HOWARD COUNTY, MD — The 2017-18 campaign was an underwhelming one for Wilde Lake, which followed up its regional final appearance the year before by finishing 9-13 overall and averaging 55.5 points per game. Then came an opening-round loss to Marriotts Ridge in the 2A South playoffs.
This season, however, has been filled with exciting offense (69.8 points per game), stingy defense (61.3 points allowed) and, above all, a much more promising outlook entering the final two weeks of the regular season leading into the playoffs.
As of Tuesday night, Wilde Lake (9-2 county, 12-3 overall) is tied with Atholton atop the county standings. And should the Wildecats continue winning at this pace, they’ll earn the No. 1 seed and a bye in Section I of the 2A South region.
The biggest reason behind their turnaround? Well, there’s two: seniors Trea Keys and Marc Marshall.
Keys is the established star, the one who won Howard County Times Co-Player of the Year as a sophomore and earned first-team All-County honors as a junior. He’s been even better this season, averaging a career-high 19.1 points per game.
Then there’s Marshall, the smooth wing player that has found his confidence this winter. A year after averaging 6.9 points, Marshall has not scored fewer than nine points in any game this season en route to totaling 19.2 points per contest. Both players’ scoring averages are among the best in the county.
With the Wildecats in contention for a league championship and a deep postseason run, boys basketball beat writer Kyle Stackpole sat down with the senior guard duo to discuss Marshall’s emergence, the relationship between the two backcourt players and more.
Q: How has Wilde Lake been able to have so much success this season?
A: Keys: I feel like last year, we weren’t really a defensive-minded team, but this year we definitely picked it up more. Also, we’re more in shape and our conditioning is a lot higher where we’re able to speed up teams and stay up tempo the whole game, and a lot of teams can’t keep up with that.
Marshall: This year, I think we know our identity. Last year coach would always challenge us and say, ‘Who are we?’ And I don’t think we ever had an answer for him. This year if he says that, we can say we’re a scrappy defensive-minded, fast-paced team. And so far when we’ve been successful, no one’s been able to take us out when we play our type of basketball. We don’t have that much height, but we have a lot of speed and a lot of athleticism, so I think we use that to our advantage better than we did last year.
Marc, you went from averaging about seven points per game to being one of the top scorers in the county. What has contributed to this breakout campaign?
Marshall: Just more confidence and becoming smarter as a player. I’m letting the game come to me instead of just forcing up a lot of shots to get into the rhythm of the game. And then this year, while I’m taking a lot more shots, I’m not looking to score all the time. Of course we have Trea. Trea was one of the best scorers in the county, so I don’t have to be on my A game every single day. But it just so happens that the way we’re playing, he finds me for open shots just in the flow of the offense. On fast breaks, I can get going more than I was last year I guess.
Keys: Last year we really looked to Marc to try and help me. Last year we just kept telling him, ‘you’ve got to step up, you’ve got to step up.’ I thought last year he didn’t really have, like he said, as much confidence in himself. But after this summer — he worked his butt off all summer — and I feel like the work is paying off right now.”
Trea has been one of the top scorers in the county the last three years. Marc, what have you learned from playing with him in high school?
Marshall: He’s a competitor. To be a good scorer, you’re going to have games when you’re off but you can’t let that get to you. There will be times when Trea will come out in the first half slow and you’ll think, ‘Oh, it’s not his day.’ And then second half you’ll see he erupted for like 26 but you would never know by the first half he had. He’s always confident in himself. If he misses one, it doesn’t matter he’s going to make the next one. He knows it’s going to go in the next time. He has all the confidence in the world. He’s a talented player, so that’s how he’s had so much success on varsity for three years.”
And then Trea, you’ve had a target on your back since winning Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2017. How have you adapted your game to deal with the added pressure and attention?
Keys: Last year my numbers were down because I knew I was going to [be the main focus], but I wasn’t adjusted to it. All this past summer I was just working on my body, working on my game, knowing they were going to come for me and all that. I’ve just been working on creating space and getting to certain spots so I can get my shot up.
Having two high-scoring guards is not always easy but it seems as though you two are both thriving within the offense. What makes your relationship work?
Keys: I really feed off him and he feeds off me. A lot of my assists really are from him. I’ll look for him on the fast break, he’ll look for me on the fast break. It’s just really whoever is open at the time that gets the shot, and we try to get each other’s points up.
Marshall: I agree with that. While we play similar positions as guards, I think we have very different styles of play. We put the ball in the basket differently. Trea, he’s going to beat you with his quickness, his ball handling. He can get past you, he can finish over you. I’m not the person to blow past you. I’m more of a smooth person. I use my strides to get to my spots. For opposing guards, when you have two players that play so differently, it’s hard to adjust on the fly. When Trea’s coming at you full speed 100 percent and then I’m coming at you trying to pick you apart more mentally than with my speed, it’s hard for coaches and for players to stop.
You two have been the leading scorers for Wilde Lake, but several other players have also developed into solid contributors for this team. Who are some of these players and what have their roles been?
Keys: Every game, we say we’re going to need all 14 players to win this game. That’s just been our mentality where everybody needs to be ready to step up. We have a few players I would really like to highlight. Emmanuel Wright, Kwaku Boampong, they’ve really stepped up in the starting lineup. Will Zimmerman, he comes up big for us every night. And we just rely on all of them to help us out and help the team out, and we need them for every game.
Marshall: Emmanuel Wright, he’s been in the program since freshman year on JV. He’s very athletic, very talented. In the winter tournament when Trea and I had a slow first half, [Wright] was the one keeping us in the game because he can score as well with ease. He can get to the basket. He can pull up from mid-range. Kwaku Boampong as well. He’s only a junior, so he has a lot of room to grow. He gets a lot of boards for us. The way we play, fast paced, everybody gets tired so we’ve got to rely on all 14 players to keep us in games, to keep the energy. Kyjuan Adams, he’s an energy giver. Will Zimmerman, an energy giver. Avery Woods-Gresham, when he’s in the game, he gives the most energy. So it’s just an all-around team effort. Everybody knows their role, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.
One game from this season I wanted to talk about was against Oakland Mills when Marc hit the game-winning half-court shot at the buzzer. What was going through your minds before, during and after that shot fell through the hoop?
Marshall: Our assistant coach had drawn up a play to get Trea open. But when we went into the game, I saw they double-teamed Trea and the coach was like, ‘Don’t let him touch the ball. Don’t let him touch the ball.’ So I saw the play wasn’t going to work, so I went to get the ball. The defender let me get to my right hand, which I’m more comfortable with, and I just took a shot and it happened to go in. Afterwards, it was a surreal thing and something a lot of players wish could happen to them.
Keys: When they double teamed me, I knew it was going to be tough for me to get the ball, so that’s when I just had to trust my teammates. Once I saw it leave [Marc’s] hands I knew it was going in and I was so ecstatic for him. I was so happy for him. It’s a crazy feeling. It’s our first victory against Oakland Mills in [eight years] and I hope we get many more.
With a few weeks left in the regular season what does this team need to do to win a county title and make a deep postseason run?
Keys: We’ve got to stay intense in practice and keep bringing that same energy to every game that we’ve been bringing before that’s really helped us make it through every game.
Marshall: It’s just staying focused. We know playing teams like Marriotts Ridge, Oakland Mills, River Hill — teams we’ve played before — we know the second time is going to be a lot harder than the first. They’ve had time to game plan, they’ve had it circled on their calendars, so we know we have to stay focused. … There’s no room for error. We just have to stay locked in and turn up the intensity from what we’ve already been playing and play to a higher level than we’ve ever played.
The last question is a hypothetical one: the game is tied in the final seconds and your team has the ball. Who is taking the last shot?
Marshall: It’s whoever’s going that game. It really doesn’t matter. We’ve been in that situation already before I think a couple times, and it’s whoever’s open at the time. I trust him to make a play, he trusts me to make a play. I trust all of my teammates to make a play. In the moment, we’re smart players. We can see who’s being guarded by who. We don’t have to rely on one person, and I think that’s a great thing about our team.
Keys: He took the words right out of my mouth. If I have the ball and they collapse on me, I trust any one of my teammates to kick them the ball, get them the open shot. But if it comes down to me or Marc and I can’t take it at all, I’d want him to take it wholeheartedly.