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Boys basketball: Centennial's Potts grabs Player of Year honor

For Centennial's Keonte Potts, scoring has never been a problem. As a quick and athletic freshman guard four years ago, Potts scored 30 points in one of his first games on the Eagles' junior varsity.

Last year, his first on varsity, he scored in double figures in seven of the season's first eight games on his way to a final average of 12.8 points a night.

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But, as he began preparing for his senior season, Potts knew he had to do more than that.

To help the Eagles reach their potential and get back to the University of Maryland's Comcast Center for the second straight year, scoring could only be one piece of the puzzle.

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"Between last season and this one, my focus was all on defense," said Potts, who has been named this year's Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Player of the Year. "Footwork, lifting weights, my positioning … that's what I worked on improving the most. For me and the team, I worked to be better all-around."

Sure enough, Potts returned to the court this winter as versatile as ever.

Showcasing his calling card offense balanced by his now tenacious defense, he went on to finish among the county's top three in scoring (21.9 ppg) and steals (2.7 spg). And for a Centennial team that needed a leader, it came together at the perfect time.

"There was so much growth for him in terms of his ability to do all the little things and a lot of that I thought was his willingness to be a team player," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "There's no doubt in my mind that he could have averaged five-to-seven more points a game if he just focused on his offense. But it was more important to him to have us be successful."

With Potts as its go-to guy Centennial put together a 17-2 record in league play and cruised to its first county championship since 2005.

It was in the playoffs, though, that this group of Eagles cemented themselves in the history books. By holding off a furious Annapolis rally in the regional finals, Centennial earned its second straight trip to the state final four. Before the 2010-11 season, the program had never advanced that far, so to do it two years in a row is something Potts says he'll never forget.

"To get down there twice after working so hard as a team is a real blessing," he said. "Me and those guys, we'll always have that knowing we made history."

Individually, Potts thrived in an up-tempo style. His speed, ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic ranked up there with the state's best this winter.

"When we got the rebound, we were pushing it," Potts said. "Getting out in transition … we got so many easy points that way."

Potts had the tools to beat teams in the half-court sets as well. His mid-range game was his most improved area offensively and he could also step back and hit the three (18 on the year).

"He figured out where the opportunities were for him in our offense and he used that to his advantage," Hollwedel said. "He killed teams coming off screens and knocking down that mid-range shot if they tried to go underneath. He developed into a multi-dimensional threat."

That full offensive arsenal was on display in the regional final contest with Annapolis, as Potts dropped in a varsity career-high 32 points. Even more impressive was what the senior did in crunch time by scoring seven points in the final minute of regulation to help force the game into overtime.

"With Keonte, it's always seemed that as the stage got bigger, his performance got better," Hollwedel said.

On the season, Potts scored in double figures in all 26 games he played. The regional final was his signature game, but he scored 25 or more points on seven different occasions. And when he wasn't scoring, he was more than happy to set up his teammates to the tune of 2.9 assists a night.

It all added up to a memorable senior year.

"We didn't get that (state) title, but it was still a real good year," said Potts, who is considering prep school next fall. "We got a lot of our other goals and, for me, Player of the Year means a lot."

Named to the all-county first team are:

Dante Garner, Wilde Lake. There was some inherent pressure on Garner heading into this year as the Wildecats' leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg as a junior). However, after a little bit of a transition period, he settled in and thrived. "After those first couple weeks, it was as if a light clicked on and Dante realized that this was his team," coach Deon Wingfield said. "His growth as the season went on was tremendous. He really did a little bit of everything for us."

The senior guard finished with an average of 15.1 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for a Wilde Lake team that went 17-6 overall and tied for second in the county standings. Looking even deeper reveals just how valuable he was down the stretch. After leading the team in scoring just twice over the first 12 games, he achieved a team high in points in seven of the last 11. "The more aggressive he was, the better we were," Wingfield said.

Antonio Manns, Oakland Mills. The Scorpions lost all five starters from last year's county-championship squad, so having Manns transfer in was quite the lift. An all-metro selection at Digital Harbor as a junior, he joined Oakland Mills and was immediately their go-to guy. But even with his pedigree, no one really could have anticipated the kind of offensive display the 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior put on.

Mixing his 3-point shooting ability (48 made), with his inside presence (10.2 rpg) and ability to get to the foul line (county-leading 245 attempts), Manns (26.9 ppg) produced the highest scoring average by a county public school player since Barry Young in 1987 (27.8). He eclipsed 20 points in every game but one and went for over 30 on eight different occasions.

"He was literally everything for us," Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. "We needed him to carry us and he did. He's the kind of guy that every time he touched the ball, no matter who was on him, he believed he could score. His basketball IQ, quick release on his shot and confidence were up there with the best I've seen."

Arjun Patel, Marriotts Ridge. Arguably the county's purest shooter, Patel set the pace for 3-pointers made this season with 63. Exceptional at setting his feet and firing with a hand in his face, the senior was unstoppable at times. "His form is exactly what you would want for a shooter and he had the confidence to go with it," coach Mike Coughlan said. "He could miss two or three in a row and he would always believe the next one was going in."

Finishing the season with an average of 16.8 points per game, Patel hit his season-high of 36 points on two different occasions. In addition to his shooting from outside, he also excelled at the foul line (83 percent) and as a penetrating guard. That balance was on display in one of his 36-point games against Long Reach where he scored 12 points from the foul line, 12 from three and 12 on two-point baskets. "He really developed those other areas of his game and that made him that much tougher to guard," Coughlan said.

Omari Ringgold, Centennial. A transfer from Mt. Hebron, Ringgold was a bit of a wild card heading into this season. He had averaged just over five points a game as a sophomore with the Vikings, but it became obvious during the fall league and preseason that the 6-foot-3 small forward was ready for a breakout campaign. "The thing about Omari was that he played with a different energy and passion from everyone else right from the get-go," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "We didn't know what kind of numbers he was going to produce, but he was going to give us that heart and hustle."

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Ringgold ended up giving the county-champion Eagles 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals a night. Tenacious on the offensive boards, put-backs were one of his specialties. He had "a knack for getting himself in the right spots," according to his coach. The junior was the Eagles' leading scorer 10 times, including a season-high 26 points against Wilde Lake. Combining with Keonte Potts, Ringgold gave Centennial the county's top 1-2 scoring punch.

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Troy Spurrier, Glenelg. The only returning first-team all-county player from last season, Spurrier was improved in nearly every facet of his game this winter as a senior. Although it wasn't necessarily reflected in the team's record, he was instrumental in the development of what was an extremely young and inexperienced Gladiator team.

"He exceeded all the expectations I had for him," coach Jansen McMillan said. "He handled what was a trying season at times with a positive attitude throughout and put aside any individual accolades for the betterment of the team. Out of a senior leader, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Spurrier finished with a scoring average of 20.2 points to go along with a county-best 11.3 rebounds a night. When you throw in 50 total assists (2.2 average), 60 steals (2.6 avg), 46 blocks (2.0 avg) and 20 made threes, he ranked among the top 15 in the county in every major statistical category.

Gavin Stephenson, Atholton. Transferring in from Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore, Stephenson wasted little time establishing himself as the heart and soul of the Raiders. The senior guard scored a combined 49 points in his first two games this winter and never slowed down on his way to averaging 23.1 points a night. Four times he went for 30 or more points, including a season-high 36 against Mt. Hebron late in the year.

But what made him so vital to the Raiders (14-10) was his ability to not only create for himself, but to also create for others. Splitting time between the point and shooting guard positions, he finished with 2.9 assists a game.

"He knew when to score and when to look for the other guys on the floor … he made it look easy sometimes," coach Jim Albert said. "We asked a lot from him and he took it all in stride, which isn't always easy to do when all eyes are on you like they were most of the season."

Overall, Stephenson ranked among the top two on his team in every major statistical category and finished with 67 steals, 146 rebounds and a free-throw percentage of 80.6 percent.

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