Josh Pratt understands that timing can be everything. In this case, his first year as boys basketball coach at Towson Catholic has coincided with the presence of two exceptional juniors, Donte' Greene and Malcolm Delaney.
Greene, a center-forward, and Delaney, a guard, are Division I-caliber players who combine to average nearly 40 points a game and have leadership qualities. As sophomores, they helped the Owls to a 26-12 record and a runner-up finish in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament to St. Frances.
The duo, second-team All-Metro choices last season and co-captains this year, have led the Owls to a 24-7 record.
"Those two have made my transition easy," said Pratt, who was an assistant coach at Archbishop Spalding when players such as Rudy Gay (Connecticut) and Will Bowers (Maryland) were there. "Anytime you have a chance to coach talented players with so much game experience and are such good kids with great attitudes like they have, is such a pleasure."
Pratt succeeded the popular and successful Mike Daniel, who coached the Owls for 20 seasons, in a controversial move at the end of last season. School officials said they wanted a coach who taught at the school and chose Pratt, a world history instructor.
One of the first concerns for Pratt was if the players would accept him.
Said Delaney: "There were a lot of rumors going around that we [he and Greene] were leaving, but we gave him a chance and really like him."
Greene, who committed to Syracuse before the start of this season, is strong inside at 6 feet 10, 220 pounds. Delaney, who is 6-3, provides strength and flexibility in the backcourt.
"I can play one- or two-guard, it doesn't matter to me," said Delaney, who transferred from McDonogh to Towson Catholic last year and said he has narrowed his college choices to Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia.
"I expect to make my choice soon, and I'm leaning toward Wake because of their style of play - the three-guard set and the coach [Skip Prosser] guaranteed I would graduate. No other coach said that to me. It's a small school where you get a lot of academic attention."
Delaney is streaky offensively, but when he gets hot, he is difficult to guard. The same goes for Greene in the frontcourt.
"In my first two years, I was waiting behind the older players for my chance to make decisions on the court," Greene said. "Now, me and Malcolm have the team on our shoulders and we love the challenge."
Added Delaney: "Being a captain is real important because the younger guys look up to us. If we slip, they think they can slip, too."
Greene doesn't underestimate Pratt's influence. "The team chemistry was not there at the beginning, but Coach Pratt has done a good job bringing us together."
Greene and Delaney also have learned the value of teamwork. "The last two years, Malcolm and I have played together year-round at school and [Amateur Athletic union] ball," Greene said.
Greene and Delaney were the top players for the Mount Royal "Team Mello" (named after Carmelo Anthony, the former Towson Catholic star and current Denver Nuggets standout who played for Mount Royal), winning the AAU 16-and-under national championship in New Orleans after making the final four the year before.
'That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, winning the national," Greene said. "We played in-state in April, but the rest of the time we were on the road, and at one point we played 32 games in 17 days, 10 in the AAU nationals."
The Mount Royal team played in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Florida, Hampton, Va., and West Virginia. To say that he and Delaney know each other pretty well is an understatement.
"We read each other very well and run the pick-and-roll pretty good," Greene said. "Malcolm worked with me on my ball-handling and I gave him a couple post moves."
Pratt has encouraged both players to work in the weight room. "[Atlantic Coast Conference] guards are big, and I think everybody coming out of high school needs to get stronger," Delaney said.
As for this season, Greene said it has been going well, but not as well as he had hoped.
"I've struggled at times, not rising up in big games, which is what I need to do for us to be successful," Greene said. "I need to work on seeing my teammates on the court better. And I know some people said I was laying back some after committing to Syracuse, but that's not true. I need to step my game up every time out there."
Pratt thinks the best might be yet to come.
"We have not played our best yet," he said. "We need to down the stretch, and if we do, Donte' and Malcolm will play key roles."