Battling the flu and a pesky Prince George's Community College zone defense Wednesday, Hagerstown Community College freshman forward Bernard Hopkins raced downcourt on a fast break in the game's final minute with his index finger pointing to the rim.
Hawks teammate Damion Cannon caught the former Overlea High star's gesture and tossed the basketball skyward.
"It was a move that shows Bernard's champion attitude," said Hagerstown head coach Jim Brown of the ensuing play by last year's All-Metro leading scorer (32 points per game).
After struggling through the first half against PGCC with just two points while being shuttled in and out of the game, Hopkins reached down for a little extra spring in his game-ending leap.
Taking flight, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward snagged the ball above the rim and slammed it through the basket with such force the backboard shook for 20 seconds.
Visiting Hagerstown (20-4), behind Hopkins' 14 points and nine rebounds in the second half, rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat Prince George's, 80-69.
"Bernard's just a premier basketball player," Brown said. "He's had a super season for a freshman. Heck, he's had a super season for a sophomore."
Hopkins' numbers, 16.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, have been impressive enough to draw interest from North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Providence and UNLV.
"His moves are just so strong down in the post," Brown said. "He also has those great passes to go with his great play underneath."
Brown considers Hopkins, who is converting 68 percent of his shots from the field, a legitimate all-American candidate right now.
In a win over perennial JuCo powerhouse Allegany, Hopkins scored 21 points and added 16 rebounds. Against Potomac State (W. Va.), he had 29 points and 18 rebounds. Finally, in Hagerstown's two-game Western Maryland Invitational Tournament in January, Hopkins made 19 of 20 field-goal attempts.
"And I mean he was hitting all kinds of shots, not just lay-ups and dunks," Brown added. "He was popping from 14 feet out."
Hopkins says his landing at Hagerstown was a surprise. He was set to attend Boston College on a full scholarship to play football, when his failure to meet Proposition 48 requirements on the SAT or ACT denied him that chance.
"It was hard watching Boston College play on television this year because they did so well. I kept thinking I could've been there," Hopkins said.
Hagerstown entered the picture for Hopkins late and by accident. Last March, Brown and his assistant coaches went to the University of Maryland's Cole Field House for the boys state basketball finals to look at a 6-foot-7 center from Forestville High.
"We went to see this other kid that played against Bernard in the finals," Brown said. "We watched the game for about five minutes and I looked over to my recruiting assistant, Donald Williams, and said 'That's the best ballplayer that I've seen in three years.'
"My assistant mentioned the other kid's name. I said 'No! The kid he's playing against.' Hopkins is the best basketball player that size I've seen in a long while."
Hopkins admitted the serene life in Hagerstown was an adjustment, but that the remote college's privacy affords him a chance to concentrate in the classroom as well as on the basketball court.
"If I had really considered junior colleges, I might have been at CCB [Baltimore City Community College] or Allegany, but I don't regret my decision," Hopkins said. "Here there are no distractions, only basketball and academics."
Brown has one mission left with Hopkins -- to get his weight down to 235 pounds.
"If he has one weakness, it is his weight, if you call that a weakness. If I can get him between 225 pounds and 235, the sky is the limit for that kid," said Brown.
Hopkins' weight increased after a stress fracture in his right ankle limited his spring activity when his senior basketball season ended at Overlea.
Selected to play in the summer's Big 33 Classic all-star football game against Pennsylvania, he re-injured the ankle in mid-July at a practice two weeks before the game. After consulting with Overlea football coach Terry Ward, he decided it would be best )) to sit out the game.
Hopkins has one more year to play at Hagerstown. Then he will make two decisions. The first will concern which four-year college to attend. The second is whether he will play football.
"I really miss it, and if they had football at Hagerstown, I would play," Hopkins said.