The potential game-winning shot — or just having the responsibility of taking it — immediately comes to mind when considering what a "go-to player" is for a basketball team.
But long before the player has earned the right to have a play drawn up for him to win a game, much more takes place behind the scenes.
The role is more expansive than hitting the big basket at the end, and most successful teams have a player who brings a bit extra to help his team win.
"A go-to player is somebody you can rely on to make plays for your team," Dunbar basketball coach Cyrus Jones Sr. said. "Not necessarily score a basket, but also make the right pass, get his teammates open and help them make the play for the team if he can't do it himself. You're looking to make sure that player is a total team player. He has to be unselfish, but, at times, he also has to be selfish to make a play. They need to want to force the issue to make a play."
This season, there's a talented batch of juniors throughout the area that have already introduced themselves as go-to players. John Carroll guard Immanuel Quickley set a high standard last year in earning Metro Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, his highlight coming with a last-second shot to win the Baltimore Catholic League championship. By that point in the season, he had already emerged as the Patriots' team leader, consistently bringing confidence and smarts to the floor to match his high skills.
Among the other junior guards looking to further establish themselves as their team's catalysts are Calvert Hall's Brendan Adams, Dunbar's Da'Shawn Phillip, Joppatowne's Montrell Horsey and Lake Clifton's Rasheed Brown. All have taken different paths, but they share many of the same qualities: confidence, hard work, smart decision-making and fearlessness.
Last season at Calvert Hall, the Cardinals were a young group that didn't have a starter back from the 2014-15 team that claimed Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and BCL crowns. Adams needed time to adjust to big varsity minutes, but came on strong with a 25-point performance in a 75-73 win at St. Vincent Pallotti in mid-January and took off from there. He earned All-Metro second-team honors after averaging 13 points per game. With four starters back and some promising newcomers, the Cardinals are ranked No. 6 in The Sun's preseason top-15 poll. They will be counting on Adams to pick up where he left off last season.
"Last year, I learned you have to be confident because you're not going to be able to play to the best of your abilities without confidence," Adams said. "This year, [I have to] show the younger guys what it's like, help them along and help them develop and continue to play as well as I can while leading the team on the floor."
At Dunbar, the Poets come in at No. 8 with Phillip's resume a big reason. It started in his freshman year, when Phillip showed he had what it took to make an immediate impact.
"I was pretty confident as a freshman," he said. "I knew I would play varsity, but didn't know I would start. But when I started, I just told myself I could do it and I belonged. ...Once I figured that out, the sky's the limit."
Last season, he took his game to a higher level, averaging 16 points. He understands his role.
"He just continued to climb the ladder and do everything we've asked him to do," Jones said. "He's a kid who has always wanted to get into the gym and do extra things to improve his game. You could tell from Day 1 how special he was going to be for the program, and it's paid off. Last year, as a sophomore, he did it again. He became more aggressive, and I think that has a lot to do with him realizing his potential."
Coming off an 18-4 season, Joppatowne is the favorite in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, with Horsey ready to build on his fine sophomore season. After playing behind a senior during his freshman year, he learned and got a small sample of what it would be like when the basketball would be in his hands more last season. He showed he was ready, averaging 16.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and three steals per game.
"I was a little nervous at first because there was a lot of questions whether I would be good enough to run the team and if we would be as good as we were before," Horsey said. "But our first game, I scored 21 points and it gave me a lot of confidence. And then I scored 21 again the next game and it just showed me that all the hard work I put in during the offseason paid off. I'm the point guard, on-the-floor-coach and whatever coach [Jermaine] Head says, I have to echo it to the team and make sure everyone is up to speed. I'm just taking the younger guys under my wing and preparing them."
After significant graduation hits last season, Lake Clifton coach Herman "Tree" Harried was banking on a talented sophomore group that was coming off an undefeated junior varsity season. Brown quickly established himself as the catalyst by averaging 14 points, six rebounds and two assists.
One more thing all the players have in common heading into their juniors seasons: Opponents are more aware of their talents, which will make them all have to work that much harder to maintain and build on their past successes.