Junior guard Trea Keys discusses the Wildecats’ expectations for the 2017-18 season.
HOWARD COUNTY, MD — 2016-17 record: 8-3 county, 17-9 overall
Coach: Deonne Wingfield
Top players: Seniors Gerald Van Tassel (C) and Prophelando “PJ” Joseph (F); junior Trea Keys (G); sophomore Marc Marshall (G).
What you need to know: After a second-place league finish behind River Hill, Wilde Lake made it farther than any other county team by advancing to the 3A East region final, where it suffered a 10-point defeat to Stephen Decatur.
The Wildecats believe they have the pieces to make it at least that far this season.
“We can win the county,” junior Trea Keys said. “We have a real solid squad with a lot of chemistry. Most players have been in the program for a while, and I think that will help us together as a unit and help us play real good team basketball.”
If Wilde Lake does make another run, it will likely be on the shoulder of Keys, their 5-foot-7 scoring machine.
He played on varsity during the playoffs as a freshman but exploded onto the county scene last season to lead the league in scoring (18.6 points per game). The reigning Howard County Co-Player of the Year scored at least 20 points in half of the Wildecats 26 games, including a 34-point outburst in February to help them hold off Oakland Mills in overtime.
This offseason, coach Deonne Wingfield said Keys worked on his strength and shooting ability.
“The thing that I like about [Keys] is that he has a very high basketball IQ,” Wingfield said. “He’s like a student of the game. He’s always going to learn and become better.”
With Keys back and forward Marquise Bullett, the county’s second leading rebounder last season, lost to graduation, Wingfield said his team’s strength will be its guard play. Wingfield, Keys and center Gerald Van Tassel spoke highly of sophomore Marc Marshall, who the Wildecats brought up for the postseason a year ago. They believe Marshall can immediately step into a scoring role and ease some pressure off Keys.
“Mark, he’s also incredibly athletic,” Van Tassel said. “He’s tall, but he’s a guard. He’s a really good scorer, so we can always count on him to get a bucket if we need one.”
Meanwhile, Wingfield said Van Tassel should have a “breakout year” after contributing primarily as a defender last season. Van Tassel understood he would he need to step up with Bullet gone, so in the offseason, the 6-foot-9 senior worked on his post moves and overall offensive ability. Wingfield also tabbed senior Prophelando Joseph — the team calls him “PJ” — as a do-it-all player for the Wildecats who will rarely come off the floor.
“We’re just going to have to keep our poise,” Keys said. “I believe we can get back to where we were, and then we can excel past that by just keeping our heads and not melting down.”