PLAYER OF THE YEAR
A transfer from National Christian Academy, the 6-foot-6 junior forward turned a good Lakers team into a special one that went 28-0 and won the Class 3A state title.
No player in the area was more consistent or versatile than Barton, who averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Along with his multiple skills at both ends of the court, Barton's enthusiasm, energy and confidence made his teammates better.
Perhaps most impressive is that he excelled while playing within a stringent team concept.
In Lake Clifton's 75-50 win over Friendly in the state-title game, Barton scored 10 of his game-high 20 points in the first quarter, hitting two three-pointers and a highlight dunk to get the Lakers off to a fast start. He also grabbed nine rebounds, had three assists and made three steals.
In Lake Clifton's toughest playoff test - a 56-54 victory over Milford Mill to win the North region - he made the deciding two free throws with seven seconds left to finish with 15 points. He also had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the Lakers' win over Digital Harbor in the city championship game.
"As talented as he is, he could have come in here with a big ego, very selfish and into himself, but he didn't. He's just very mature and selfless, and that's what was most impressive," Lake Clifton coach Herman Harried said.
COACH OF THE YEAR
It's one thing to have a surplus of talent and enjoy a fine season. It's another to set the highest standard possible and achieve it.
With a 75-50 win over Friendly in the Class 3A title game, the No. 1 Lakers finished the season 28-0 to become the third Baltimore City school to go undefeated since city schools began competing in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state tournament in the 1992-93 season.
During this season, the Lakers defeated Class 2A state champion City early; took over the No. 1 position with a come-from-behind victory over Baltimore Catholic League and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champ St. Frances; and handled Class 1A state champion Digital Harbor to win their second straight Baltimore City championship.
The Lakers had quality returning seniors Jason Sharp and Cleveland Melvin, and then welcomed the addition of standout transfers Will and Antonio Barton. Harried demanded hard work, accountability and a team-first approach and immediately got everyone to buy in.
"It's a great group of young men. I think we have an idea of how hard I work these guys," Harried said after the state-title win. "I tell them to run into a wall, they don't say why, they run into the wall. I tell them to run 100 times, they run 100 times. They've done everything I've asked and more, and they're well deserved of this accomplishment."
In 12 seasons at Lake Clifton, Harried, a Dunbar and Syracuse graduate, is 237-78 with two state championships.
Mount St. Joseph
The No. 10 Gaels were hit hard by graduation and then lost a number of key players to injuries and other reasons going into the season. But they stayed competitive, largely because of Atkins' stellar two-way play. The junior guard, a three-year starter, averaged 22 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in leading Mount St. Joseph to a 21-13 record and the semifinals of the Baltimore Catholic League tournament. Atkins also brought a calming influence to the court and had sound fundamentals and good court sense. He was named BCL Player of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference team. "He showed the caliber of player he is and carried us at times. And the best thing about him is he's only a junior," Gaels coach Pat Clatchey said.
The senior guard consistently made clutch shots to lead the No. 3 Millers (23-4) to the Baltimore County title and a strong run in the Class 3A North region. Drake, a three-year starter and the unquestioned team leader, averaged 15 points, five assists and four rebounds. He hit game-winning three-pointers in the closing seconds to beat No. 6 City and county rival Parkville, and his overwhelming desire to succeed was infectious. "He came to practice early every day and always worked hard. Everybody followed him, and that carried over into our play on the floor," Milford Mill coach Albert Holley said. Against No. 1 and eventual 3A state champion Lake Clifton in the regional final, Drake hit two three-pointers and a layup in the fourth quarter before his last-second three-point try fell just short, 56-54.
The 6-foot-8 junior added bulk and strength to become one of the most dominant post players in the area. In his third year as a starter, Graham became more assertive and confident, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Cardinals. Calvert Hall coach John Bauersfeld said Graham's 20-rebound effort against John Carroll early in the season set the tone for what would become an outstanding season. "He became more aggressive on the boards and realized he could dominate games with more than just scoring. But at the same time, it also was one of those things where we had someone to go to who could hit the big shot for us," Bauersfeld added. Graham's showcase game came in a losing cause - a 90-84 triple-overtime setback against St. Frances - in which he scored a game-high 29 points and added 18 rebounds.
One quarter of basketball is all you need to get an idea of what Jackson meant to the Rams this season. Fittingly, it was the last quarter of his standout high school career, one in which he scored 11 of his team-high 20 points to lead Digital Harbor to the Class 1A state title in a 75-60 win over Pocomoke. With the Rams' 16-point halftime lead cut to three with seven minutes left, Jackson took over with drive after drive to the basket. "I brought him over during some free throws and just told him now is the time for him to take over. He's our general on the court," Digital Harbor coach Johnnie Grimes said. A three-year starter who is undecided on a college, Jackson averaged 20 points, seven assists and three rebounds, becoming the first player in the program to surpass 1,000 career points.
After a heartbreaking 49-47 loss to Digital Harbor in the regular-season finale - costing the Knights a chance to play in the Baltimore City championship game - the rest of the season could have gone in either direction. Johnson, an athletic 6-foot-5 senior forward, made sure the No. 6 Knights (21-6) got back up. Averaging 17 points, nine rebounds and 3.5 assists, and more importantly, providing leadership when it was needed most, Johnson ignited the Knights to their first state championship with a 55-42 win over Douglass of Prince George's County in the Class 2A final. "He really stepped up and led an unbelievable run. After the Digital Harbor loss, the players asked for some time to themselves. He came out of the locker room and said, 'We're not losing another game,' " City coach Mike Daniel said. A three-year starter, Johnson has made an oral commitment to play at Saint Francis (Pa.).
The 6-foot-8 senior forward came into his own in his third year of varsity and second as a starter. Not only did he average 17 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, but also his dominant play inside opened things up for his teammates. "He was our big horse. He gave us a huge presence inside - scoring, rebounding and blocking or altering shots," Lake Clifton coach Herman Harried said. Melvin's emergence gave the Lakers an option that made it difficult for opposing teams to defend. When teams focused on trying to contain their perimeter game, the ball went inside to Melvin, who displayed athleticism and a good touch around the basket. Among the highlights for Melvin was a 19-point performance in the Lakers' 69-30 win over Digital Harbor in the Baltimore City title game.
The senior shooting guard filled many roles as the veteran member of the Class 3A state champion Lakers' starting five. When the top-ranked team needed encouraging words and instruction on the court, Sharp provided it. When it needed a big defensive stop, Sharp spearheaded it. And when teammates weren't finding their shot, Sharp was there to make the timely basket. Sharp averaged 12 points, four steals and three assists, but the intangibles he brought meant more. "He was our veteran who knew how I liked things to be done, and he reinforced that to the other players," Lake Clifton coach Herman Harried said. Sharp was the catalyst in leading the Lakers to a 63-54 win over St. Frances, which catapulted them past the Panthers for the No. 1 ranking in the area. He also provided a game-high 21 points in Lake Clifton's 63-54 win over Seneca Valley in the Class 3A state semifinal.
A first-team All-Metro selection last season, the 6-foot-8 junior small forward picked up where he left off with a versatile game that helped the No. 7 Warriors (22-4) reach the Class 4A state semifinals. Long and athletic, Smith is exceptional in the open court, with the ability to drive to the basket or pull up for a three-pointer. For the season, Smith averaged 21.4 points and 11 rebounds, and he shot 41 percent from three-point range. His size, quickness and complete game make him one of the most sought-after juniors in the country, as he has already received more than 20 scholarship offers from Division I programs. In the Warriors' 74-69 double-overtime loss to eventual repeat state champion Springbrook in the semifinals, Smith had six points in a 10-0 Walbrook run that put the Warriors ahead 60-57 in the closing seconds before the Blue Devils sent the game into overtime with a late three-pointer.
The Montrose Christian transfer immediately took on the role of the team's go-to player and leader. The 6-foot-7 small forward, who averaged 23 points and eight rebounds, was a constant mismatch for opposing defenses. He was able to score from outside or down low. He led the No. 2 Panthers to undefeated seasons and tournament titles in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and the Baltimore Catholic League, showing a knack for providing whatever it took to close out wins. He scored 20 points and had two blocks late in the game to lead the Panthers to a 44-41 win over Loyola in the BCL title game, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors. He also scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 56-38 win over Calvert Hall for the MIAA crown. Vinson was released from his letter of intent at Loyola Marymount after the head coach resigned and is still considering several schools.