At first glance, Glenelg Country senior Anthony Longpre and Wilde Lake sophomore Trea Keys couldn't be more different.
The 6-foot-9-inch Longpre is an imposing presence, standing as the tallest player on any Howard County public or private school roster this winter and boasting the ability to score all over the floor with a balance of post play and outside shooting. A three-time Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association All-Star who signed to play collegiately at Saint Joseph's University last fall, the Dragons' forward has been a well-known commodity in the area for some time.
Conversely, the 5-foot-7-inch Keys came into this season with just a handful of games on varsity under his belt and was one of the smallest players in the area. His game is all about quickness, athleticism and court vision, allowing him to create for both himself and his teammates.
And yet, for all their differences, Longpre and Keys share one major similarity — almost every time they step on a basketball court, they dominate.
The duo each finished among the top three county scorers this year with averages over 16 points a game, had at least one 30-point outing, and helped their respective programs equal or exceed its highest win total in the last five years. Now, for their efforts, they are the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys basketball Co-Players of the Year.
"They are completely different players, but there's no question that they are each nightmare match-ups in their own way," said Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne, who coached against both Longpre and Keys this winter. "I think what it comes down to is that they are both winners and, in crunch time with the game on the line, they want the ball. They each have that desire to compete and from a skill standpoint, they can each score in a number of different ways."
Longpre joined the Dragons' basketball program prior to his sophomore year after growing up in Montreal, Canada. Staying with a host family, he adjusted to a different lifestyle and made an immediate impact on the court, averaging 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
But, as Longpre reflects on that transition, it wasn't as easy as it looked from the outside,
"It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I could barely speak English and had to adapt to a lot of different things," he said. "I had to learn a new system, new plays and adjust to a new coach while dealing with all the other things off the court … so it was definitely a lot."
But hard work and perseverance ultimately helped Longpre settle into his new home as both a student and an athlete. And, in terms of basketball, his coach Kevin Quinlan says he's always possessed the tools of a superstar.
"I remember when he first came to us, he shot four regular-form jumpers from the volleyball line — well beyond the 3-point line — and his form was perfect. We kind of looked at each other as coaches and knew right away we had something special," Quinlan said. "Anthony has improved in a lot of ways since he came to us, but what I think sets him apart are two natural gifts: his basketball IQ and his hands. Those things he's had from the beginning."
Longpre saw a slight dip in his scoring production as a junior, averaging 12.7 points a game, but improved his rebounding to 10 boards a contest. More importantly, his efforts and emergence as a leader helped Glenelg Country to a program-best 11-5 record in the MIAA A Conference.
However, it was this year, as a senior, that Longpre rounded into the kind of complete player that literally could do a little bit of everything. To go along with his shooting touch, inside presence and effectiveness on the glass, he also added the ability to handle the basketball.
Quinlan began letting his senior take over the point guard position during games, setting up and running the offense. He went on to average a career-best 2.4 assists a game to go along with averages of 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. He even scored the 1,000th point of his career late in the year.
"College coaches are looking for that these days, guys who can play every position if needed. And I thought [Anthony] really stepped up as a natural point guard this year," Quinlan said. "We had conversations about it all summer long and he really wanted the job. It all really comes back to that great basketball IQ of his, which made it a smooth transition."
Longpre's efforts helped Glenelg Country to its second straight 19-win season overall and there were several standout efforts along the way. The biggest was a 33-point performance in a win over John Carroll.
"I remember going into that game knowing we had to beat them to make a push before the playoffs, so I was definitely focused," he said. "Then, once the game started, I made a couple shots and my confidence just kept growing."
Looking ahead, Longpre is set to continue his basketball career at St. Joseph's next year. Quinlan says it should be a perfect fit.
"I can see him filling a number of different roles for them and providing some great versatility on both ends of the court," he said. "I think there's still plenty of room for [Anthony] to still grow and coach [Phil] Martelli spends a lot of time working on skills, so I think you're going to see him keep getting better and better."
While Longpre's career as a high school varsity player came to a close this winter, the journey for Keys on this stage was just beginning.
As a freshman last year at Wilde Lake, Keys spent the regular season honing his skills on the junior varsity squad averaging over 19 points a game and helping the team to a JV county title. While his presence could have helped the varsity team, evidenced by him averaging nearly eight points in three playoff games after being called up, the decision to let him grow and develop a winning culture on JV proved to be beneficial.
Even now, after one of the best sophomore campaigns in Howard County boys basketball history, Keys said he wouldn't change the decision.
"Honestly, I think it was a great thing for me, not rushing into things on varsity," Keys said. "Varsity had their team set up and we had a great chemistry on JV and it allowed me to develop with the guys that were coming up. If you ask me, everything worked out."
Building on his playoff debut as a freshman, Keys transformed himself into a varsity superstar this winter. Splitting time between the two guard positions, he established himself as a floor general and versatile scorer.
Despite often being the smallest player on the floor, he got to the rim with ease and also established himself as one of the area's best outside shooters — hitting 53 shots from 3-point range. It all added up to him averaging a county-best 18.6 points a game.
"His skills have always been evident, but what took him to that next level I thought was his poise. He never got rattled," Wingfield said. "I think that's where playing on a competitive AAU team really helped him in that he'd been in these moments already. It's extremely rare to see that level of maturity from someone so young."
Keys says that he has been playing against taller players ever since he first started playing basketball in elementary school. Instead of it being a negative, however, he said he's learned to use it to his advantage.
"I figured out that if I worked on my handles, really focusing on keeping the ball tight and low, then I could move faster and the defense couldn't stay in front of me," he said. "I also learned to be more crafty around the rim and that's how I developed a really good floater that helps me avoid getting blocked all the time."
Keys hit the ground running this season, scoring in double figures in five of the team's first six games prior to the winter break. But it was in the Wildecats' opening-round holiday tournament game that Wingfield said his sophomore guard flipped a switch.
"It was like all of a sudden, in that game against Crossland, something clicked and you could see him start to realize that he could be the best player on the floor," Wingfield said. "He then carried that mentality, while still staying humble, with him the rest of the season."
Keys finished with 20 points against Crossland and went on to score 23 or more points in four of the next five games. And, most importantly, his efforts helped springboard Wilde Lake as a team.
After starting the year 2-4, the Wildecats went 15-5 the rest of the way and made a run to the region championship game. Keys seemed to build more confidence with each passing game, going for a career-high 34 points against Oakland Mills and eclipsing the 20-point barrier a total of 13 times by season's end.
"I think it was just being confident in myself," Keys said. "In the beginning of the season I knew I had it in me, but I just wasn't being as aggressive as I had been on JV. After a few games, I realized this was my team too."
Next year, as a junior, it will be even more of Keys' team as he looks to help Wilde Lake continue its progression toward becoming the county's top squad.
"This year was just the beginning, I really believe that," Wingfield said. "He's such a fierce competitor and so locked in that I know he's not going to stop working. He's going to be fun to watch the next couple years."
Named to the first-team all-county squad are:
Marquis Bullett, Wilde Lake, senior forward
After coming up in the Wildecats' system his first two years of high school, Bullett spent his junior season at Mount Carmel before returning this winter for his senior year. He immediately stepped in as a force on both ends of the court. He dominated on the glass to the tune of 11.3 rebounds a game, was efficient around the basket on his way to averaging 13.2 points a contest and was one of the area's best shot blockers (2.1 bpg). But just as valuable to Wilde Lake's success this year on the way to 17 victories and an appearance in the 3A East region final, was Bullett's ability to play the point-forward position. The Wildecats ran almost everything offensively through him and he averaged 2.7 assists a game.
"As great as he is as a scorer and rebounder, he's an even better passer. He was by far the best passer from the post that I've ever had," Wingfield said. "His basketball IQ and vision was unbelievable. When he had the ball down low, he was looking for cutters as much as he was looking to score. Sometimes we almost had to get on him to be more selfish."
Bullett finished the season ranking among the top 15 county players in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. He scored a season-high 23 points on two occasions — against Aberdeen and Reservoir — and posted double-doubles in 18 of 26 games.
Jalen Gabbidon, Glenelg Country, senior guard
After losing first-team all-county guard Joshua Hightower to graduation, the Dragons were in need of a guard to step in and provide a boost. Gabbidon, a transfer into the program from Harrisburg Academy in Pennsylvania, stepped right in and delivered. A 6-foot-5-inch guard, who excelled off the dribble and was explosive around the rim, he finished the season averaging 13.1 points a game to go along with 6.1 rebounds.
"He was a very nice addition to our team, both as an explosive scorer and a powerful athlete that excelled around the rim and in transition," coach Kevin Quinlan said. "He came to us with the intention of preparing himself to play at a high level in the Ivy League and I think he got a lot out of his one year here."
Gabbidon, who is headed to play at Yale University next year, scored over 20 points on five occasions. He achieved a season-high of 26 points on two occasions — against John Carroll and Calvert Hall during the month of December. He also was the MVP of the Howard County all-star game after scoring a game-high 42 points.
Jaden Martin, River Hill, junior guard
During a season where River Hill flipped its record en route to the program's first county championship since 2002, Martin emerged as the on-court leader for the Hawks. On his way to averaging 14.5 points a game, the junior guard scored in double figures in 21 of 23 games and was his team's leading scorer more than half the time.
"I think coming in after already playing two years of varsity, he took some ownership of the team this year," River Hill coach Matt Graves said. "He realized we had a good group of kids coming back and coming up from the JV, but what we needed was a leader. And he provided a little bit of everything for us, really developing into a stat-sheet stuffer.
"He consistently found ways to take over in big games and help us win those games."
In addition to his big scoring efforts, which included a season-high 23 points in a win over Reservoir, Martin also posted career-high averages in rebounds (5.7 rpg), assists (2.4 apg) and steals (2.3 spg). In the county-championship clinching victory over Oakland Mills to close the regular season, he scored a team-high 19 points.
Tre Morgan, Long Reach, junior forward
After making second team all-county as a sophomore, Morgan raised his averages across the board this winter on his way to finishing among the county's top three players in terms of points (16.4 ppg) and rebounds (10.5 rpg). As a scorer, he demonstrated the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper and also finish at the rim. He was one of the smallest forwards in the county, but he wasn't afraid to mix it up inside. His athleticism and foot work was as good as they come.
"For a [6-foot-1-inch] guy, his post moves are as good as you are going to find," Long Reach coach Andrew Lazzor said. "He can get to the rim on anybody and he finishes, whether it's facing the basket or back to the basket."
In addition to creating his own shot, Morgan also did a lot of his damage on the offensive glass with rebounds and put-backs. He was particularly dominant in the playoffs, scoring 16 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in an opening round win over Reservoir and then scoring 27 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in a close loss to Centeninal. Lazzor says the rebounding is a mentality.
"He reads the ball in the air and he goes and gets it. It's not just your typical box out, he hits the guy and then uses his athleticism to go and grab the rebound," Lazzor said. "For him, I truly feel like it's desire. He wants that ball more than his opponent."
Jason Murphy, Chapelgate, sophomore forward
After coming on strong during the second half of his freshman campaign, Murphy hit the ground running this winter and established himself as a dominant force on both sides of the ball. The Yellowjackets' sophomore center ended up averaging 15 points and 11.7 rebounds a game, posting 17 double-doubles along the way. On defense, he also posted a county-best 3.5 blocks a game.
"Jason continues to improve exponentially from year to year ever since the eighth grade. He averaged a double-double this year for the season and is beginning to realize that he can score at will in the low post," Chapelgate coach Frick Frierson said. "Offensively, his biggest improvement was at establishing scoring position in the low post before he gets the ball. His mid-range jumper has developed a good deal of consistency also."
Against St. Paul's at the end of January, Murphy showed off the complete package by registering a triple double with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. Other dominant performances included a career-high 29 points against Annapolis Area Christian and a career-high 22 rebounds in the Yellowjackets' final game of the season against Severn. The most impressive thing, however, was Murphy's consistency, as he scored in double figures in each of the team's final 20 games.
Judge Payne, Reservoir, senior guard
One of the most prolific 3-point shooters to ever come through Howard County, Payne was the undisputed leader this winter for the Gators. After hitting 51 3-point shots as a junior, he hit a county-best 61 from beyond the arc as a senior this season — tied for the fourth most in a single season by a county public school boys player. Averaging 13.5 points a game, he also was the only Reservoir player this season to finish with a scoring average in double figures.
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"To his credit, the amount of work that he put into his shot really was unbelievable. You don't make that many shots without a tremendous work ethic," Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan said. "There were even times where I had to let him know that you are never shooting too much. He's one of those guys that every time he puts one up, you think it's going to go in."
Payne finished the season scoring in double figures in 19 of the team's 22 games, including pouring in a season-high 30 points in a victory over Oakland Mills. On a team that had 12 different players score eight or more points at least once, Payne was the consistent force the team could rely on.
"In our system, we're never going to have any one kid average a ton of points. But, with that said, Judge consistently found ways to excel within the team and he provided us with what we needed when we needed it," Coughlan said.
Elijah White, Centennial, senior guard
The lone holdover from the Eagles' 2015 state-championship team, White had spent the last two years as primarily a complimentary player. This year, however, he was asked to be the go-to-guy and he responded with the best season in his three years on varsity. His averages of 11.8 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.2 steals a game were all career bests, and he also added a career-high 27 made threes.
"I thought he did a great job this year of changing his role from more of a supporting guy to trying to be that leader that we needed. And that's not always easy to do, but he really embraced it," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "Seeing that growth from him, becoming that go-to player was exciting and he ended up doing a lot of different things. It was the assists, the rebounds, steals … all those other things in addition to the points that made him so valuable."
An exceptional athlete, who was named Howard County outdoor track Athlete of the Year last spring, White used his athleticism to get to the basket and finish above the rim with regularity. His season high was 18 points against Westminster, but his greatest attribute was his consistency. He was one of only three county players — joined by Long Reach's Tre Morgan and Chapelgate's Jason Murphy — to score at least seven points in every single game.