t working out together at the gym. Kent dived into the lifting routine four to five times a week, he said, and felt stronger before the season started.

Lions coach Brian Tombs noticed a difference, perhaps in the season opener — Kent went for 30 points and 16 rebounds in Liberty’s 58-51 win Dec. 7 over Frederick.

“You couldn’t manhandle him this year,” Tombs said. “No matter what you did, he was able to handle himself very well. … The year before, he got that growth spurt and he got bigger. But he physically wasn’t ready for all the pounding that he takes inside. I think you saw that his junior year from time to time.”

Kent showcased his talent throughout the year. He posted eight blocks in a win over Tuscarora in early January. He totaled 21 points and 14 boards in beating Francis Scott Key one month later. He collected 60 points in a pair of games against rival Century, which shared the Carroll County Athletic League title with the Lions this season.

After going 40-7 over the last two years — 23-1 in the CCAL — Kent said this season was his most enjoyable considering Liberty’s tight-knit core of veteran players.

“We were all a little closer. We played more as a team this year. Our chemistry was a lot better,” Kent said. “Since we all were such good friends, our practices seemed a lot more fun too. We were just having fun, just being together. … It went by super fast. I can’t believe it’s over already. It was a quick four years. I’ll miss it a lot.”

Liberty's Tristan Kent goes in for a layup while covered by Century's Matt Huber during the first half of their game in Eldersburg Friday, Feb. 8, 2019.
Liberty's Tristan Kent goes in for a layup while covered by Century's Matt Huber during the first half of their game in Eldersburg Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Tombs pointed to Liberty’s Class 2A West playoff loss to Oakdale in 2018 as a prime example of an opponent having its way with Kent. The Lions faced the Bears again in this year’s playoffs, but Kent missed the game with his right foot encased in a walking boot. Oakdale prevailed again, 68-56, en route to the regional title.

Tombs said Kent’s added strength gave him the ability to work on his offensive skill set, which he did with better spin moves in the post to get around defenders. Plus, Kent anchored Liberty’s defense by communicating better with his teammates.

Kent finished 65 points shy of 1,000 for his three-year varsity career, and Tombs said he’s confident Kent would have gotten there if not for the foot injury. Tombs is proud of Kent and how he handled himself the last two years to become more of a leader.

“He plays hard. With that size, he put in his time,” Tombs said. “He showed that if you do that, regardless of your skill level, you’re going to get what you want out of it.”

Kent is headed to York College next year and wants to arrive ready to contribute. That means sticking to his strength and conditioning program, which has helped Kent get to this point as a more well-rounded player.

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“I'm just really excited to get there,” Kent said. “I’m going to put in as much work as possible … I want to win.”

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