For the first two seasons of her basketball career at River Hill, Brittany Gordon had an unusual ability: the ability to disappear.
Not that Gordon would walk off the court in a disguise or simply vanish a la David Copperfield.
No, the 6-foot-4 center had a habit of allowing her shorter but equally skilled teammates to run the show, score the points, and grab the headlines while she labored to keep up on fast breaks, be a defensive presence, and endure elbows and body checks in the lane.
"I didn't know what to expect," Gordon said of her freshman and sophomore years. "I was kind of timid."
That's what makes her performance this season - her junior year - such an eye-opening reversal. In 16 games, Gordon leads all Howard County public school players in scoring (16.5 points per game) and is second in the county in rebounding (12.3 per game). She's also averaging 4.4 blocks and 2.6 steals a game.
With Gordon, the Hawks (15-1 overall and 13-1 in the county) are ranked 13th in the metropolitan area and tied with No. 7 Long Reach for a share of what would be their fourth county title in the past five years.
For Gordon, the season is unfolding just as she envisioned it.
"I realize that I'm the biggest girl in the county," she said. "I'm 6-4, and I need to show that I'm 6-4. ... The post is supposed to be the most dominant player. So this year, I put it mentally in my head that I was going to be the best."
The transformation is not lost on opposing coaches, especially Long Reach coach Kevin Broadus. Broadus, whose Lightning has given up a combined 34 points, 37 rebounds and 12 blocked shots to Gordon in two meetings, was her coach at St. Mark School in Catonsville four years ago.
"She's much more aggressive and more physical," Broadus said. "She wasn't that much of a force before. She was just tall. But now, the rebounding, the scoring, the blocking. She's been fantastic."
Gordon seemed destined for basketball as soon as she stepped into Howard County's West Friendship Elementary School. In the first grade, she was 4-11 and taller than her teacher. By seventh grade, she had reached 6 feet.
Her parents, John and Marva Gordon, are 6-3 and 5-11, respectively. Two older brothers, John Jr. and Brandon, are 6-8 and 6-6, respectively, and play basketball on the collegiate level.
But when she started attending River Hill in Clarksville, Gordon developed her disappearing trick. Hawks coach Teresa Waters said Gordon was merely trying to find her voice among an experienced group of players.
"She was a young kid, and she gave them the respect, knowing they were the veteran players," Waters said. "She felt that they could do the job, and she could just follow suit."
So what changed? Gordon receives recruiting letters almost daily from colleges across the nation. Gordon, who received a questionnaire from Boston University when she was in the sixth grade, said she has literature from 72 different schools - Connecticut, Duke and Maryland, to name a few - tacked to the walls of her bedroom.
"I had to change my mental attitude because I saw my teammates signing with these colleges, and I want to do that," said Gordon, who watched teammate and senior guard Ashley Thomas sign with Radford. "This year, I began to realize that I need to take it seriously. ... I feel this is my year to shine and do the best I can."
Gordon, who meets with a personal trainer as often as three times a week during the offseason, has been so good that Waters has adjusted the team's game plan to focus on the center. The offense is still built on moving around and finding the open space in an opposing defense, but Waters said one of the priorities is letting Gordon touch the ball as often as possible.
"She is feeling more comfortable," Waters said. "I think she knows that her team is depending on her."
Said Thomas: "She knew she had to come out big this year because there's no one that can match her height. She knew she was going to have to contribute to our wins this year."
Gordon's 536 career rebounds are second on the school's all-time rebounding list to Keiko Miller-Tate's 680, and she's sixth in career points (605). Gordon acknowledged that she is still a work in progress. She said she needs to improve her footwork and her defensive skills. But Gordon said she is determined to reach one of her goals.
"I always say that I'm going to be the next MJ [Michael Jordan], be the girl MJ and that I'm going to go to the WNBA and that I'm going to dunk from half-court," she said. "That's just one of my goals."