TaShonda Pugh noticed something special when her son, Kodye, brought home a drawing he did at pre-school.
A beautiful house was front and center. The grass was lively green. And the sun was shining brightly above. For a 4-year-old, she said, the attention to detail was remarkable.
Now 16, Pugh still produces fine art while getting all A's on his report card at Boys' Latin. But his strongest passion is playing basketball, and the 6-foot-7 junior forward has shown the same kind of natural gifts and focus on the hardwood.
Pugh is athletic and versatile, with a high basketball IQ and left-handed shot. He can post smaller players to score inside. He can shoot the 3-pointer. And if extra attention comes on his way to the basket, he can find an open teammate.
On defense, he's a concern to any opponent putting up a shot, and he gets higher than anybody for rebounds.
The complete package Pugh brings has helped the No. 13 Lakers (17-5, 6-1) soar to the top of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference standings. It also makes him one of the most sought-after juniors in Maryland, with the family's mailbox regularly stuffed with letters from interested colleges.
Perhaps most impressive is how Pugh, who started playing basketball in the sixth grade, keeps everything in perspective with a humble, blue-collar approach. TaShonda and his father, Harry, have been a big influence.
"It's just a lot of hard work," he said. "I'm in the gym night after night — running, working on my skills non-stop. My vision is to be a better player every day and be the best basketball player I can."
When it comes to athletics at Boys' Latin, basketball and other sports have always been secondary to the rich lacrosse program, which finished undefeated and No. 1 in the country last year.
But Pugh, who averages 20.1 points and nine rebounds per game, has given the Lake Avenue school something to get excited about it until spring rolls around.
"He's been spectacular and a huge part of the success we've had here this season," said Boys' Latin fourth-year coach Cliff Rees. "Some of these wins we have, we don't get them without a kid that can make all those kind of plays. That's what we've been talking with Kodye about, being able to dominate everywhere."
After spending his freshman year at Archbishop Spalding playing on the junior varsity, Pugh chose to transfer to Boys' Latin mostly because of Rees.
A former guard at Navy who played with NBA great David Robinson, Rees doesn't look to develop just big men or pure point guards. In his system, a player has to be able to play everywhere and do everything.
Pugh is doing just that.
In the championship game of the Liberty Holiday Tournament in late December, Boys' Latin was even with the host team midway through the first quarter when Pugh made his mark.
After a steal at midcourt, he needed just four dribbles to get to the basket and finish strong with his left hand to give the Lakers their first lead, 11-9. Next, he went high for a defensive rebound, found his guard with a pass and raced up the court to get the ball back at the top of the key to nail a 3-pointer.
By the time the game-changing 12-0 run was complete, Pugh had contributed a steal, two rebounds, and seven points.
"Usually when you first see a player of that caliber that's getting looks from high Division I programs, it doesn't take long to watch him and see why. He fits that mold," said Gilman coach Owen Daly, whose Greyhounds lost to Boys' Latin, 78-63, this month. "He had one sequence against us where he blocked a shot and kind of pinned it on the glass, then ran the other way and when they missed a 3 from the wing, he got a two-handed dunk off the miss. He can kind of do everything."
Many D-I colleges have taken note. He has offers from Georgetown, Northwestern, Temple, Georgia Tech, Rice, Princeton, George Washington, George Mason and Saint Joseph's. Maryland, Stanford, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt have expressed interest.
"Two years ago, he was a skinny left-handed kid with some athleticism and promise. His improvement over the last year — I'm not going to use the word 'phenomenal' — but it's been very substantial and noticeable," said Tom Strickler, a Maryland correspondent for the National Recruiting Report, a coaches-only service that evaluates high school talent. "What he's done is, he's honed his skills to the point where he's a solid [small forward] at the big D-I level."
When Pugh told his mother he wanted to play basketball, she was ecstatic. TaShonda Pugh played at Dowling College for two years before her career ended with a knee injury. Kodye's godmother is Tajama Ngongba, who played in the WNBA and is an assistant coach at George Mason.
"I didn't want to push Kodye, some parents try to live vicariously through their kids and I didn't want that to be a burden in our relationship," TaShonda said. "I knew he was long and athletic, but I let him decide when it was time to play basketball. I was so happy: 'You wanna play? Let's go!'"
Pugh was at the end of the bench for awhile because he started playing basketball relatively late. But he proved to be a quick study and steadily grew into his 6-7 frame. He still works with basketball trainer Koran Godwin, who helped develop Pugh's all-around game.
By the eighth grade, high school coaches started to recognize his potential. And then his biggest breakthrough came last summer, when he was invited to the Reebok Classic Breakout camp, where he more than held his own against mostly-older competition and got the attention of the college coaches that were in attendance.
"I was a local kid just playing basketball because I like it, to becoming one one of the top players in the state. That was a big change for me," Pugh said. "My passion for the sport helps me, but the fact that coaches actually see something in me makes me want to become the player they see. It gives me the motivation to be the best player I can be."
That drive shows up every time Pugh takes to the court. The Lakers realized this could be a special season before it began. In addition to Pugh, three senior starters returned, led by guard Patrick Spencer, who has served as a role model for Pugh in showing him how to do things the right way.
"Last year, I think KP was a little more timid because it was his first year here and he didn't know what his role was," Spencer said. "But this year, he's really brought a scorer's mentality and understands what he has to do certain games. Some games he may have to score 25 points for us to win and other times he may go for 10 and 10 boards and move the ball. He's really figuring it out."
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