It was “only” summer league, but Eleanor Roosevelt’s Kaila Charles couldn’t sit on the bench. She was confined to that general vicinity by a soft charging call, her fifth foul, late in the McNamara girls’ basketball summer league championship game. But after a few seconds of leg-bouncing agitation, the rising junior popped up, unable to sit through the final minutes of one of the few close games her team has played in the last year.
As her Raiders held off the host Mustangs 33-28 in the title game, Charles looked over her coaches’ shoulders, directed and worried. Just summer league? Not when you’re unbeaten public school state champs with skeptics. Not when you haven’t lost an actual game in a year, and not when you return everyone from an unbeaten state championship team still hunting respect.
“It was a big game,” Charles, a first-team All-Met pick, said. “They wanted to beat us because we were undefeated. They’re one of the best team’s we’ve played. It’s not like summer league is important or not. It was about winning the game.”
McNamara finished last season 13-18, but has impressed this summer, rebuilding and reloading under the architect of H.D. Woodson’s girls’ basketball dynasty, Frank Oliver Jr. Roosevelt didn’t play any private schools last year — aside from a scrimmage against top-ranked Riverdale Baptist — and no public school pushed them further than an eight-point differential in a 26-0 season.
So Monday night’s gritty, close game was a departure from the Raider norm, and not having Charles for the final few minutes provided an added test. The Raiders did what they did all last season: applied pressure even as they felt it, using defense to hurry the Mustangs and rebounds to frustrate them. On an off shooting night for the whole roster, defense, some hard-earned points from forward Tolu Omokore (seven points), and key free throws from Alia Parker stymied McNamara.
“[We learned] we can play under pressure, we can deliver,” said Charles, who led Roosevelt with 12 points. “Some people think we’re just good in public schools. But play some good people, we just don’t play the same schedule. I feel like we’re working harder and getting better every time.”
Therein lies the next step for the Raiders, who hope to prove “best in the state” doesn’t need a public school qualifier. They return Charles, who averaged 18.8 points and about two or three college coaches in attendance per game as a sophomore, capable of high-speed scoring outbursts and an omnipresent defensive force. In Omokore, the Raiders bring back an energetic, fearless rebounder with an uncommon knack for getting to the ball. Those two are returning captains, the enthusiastic embodiment of a Raiders team built to pester and pressure, and therefore able to withstand the ebbs and flows of close games, even if they haven’t played in many of them.
The Raiders edged McNamara by a single point last week. Here are highlights and interviews from that contest:
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