Boys’ basketball: Wheaton focuses on the little things, sees big results

Each day, the Wheaton boys’ basketball team starts practice with a drill that requires the Knights to take charges, dive for loose balls, and think about the kind of hustle plays that most teams accept as in-game, heat-of-the-moment, who-wants-it-more unpredictabilities.

The Knights play an up-and-down style that utilizes their speedy athleticism, but often pits them in tight games full of runs for both sides. So under first-year Coach Marco Busso-Luca, they’re training for the little moments that grow large in the context of a close conference game — the little moments that doomed Wheaton (10-6, 8-2 Montgomery County 3A/2A) in a handful of close early-season losses.

“We’d be losing by two, losing by four, so we realized there were little things we had to do to stop the losses,” senior guard Ibrahim Kallon said, “Making free throws, making the hustle plays, making smart plays — the things that don’t show up in stat lines. That’s what everyone’s trying to do.

“Coach changed practice a little bit so he can implement things that get us accustomed to doing the little things. . . and I just think during the games now it shows in our play, and those little things are getting us over the hump.”

For Kallon, appreciating the little things about playing high school basketball is something he learned to do the hard way. Last season, then-Wheaton Coach Sharief Hashim suspended Kallon for 10 of the Knights final 12 games of the season to help him regain his focus off-the-court as well as on.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

“Me falling off the team, it didn’t just hurt me, but it hurt the team,” Kallon said. “I’m a part of the team, so personally for me, I just felt I was being selfish by not being able to help my teammates out, putting them in a bad position. It taught me not to take anything for granted.”

So Kallon hit the gym, prepared “harder than ever” this off-season, and came in ready to make the kind of high-flying, big-play impact he expected of himself.

That effort has paid off: Kallon currently leads all Montgomery County scorers with 20.4 points per game, and the little-things-matter mentality has sparked his Knights to nine wins in their last 10 games, good enough to propel Wheaton to second in the Montgomery County 3A/2A standings.

“We just have to work harder and harder in each practice,” Kallon said of his Knights’ approach heading into the last month of the season. “We need to go into the playoffs with momentum and with clear minds, being able to approach the season when we’ve been on this run: making sure we do the little things and stuff like that.”

All-Met Watch: Week 7

Rankings: The Post’s Top 20

Chelsea Janes covers high school sports for The Washington Post.
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