Discipline drives Bulldogs Title talk: Basketball players at Southern of Harwood may not be big, but they're drilled on basics and eyeing a state championship.


Watching the Southern boys basketball team play is like taking a trip back to the '60s and '70s when the game was more innocent, the picks crisper, the players a lot smaller and a lot more dedicated, when Xs and Os were more than just two letters in the alphabet and defense received more than lip service.

Welcome to Harwood, small-town USA, home of the Southern Bulldogs.

Life is a little slower in this rural area and high school basketball on Friday nights is still a big deal.

That's why these are exciting times around town.

It's state tournament time, and Tom Albright just may have another team good enough to make it to the final four at Cole Field House in College Park for the 11th time in his 30 years as coach at Southern.

Four times the town celebrated state high school championships -- 1973, 1981, 1983 and 1986.

Now a dedicated bunch of athletes who would never scare anybody when they walk into a gym have visions of making 1996 one of those state title seasons.

The 2A Bulldogs sent shock waves through Anne Arundel County last week when they beat the No. 20 Arundel team that had just upset No. 8 Annapolis the night before.

Arundel was the sixth 4A team to fall this season to the Bulldogs. Glen Burnie, Meade, North County, Severna Park and Chesapeake have also lost to the fundamentally sound Southern squad.

Old Mill, another 4A school, had to scramble for a two-point win over Southern and 3A Broadneck had to settle for a three-point victory over the Bulldogs.

Southern went on a 10-3 tear after getting off to a 1-4 start.

The Bulldogs can play even though four starters are 6-foot-1 or shorter and the tallest is 6-5 center Matt Thomas.

It was Thomas whose 15-foot jumper with 10 seconds left beat Glen Burnie, 43-42, lifting Southern into the Top 20 for the first time this season three weeks ago.

Thomas is the second-leading scorer on the team with 11.5 points a game, trailing Scott Crandell, who averages 17 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals. Thomas leads in rebounds with 7.2 a game.

The other starters are Jeff Crandell, who is Scott's brother, Adam Booth and Derek Hawkins. All are seniors except Jeff Crandell, a junior.

"Before games, we go to each other's homes and study the opponent," said Adam Booth, whose brother, Josh, is a sophomore guard. "We're a pretty close group of players who really do like to play defense."

Southern gives up only 55.8 points a game while scoring 62.5 points, performances that reflect the disciplined offense and pressure defense, which are Albright's trademarks.

Albright, the winningest coach in county history, is also known for his discipline off the court.

"I don't have rules," said Albright. "The players know that if they mess up they'll have me to deal with. I can look at a kid and they tend to listen to me. Just my facial expression lets everybody know how I feel."

With a possible tournament run in store for the Bulldogs, Albright has more than enough practice at helping athletes deal with the pressures of single-elimination basketball.

"There are four things that have to happen for a team to win a state title," he said. "You have to get in the right region; the players have to be psychologically prepared to understand that the regular season is important but just a ladder toward the final goal; you have to stay away from injuries and losses of players due to poor grades and disciplinary problems; and you have to be lucky."

Albright said there is only one of those four things "I can control and that is preparation. Since 1987, my team has been placed in the region where the state champion has come out of all but one or two years."

Scott Crandell and Thomas like the idea of having Albright on their side as they enter the 2A tournament.

"We know he's been there before and that will help us a lot," said Crandell. "We're pretty confident. I think we can go all the way."

Perhaps it's the feelings of Derek Hawkins that describe what has made this version of Southern basketball a special one for Albright.

"We work together as one big family. We don't worry about scoring. We know we can win and Mr. Albright is the nicest coach I've ever had," said the 6-1 senior forward.

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