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Theories abound as to why Rogers Barnes is a late bloomer - not making a name for himself in either football or basketball until this, his senior year.

But there is no doubt that Barnes is one of the most dynamic basketball players in the county this season and a key reason the Hawks (11-2 overall and in the Howard County league) are one of the county's top teams.

He leads River Hill in scoring with a 14.8 average, and his defensive skills are equally impressive.

Barnes normally guards the opposing team's top scoring threat and averages a team-high six steals. He has guarded Brandon Graham of Wilde Lake, Ron Mann of Howard and Craig Sauers of Atholton - all potent scorers.

"It's fun thinking that if you stop a person then you stop that team," he said. "But it's also a lot of pressure."

Said Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen: "His biggest impact is on defense. He has instinct and aggressiveness and a knack for making the big play."

Barnes has the ability to read a defense and step out at the crucial second to get a steal.

"I watch the person's eyes, know what play they run and who they pass it to, and I just get into position for the steal," he said.

He averages six steals, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists, and the steals and rebounding numbers lead the team. He also shoots 77 percent from the foul line (24 for 33).

Barnes has benefited from River Hill's switch to an up-tempo offense this season after focusing its offense around an outstanding center for the past several seasons. Barnes' quickness is more suited to a faster style.

But other factors also figure into Barnes' sudden coming of age as a player.

"He has improved his shooting and his range from last season," said Van Deusen, whose team has lost twice to first-place Atholton, including a 46-45 defeat Friday.

Teammate Richie Jackson, who has been an outstanding contributor for three seasons for the Hawks at point guard, said he's impressed by Barnes' intensity.

"He works so hard in practice that games seem easy for him," said Jackson. "He's made big strides by working out in the weight room and playing a lot at the Columbia Gym - doing whatever it takes to get better."

Barnes credits consistent work in the weight room and an additional 10 to 15 pounds for his success at the small forward spot this season.

"Last year I was getting pushed around until I got dedicated to weightlifting as a hobby. I knew I had to get bigger," he said. "Now I go to the boards harder."

His father, also named Rogers, demands good grades as a prerequisite for playing sports. Barnes has responded by making the honor roll. His father also wanted Barnes to continue playing the alto saxophone, where he is first chair in the concert band.

"I think that playing the saxophone has given him the soft hands he needs to play sports," said Barnes' father.

Barnes said basketball is his favorite sport and the one he always dreamed about playing in college, but also said he really enjoyed football in the fall.

"I'd play either one that helped get me into college," he said.

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