Daniel Kiely knew long before arriving at Oakland Mills that he was going to have some big shoes to fill.
His older brother Joe, a 2011 graduate who made first-team all-county as a senior point guard while helping lead the Scorpions to a 24-1 season, had made quite a name for himself. Daniel, who came along more than a year later as a freshman in the fall of 2012, recalls wanting to live up to that standard.
"I remember thinking that I had to work really hard, because a lot of people were going to be comparing me to Joe. And he was a great player," Kiely said. "I owe a lot to my brother. He helped me out a lot, pushed me to get better.
"So, yeah, I guess going into high school I felt like had to live up to the Kiely name."
Fast forward to now four years later and the Oakland Mills point guard has not only lived up to his predecessor, but in many ways surpassed him.
He finishes his varsity career with career totals of 1,085 points, 400 assists and 339 rebounds — the only public school player in Howard County history to eclipse all three of those milestone barriers (1,000 points, 400 assists and 300 rebounds).
In addition, Kiely graduates having helped his team reach the region championship game each of the last four years, including going on to win the program's first state title in 25 years last season as a junior.
It's because of both that individual success and his ability to continually elevate his team to the highest levels that Kiely has been named this year's Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys basketball Player of the Year.
"At the time when Joe graduated, I would have said he was one of the most talented players I ever coached, but now looking back I think you would have to say Daniel has surpassed that," said Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne. "The stats, the accomplishments … they are hard to ignore. Having won a state championship to go along with all the wins, this four-year stretch he's been a part of at Oakland Mills is basically unparalleled. Any expectations I had for Daniel coming in as a freshman, he's blown them out of the water."
Growing up, Daniel developed his game while playing on the HC Elite AAU basketball squad under coach Bill Napolitano and alongside guys like fellow all-county performer Tom Brown from Centennial. Looking back, Kiely says he credits an incredible amount of his success over the years to the foundation that was laid long before he reached high school.
"I owe a lot to all my coaches. Coach Browne, he's helped me a ton and has always been there for me, my family and my brothers. But I owe the most to my AAU coach Bill Napolitano," Kiely said. "He taught me how to shoot a real jump shot and basically everything I know about basketball. He got me ready for high school and I can't thank him enough for that."
Kiely's time at Oakland Mills started with him on the junior varsity squad as a freshman, playing alongside guys like Tre Hopkins (a second-team all-county guard this winter). He came up for a game during the middle of the season and scored 10 points before deciding to go back down and finish out the regular season on JV.
That year, he was called back up to varsity for the playoffs and was part of the team's run to the regional finals — falling against Calvert to spoil what was an undefeated season at the time.
The following year, as a sophomore, Kiely was a regular contributor and finished fourth on the team in scoring (9.9 points a game) and first in assists (3.6 assists a game). The Scorpions again had a successful season, going 20-5 and making the regional championship game, before this time losing against Potomac.
But it was as Kiely really came into his own last winter as a junior that Oakland Mills was finally able to break through as a team. Kiely took over as the floor general, assuming lead guard responsibilities on the way to increasing his numbers across the board.
His 5.1 assists a game were again a team best and he also threw in averages of 11.9 points and 5.1 rebounds a night — both third best on the team. His poise with the ball in his hands and ability to set up his teammates played a pivotal role in Oakland Mills not only getting over the regional final hump, but rolling all the way to the program's first state title since 1990.
"I think last year, I really understood my role and it was less about scoring and more about making my teammates better. We had a lot of talent on that team and it was a long, tough road where we really had to stick together to reach our goals," said Kiely, who was named to first-team all-county after the season. "It was a great run and I think we all had respect for it after we won and what we had accomplished, especially considering the previous years. But I think it just hit home even more this season when we lost. You have one bad game and it's over. I felt like we could have really won again this year.
"But that championship is something that we will have forever and people will remember us for."
This past offseason, leading up to his senior season, Kiely again made a concentrated effort to improve all aspects of his game. He said he particularly focused on adding athleticism to his arsenal by doing leg-work, running bleachers and hills, and using a specific weights program advised by his older brothers.
He saw results as early as last spring during AAU play, where he began dunking regularly and literally took his game to new heights.
By the time the high school season rolled around Kiely was ready to take center stage. Taking over that lead scoring role was something Browne talked with his leader about during the preseason.
"We had a face-to-face conversation about how he was going to have to go from pass-first to now looking to score a lot more often because of the guys we lost. It was now his team, his time," Browne said. "And I give him credit, he didn't shy away from that. In fact, I think he thrived off that."
Kiely nearly doubled his scoring numbers, up to a county-best 21 points a night. In addition, he also raised his assists per game average up to seven a game — also a county best. In fact, his 175 assists this year are the most in a single season by a Howard County player since Wilde Lake's Terry Butler had 181 in the 1992-93 season.
Oakland Mills went on to win its first county title since 2013 and go 22-3 this year. Kiely still says the season-ending loss to Middletown in the region championship stings, but he also acknowledges that it doesn't lessen the team's overall body of work.
Now, Kiely is turning his attention to college. He has been having conversations with several Division I programs and is confident that he will find a fit in the next few weeks. Browne is optimistic as well and believes there are big things in store going forward.
"I truly believe this is just the beginning and his best days are in front of him," Browne said. "From my end as a coach, it's crazy how you blink and those four years are up. But he's leaving behind a great legacy … no doubt about that."
Named to the first-team all-county squad are:
George Greene, Howard. The Lions guard was already his team's leading scorer as a junior last winter, putting up just over 11 points a night, but it was his work in the offseason that brought his game to a level that was among the best in the area. Seeing that improvement during the preseason, Howard coach Seth Willingham said he was able to take the reigns off this year.
"We saw how much time he had put in so we adjusted some of the things we did offensively and defensively based on the fact that we knew that he was capable of doing more," Willingham said. "We tried to get more things going through George and there really weren't too many limitations on him offensively this year. He can shoot from the outside and he can also get the ball to the basket, so he could put points up in a lot of different ways."
Greene made a splash right before winter break with a 32-point game in a win over Atholton that kick-started an eight-game stretch where he scored at least 20 points every time out. It was no coincidence that his strong play also coincided with Howard's best stretch of the season where the team won 12 of 14 overall.
Greene ended up finishing the year with a scoring average of 19.2 points a game, third best in the county, and hit a total of 45 3-pointers. He also shot 69 percent from the foul line (114 of 166). But it was perhaps his play on the defensive end, finishing with a county-best 3.6 steals a game, that really provided the biggest spark.
"When we were on that winning streak, we were giving up like 47 points a game, and George was a huge part of that," Willingham said. "He would get steals, get out in transition and then either score or put pressure on the opposing defense to foul him and send him to the line. Everything I thought started with him getting himself to the basket and making sure he was always going somewhere with his dribbles. That was probably the biggest improvement in his game."
Joshua Hightower, Glenelg Country. In his second year as captain, Hightower really took ownership of this year's Dragons' team. Coach Kevin Quinlan said he saw a transformation from his guard during the summer in the St. Paul's summer league and it carried right over into the winter.
"I had a hunch he was ready to make that jump. He had gotten his body stronger, his skills were sharper and he had grown like four inches since his junior year," Quinlan said. "He was already a really good player … you could just tell he was now ready to break out."
Hightower ended up nearly doubling his scoring average, going from 7.7 points a game as a junior to a team-leading 14.2 points a game this winter. One of only two guys on the team to start every game, the 6-foot-2 point guard was lethal coming off ball-screens. He could hit the mid-range jumper or change speeds and finish at the rim. He had several huge games, including 28-point efforts against John Carroll and Gilman, and closed the season with a career-high 35 points against Annapolis Area Christian.
"He shocked me some nights, completely taking over games toward the end of the season," Hightower said. "It was in the second half of the John Carroll game at our place, where he finished with 28, that he kind of decided that he was going to lead us and go out strong. He was a different player from that point on."
To go along with the points, Hightower finished with averages of 3.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game.
Naquan Williams-Day, Oakland Mills. Primarily tasked with being a role player on last year's state-championship Scorpions' team, Williams-Day took a huge leap forward into the spotlight this winter as a junior. The only non-senior to make first-team all-county this season, he literally did a little bit of everything for an Oakland Mills team that won its first county championship since the 2012-13 season.
In fact, Williams-Day is the only player this year to finish among the top 10 public school players in all six major stat categories — points (18.8), rebounds (5.5), assists (2.6), steals (3.1), blocks (.9) and three-point shots made (53). All those numbers were improvements from his sophomore campaign.
"I would say he surpassed everyone's expectations for him, except probably his own. I think he knew he was capable of being a star in this county, he just had never really had the opportunity before this year," Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. "He's such an unbelievably versatile player and actually incredibly unselfish as well because he was willing to do all the little things we asked of him. Even as his role increased, he still never stopped putting the team first."
After averaging 9.2 points a game last year, Williams-Day quickly showcased his improved arsenal with 15 or more points in each of the team's first nine games. Included in there was a 29-point effort in a loss to Glenelg Country, 31 points in a win over Hammond and 30 points in a win over Winters Mill. Later in the year, on the day the team locked up sole possession of the county title, he scored a career-high 32 points against Wilde Lake.
He scored in double figures in every game but two.
"He's just a flat out scorer and I wouldn't say at this point that one aspect of his offensive game is stronger than another," Browne said. "With his frame, to go with the athleticism that he added during the offseason, he literally made teams pay from all over the floor. Inside, outside, that mid-range game … he can fill it up."
Brandon Willis, Hammond. Considering he played the course of his high school career at three different schools — Glenelg County, Atholton and Hammond — it's easy to forget just how impressive of a four years Willis has put together. A consistent starter for each of his respective schools pretty much since the middle of his freshman year with the Dragons, the versatile guard finishes with 1,202 career points — putting him top 20 all-time in Howard County history.
Even if you take away that first year while playing in private school, he still eclipsed 1,000 points the last three playing for the Raiders and Golden Bears.
This past winter, though, was undoubtedly his most successful — both individually and from a team standpoint. Transferring into a program that had finished with just three overall wins and placed last in the county in 2014-15, Willis combined with several other impact players to flip the team's record up to 17-2 in county and 20-4 overall. He was Hammond's leader in scoring (19.5 points a game), assists (4.3 apg), steals (2.8 spg) and 3-point shots made (63). Most importantly, according to his coach Mike Salapata, Willis was a leader.
"I literally could not have asked for more from him," Salapata said. "He's a great player, works non-stop and the best part about him is that he's as good of a kid off the court as he is on it. He was an absolute pleasure to be around and he really brought this team together throughout the season."
Willis went for a career-high 36 points in a win over Randallstown over winter break, but also had seven other games with 25 or more points. Included among those standout outings was 33 points in a loss to Oakland Mills and 28 in the team's season-ending loss to Stephen Decatur.
"When the big boys came, he was there and at his best every time," Salapata said. "It's a credit to him, because a lot of people will hide from that spotlight. But he seeks it out and that's something that will serve him well when he's playing on that next level next year."
Trevor Winn, Glenelg. A transfer into the Gladiators program from St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown, it took a few weeks and battling through a couple of broken fingers during December for Winn to find his role. But once he began to hit his stride over winter break, he never slowed down on his way to becoming Glenelg's go-to guy.
"There is not enough you can say about the kid. His emotion, his energy, his knowledge of the game, he brought that every day and as one of just two seniors for us that was huge," Glenelg coach David Evans said. "He missed a couple games early with the broken finger, but once he came back, he made those guys click around him."
Sure enough, as Winn got going — scoring in double figures in 13 of the final 15 games of the season — so did Glenelg. The Gladiators put together one stretch of winning eight of nine county games to close the regular season and improve all the way to fourth place in the standings (12-7).
Winn showcased that he could score in a lot of different ways. He could hit the outside shot (28 made threes) and make the mid-range jumper. But his bread-and-butter was getting to the basket and either finishing or getting fouled. He then shot an impressive 76 percent from the foul line (107 of 141).
"What I liked is that he had the ability to get to the basket when we needed him to make a play. He knew when it was time to take it up a notch and he didn't just settle for jump shots," Evans said. "I also thought he defended very well, moving his feet and getting steals that created chances in transition."
Winn also ended up finishing among the league leaders in assists (3.1 a game) and steals (2.3).
Tom Brown, Centennial. Built like a forward with the mentality of a guard, Brown was a match-up nightmare during his career with the Eagles. He was among the top five county public school players in scoring (17.7 points per game), rebounding (8.6 rebounds per game) and assists (3.8 assists per game). No other player in the league could claim that.
"He is individually the most fundamentally sound player that I've coached. He can do a lot of different things and do them extremely well," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "He was so balanced and it's something that allowed us to really exploit his match-ups. Teams basically had to decide how they wanted him to beat them."
Brown also boasted something else that no other county player could at season's end — he was the only one to score in double figures in every single game. He scored as many as 33 points in a win over Reservoir and never fewer than the 10 he had against Stephen Decatur in the playoffs.
Late in the season, also against Reservoir, Brown eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone for his career. By season's end, he found himself second all-time on the program's scoring list, sitting behind only Damien Biggs (1993).
"Tom had taken more of a secondary role the past couple years to help make the kids around him better, so I was happy for him that he got a chance to be in that leading scorer role. And he really embraced it and delivered basically every single game for us," Hollwedel said. "For him to be the second leading scorer to ever come through Centennial, considering how many really good players there have been before him, really says a lot that he was able to do it while still being so unselfish."
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After helping lead Centennial to last year's 3A state title — the first state championship for the program — Brown was a major reason the Eagles again finished among the top three county teams (13-6) and made a return trip to the region title game this winter.