With Jason Smith playing the way coach Ken Kazmarek "always dreamed he could play," No. 7 Broadneck (22-2) is as ready as a team should be for a state title run.
The third-seeded Bruins play at 3 p.m. today against No. 2 seed Thomas Johnson (23-1) in the Class 3A boys basketball semifinals at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland.
The two teams are strikingly similar and both coaches agree that Smith, a four-year starter, could be the key.
Broadneck is making only its second appearance in the final four, the other in 1986 against Thomas Johnson. That season the Patriots defeated the Bruins, 61-48, and won their fourth state title and second in a row under coach Tom Dickman.
Dickman (414-102, .802) led the Frederick County school to a fifth state crown in 1988. The Patriots are making their third straight appearance at Cole and ninth overall under Dickman but haven't gotten past the first game since they last won it in '88.
Thomas Johnson has a 17-game winning streak, including victories over No. 18 Southwestern by 56-49 in the Charm City Classic and 76-72 over DeMatha (No. 11 in the Washington Post). Its only loss was by 59-57 to No. 11 Oakland Mills (21-3), a Class 2A semifinalist.
Broadneck has won its last eight in a row, including the 3A East final over No. 15 Douglass (15-6) by 92-53. The Bruins' only losses are to top-ranked Lake Clifton by 78-56 in the Fuel Fund and to No. 4 Arundel, 68-67, on Bakari Ward's 50-footer at the buzzer. The Lakers and Wildcats play at 7 tonight in a 4A semifinal.
"We couldn't possibly be in a better state of mind and be more physically ready than we are going into this," said Kazmarek (204-82, .713, 11 seasons). "We are playing our best basketball and Jason [Smith] has played like a man possessed."
In the Bruins' two region victories, Smith, who has accepted a football scholarship to Rutgers and could play basketball there, shot 59 percent (13-for-22) from the floor and scored 49 points while grabbing 18 rebounds, 11 in an 83-58 semifinal romp over Northern-Baltimore.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard, who is the only Bruin averaging double figures (19.7 points), had 11 assists and committed only one turnover in the region final against Douglass.
"We have to contain his dribble penetration, because he creates shots for himself and his teammates," said Dickman.
"Smith gets people in foul trouble, which is also a concern. We've scrimmaged the last couple years and are similar with our methodical offensive schemes and we each play man-to-man defense."
Dickman is also concerned about the Bruins' 6-10 senior center, Josh Grover, who will match up against the Patriots' 6-8 sophomore, Terence Morris. Morris, one of three Pats to average in doubles, leads the team in scoring (17.1) and rebounds (13.4).
"We like to take it inside, but we've haven't had to shoot over someone 6-10 and we expect him to bother us," Dickman said of Grover, who averages 8.9 points, 10.2 boards and three blocks and is headed for Division I Appalachian State.
Thomas Johnson also has two Division I-bound athletes in 6-2 guard Tom Praesel (16.3 points, 4.0 assists), who will attend West Point, and 6-6 George Mason-bound forward Jason Williams (16.9 points, 5.8 boards).
Kazmarek said he hopes Grover's knack for not only blocking shots, but "making people change their shots" will be a factor along with the defensive play of sophomore guard John Williams.
Dickman called the 6-4 Williams, who averages 8.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and nearly three steals, "their best defensive player."
The Patriots are averaging 72 points while giving up 48 as compared to the Bruins' 70.7 and 41.2. Thomas Johnson shoots 55 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three-point range and 66 from the line with Broadneck close with 51 and 34 percent accuracy from the field and three-point range, respectively, and 64 percent at the line.
"We know we have to play our best to win," said Kazmarek.