Taronn Evans, Wilde Lake's second-leading scorer and rebounder, was the spark behind the Wildecats' late-season surge that carried them to the Class 1A, Region II semifinals.
The Wildecats lost to second-seeded Milford Mill, 79-74, Wednesday in that semifinal, but the team's strong finish partly redeemed what had been an otherwise disappointing season.
"Taronn was able to get everyone pumped up, especially during the last six games," said Wilde Lake assistant Jerry Keith. "He's the most emotional player I've ever coached."
Wilde Lake (12-12, 6-8) won five of its final six, including its last three league games, but finished only in a three-way tie for fifth place. The Wildecats had been touted by some coaches before the season as the team to beat for the county title.
"Everyone thought we'd win the county at the beginning, but as the season progressed and we kept losing, people on the team started quitting," Evans said. "Everyone wanted to score 20 points every night. We had too many individuals."
Evans thinks it was a case of having too much talent on one team. "We just couldn't keep everyone happy."
Amazingly, after 6-foot-5 starting center Ramone Myers, averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, quit midway through the season, the team began to stabilize and play better.
The offense opened up for Evans and teammate Deon Wingfield, who both started posting some eye-opening numbers.
Evans, a streak shooter with a pure jump shot, scored a season-high 31 during a 97-67 rout of Glenelg on Feb. 19, the game that began Wilde Lake's surge.
The Gladiators, normally a solid defensive team, were in the thick of a championship race and coming off an important win over Oakland Mills when they ran into Evans' career-best effort. He also had 15 rebounds.
Another outstanding effort came in the semifinal loss to Milford Mill, as Evans scored 25 points, hitting seven of eight shots.
"I hit my first three and just couldn't miss that game," Evans said. His effort had the sixth-seeded Wildecats leading 20-18 after one quarter.
"When Taronn gets off to a fast start he usually carries it through," Wildecats coach Paul Ellis said. "He carried us through the first half against Milford."
The game was tied 71-71, but Milford ran off eight of the last 11 points.
One of his other top efforts was in a 57-53 victory over Howard in which the Wildecats rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit. Evans scored 20 points and vocally pumped up his team in the locker room at halftime. His half-court basket at the halftime buzzer helped to light a fire under his teammates.
Evans, who averaged 17.9 points and 8.8 rebounds and was switched to swingman from small forward after Myers quit, is 6-4, 173 pounds, a good size for a college shooting guard. But his ball-handling skills need improvement, so he'll probably have to start as a small forward in college.
"Salisbury State and Delaware have shown some interest,'" Evans said.
He is a quick, well-rounded player. He consistently guarded the top offensive threat on opposing teams, including Damian Biggs (Centennial), Jason Beall (Glenelg), Javier Michaux (Howard), Phil Tonkins (Mount Hebron), Kris Jefferson (Hammond) and Chad Barr (Oakland Mills).
He also has the ability to learn and change.
In the first half of the season, he was a 37 percent free-throw shooter. Then Ellis changed his foul-shooting form, and he ended up in the upper 50 percent range for the season.
"We changed and made him shoot with just his upper body," Ellis said. "We wouldn't let him bend his knees."
Evans was born in Baltimore but moved to Columbia when he was 5. He played for teams in the Columbia Basketball Association, Project Survival and the Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League. He also spent two years on an AAU team.
As a freshman, he was on Centennial's junior varsity, but he switched to Wilde Lake's JV for his sophomore year.
"Taronn has matured a lot and has turned things around for himself academically," Ellis said.