Until Fuller finally decided to elevate freshman Jasmine Brunson from junior varsity late in the season, the coach often sent assistant Aubrey Butler into action during practice. Sometimes, Fuller, 45, called his own number to fill the void.
“These old bones are getting old,” Fuller said this week with a chuckle. “I’m the lazy center. I’m the baby [Charles] Barkley. I’ll hang out there in the middle and set a screen for you. The girls know I’m an old-fashioned pick and roll man.”
With nine players regularly available , Eleanor Roosevelt navigated the potential pitfalls of injury and foul trouble with a short bench. The sixth-ranked Raiders (23-1) head into Friday’s Maryland 4A South region final against No. 18 C.H. Flowers (19-4) looking to clinch their first state tournament appearance since winning five straight titles from 2005-09.
Down in Prince Frederick, first-year Calvert Coach Tim Contee can relate. The two-time defending Maryland 2A champion Cavaliers (22-2) have pulled off a similar feat, launching their bid for another title with a varsity lineup that featured seven players most of the season.
Fuller and Contee made the choice to downsize, carrying more players on junior varsity than varsity. Both coaches had to get creative at times in practice, but the move allowed those who would not have cracked the varsity rotation to gain needed seasoning down a level. Meantime, the varsity players could form a more cohesive unit with almost everyone seeing regular minutes.
“I know a lot of teams have drama with so many girls trying to get on the court,” Calvert senior Jasmine Weems said. “Everybody likes each other here.”
A year ago at this time, Contee, 28, was living in Sweden, struggling for playing time in his first taste of professional basketball. A former Calvert guard who later assisted with the boys’ team, he returned to the United States in April and took over the eighth-ranked Cavaliers in October.
Contee held open gym workouts in the fall, and the team, small as it was, began to take shape. Weems and Drexel recruit Alexis Smith, the team’s lone seniors, did their best to recruit, to no avail.
The Cavaliers, who meet Gwynn Park on Friday for a spot in the state tournament, headed into the season with seven varsity and 11 junior varsity players. Contee had plenty of opportunities to jump into drills, running practices that often featured four coaches for the seven players.
“I always thought when tryouts came more girls would show up, but it’s okay,” said Contee, who replaced former All-Met Coach of the Year Frank Moore. “It’s like they’re my daughters. They’re phenomenal girls, man. We’ve been through a lot this year.”
Calvert struggled to keep up in losses to North Point and Edison, but foul trouble really only proved to be an issue in a physical game against Westlake on Jan. 23. The Cavaliers managed to keep five players on the floor and won, 50-38.
Among private schools, Holy Cross was forced to adopt the less-is-more philosophy when just 20 players total went out for the basketball team this year, the lowest in Coach Eddie Simpson’s 25-year career. Simpson made no cuts and kept nine on the varsity squad, which managed to post 12 wins, including a victory over No. 3 Good Counsel.
“This year we have 13 and there’s a few times we’ve been under 10 [at practice] with the big flu bug going around and stuff like that,” North Point Coach Michael Serpone said. “I can only imagine what would happen if I had seven and three were out.”
Fuller expected to field a 12-player varsity squad before two players decided to focus on volleyball and another transferred. But the Raiders have found success in continuity, returning nine players with varsity experience. The coach added only freshman Kaila Charles to the mix.
“I like the team more this year because everyone contributes,” Eleanor Roosevelt senior Jazmin Faulkner said.
Calvert brought up four JV players for the playoffs, allowing for newfound practice options. The Cavaliers spent much of Tuesday’s practice on defensive slides, using the reserves to mimic the offense Contee expected to face in the next night’s game.
At one point, Smith had to step off the court to catch her breath, and the action continued seamlessly with the extra player stepping in. Such a break wouldn’t have been possible two weeks ago.
“We can scrimmage and everything now,” said Smith, who last month became Calvert County’s all-time leading scorer. “That’s definitely a plus.”