Parkville boys are proving geography isn't destiny

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There are those who will say that the phrase "good Baltimore County boys basketball" is an oxymoron on the order of "jumbo shrimp," "military intelligence" and "Oscar-caliber acting performance from Paris Hilton."

But Rod Norris is here to say that it is possible for schools in Baltimore County not named Randallstown to thrive and survive on the hardwood, and he ought to know, since he has spent his coaching life around the Beltway, from Perry Hall to Woodlawn to Dulaney.

Norris may have his best chance to make his point at his current stop, Parkville, where he has taken the Knights to a No. 11 ranking and a chance at the county championship game next month.

"This is an uncanny team," Norris said. "Some nights, I don't know what they're going to do, but they are very resilient. We've had our ups and downs. We're not a big team, but we're very quick and very athletic.

"We're not a real physical team, but these kids believe in themselves. It's a group of kids that has been together for a while, growing up. They've had good outside influences, and they just don't back down."

The Knights - 15-2 overall and unbeaten in their county division - have demonstrated their hardiness with this season's biggest upset, a 43-36 win over then-No. 11 Lake Clifton at the Basketball Academy this month.

After beating Carver at Morgan State the night before, Parkville had to turn around and play the Lakers at noon. The Knights came out sluggishly but used a 13-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to take an eight-point lead, then held off Lake Clifton the rest of the way.

"That [afternoon], everyone just did their job," Norris said. "We controlled the tempo and we had a great third quarter. We took care of the ball down the stretch, and our kids played well."

In the process, the Knights, who had already beaten Woodlawn for the second time in 15 years that week, earned a measure of pride.

"We finally got some respect. They finally respect us," senior guard Mike Moore said. "They used to see Parkville as a blowout, but now they have to come play their A game when they play us."

Said junior guard Mark Dickerson: "It boosted our confidence after we beat them. We got a lot of recognition for beating a city team."

As Norris acknowledges, with only nine players on the roster and no player taller than 6-foot-4 center Irvin Johnson, Parkville has little margin for error each night. But the Knights have gotten by with quickness and solid defense, holding opponents to an average of 50.4 points, with six of their opponents failing to score 40.

"They just play hard and they enjoy it and I try to keep that above all," Norris said. "I tell them to enjoy the moment. With seven kids [in the regular rotation], if I put pressure on them to win too much ... I don't want them to think about that too much. I tell them to go out each night and try to get better, to go out each week and enjoy it."

Though Norris, who also coached at CCBC-Essex, has bounced around a bit, his presence at Parkville has brought his team a sense of stability. Though he is the third coach the seniors have had in their four years, Norris is the only one to last two seasons.

"We finally have a structure," Moore said. "We finally have a routine. Before, we had two different coaches. This is our second year [with Norris], and we're used to him. You can trust him because of his track record. He has a good track record."

Indeed, Norris, who compiled a 94-22 record during a five-year span at Woodlawn, does have the coaching chops to establish something special at Parkville, but it won't be easy.

Assuming the Knights can beat Woodlawn this week on the road, as well as Catonsville next week, they will face a mountainous chore come state playoff time, where just getting through a 4A North region that includes Springbrook and Sherwood from Montgomery County, Frederick County's Thomas Johnson, and No. 4 Southwestern will tax them.

But equipped with a load of confidence and some newfound respect around the neighborhood, the Parkville players think they can make an appearance at "The Cable Box," as they have dubbed College Park's Comcast Center, the site of the state playoffs.

"They keep surprising me, and they keep getting more confident," Norris said. "We're not a real big club, so we're always just one injury away from maybe struggling. So, we have to go out there and just bust it and try to get better. I don't think many people want to play us right now. We cause problems for teams."

And when was the last time anyone said that about a Baltimore County boys basketball team?

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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