In his 16 years as head boys basketball coach at Meade, it's hard to imagine Butch Young having a more focused team than the one he will lead onto the floor at Cole Field House for tomorrow night's 9 o'clock state 4A semifinal with Springbrook (21-3) of Montgomery County.
It is a team lacking in experience, height and depth with a coach who put off an operation until after the season. From the coach to the players to the spirited fans, Meade (20-4) became a team focused on one thing -- making it to Cole Field House when no one else thought it could.
This is Young's third trip to the state final four. His two other region champions may have had more talent, but it's doubtful he has had a team with as much heart.
"We felt we didn't get the credit we deserved at the beginning of the season because we didn't have a lot of experienced players, but we proved everyone wrong," said senior guard Tommy Stevens, who scored nine points and had three assists in Friday's 78-71 Region IV championship victory over Annapolis.
Stevens is one of several players finally getting a shot in his final year of high school.
Derek Barrett, a blue-chipper who scored a season-high 36 against seventh-ranked Annapolis (17-7), was the lone returning senior among four who got a lot of playing time.
Young, who is 280-102 at Meade and 392-202 in his 26 years in the county, first took his Mustangs to Cole in 1982-83 and 1987-88. Each of those teams was 23-2 and expected to win.
The 1982-83 team featured Kenny Gray, Trey Jenkins, Matt Cohen and William Quigley; the 1987-88 team revolved around Corey Wallace and Denard Montgomery, who went on to play at Clemson and Delaware, respectively.
Those teams were deep and talented.
"It's a special group of kids," said Young, who missed a couple days while being tested at North Arundel Hospital for a possible bleeding ulcer and has to go back for more tests after the season.
L "They play hard all the time, in practice and in the games."
"What's neat about this team is that they are a group of kids who worked very hard to get here tonight and there are kids sitting in the stands wishing they were down there tonight, but maybe didn't want to work as hard as these kids," said Southern coach Tom Albright while taking in Friday's region final.
Stevens and 6-foot swingman Danny Sancomb were cut from JV as freshmen, made the JV as sophomores and, according to Young, were "the 15th and 16th players" and were in pretty much the same situation the start of last year.
They didn't get much playing time as juniors. Neither did 6-foot-5 Andre McNeil.
Junior Tyrone "Sticks" Jones stepped up from JV.
Senior Wayne Ward and junior Teddy Brent were not on the team last year, and senior Paul "Bones" Turner and junior Dennis Jenks spent most of the time watching.
All made significant contributions during the season. Even when the team started with eight straight wins, and after dropping a 60-58 heart-breaker to Southern, ran its record to 14-1, people were skeptical.
"After a few weeks, it seemed like everybody around school got behind the kids, and especially at the end of the season," Young said.
Stevens said Friday's overflow and enthusiastic crowd "really meant a lot to us and helped us. It was our best crowd ever, and they made those of us who have worked hard for four years feel really good."
The Mustangs guard cited five students who , painted gold Mustangs shirts on their bare chests and backs. Each had one letter on the front, and they sat together, spelling out M-E-A-D-E.
On the back of each Mustangs fanatic was a starter's number and nickname, such as "Smooth" and 21 for Barrett, "Stick" No. 24 for Jones. They are expected to be at Cole Field House tomorrow night.
"Funny thing is, the first night they did it, I didn't know they had until I was watching the 11 o'clock sports and saw them on TV," Young said.