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Gwynn Park boys’ basketball rebuilds with a purpose

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Gwynn Park captured the Prince George’s County title last winter, regularly employing a rotation that featured seven seniors and a junior. Those seniors have moved on with all seven currently playing in college or prep school, leaving Jalen Harris behind to continue the legacy.

“I really looked up to the seniors last year,” said Harris, a 6-foot-2 senior guard. “I always listened to them, and I learned a lot. They said this year was going to be my year to pass it on.”

Harris leads the Yellow Jackets (6-2, 4-2) in scoring at 18.5 points per game, and while the young squad has experienced its share of growing pains, Gwynn Park is once again in the mix in Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A. The team bounced back from a four-game losing streak with victories over Broadneck and Fairmont Heights last week.

The Yellow Jackets endured a similar losing streak in December last year, but Coach Mike Glick worried more about the impact this time on a group that hadn’t done much losing. Many newcomers to the team had played junior varsity the past two seasons, going 35-1 against league competition in that time.

“They’re understanding that what they did on the [junior varsity] doesn’t necessarily translate to varsity,” said Glick, who earned his 400th career victory on Friday in 20 combined seasons at Pallotti, Spalding and Gwynn Park. “Since the Christmas break, I think our practices have been more intense, more competitive and that translates into us slowly getting better.”

Early on, Gwynn Park has shown the defensive edge necessary to compete, allowing just 53 points per game. Senior Ackhel Bazil, a seldom-used 6-foot-6 reserve forward last year, has played an important role protecting the basket and also averaged 9.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

The offense has come around more slowly as players continue to settle into their new roles.

A year ago, Harris, a gifted shooter, could hang out on the perimeter and wait for other players to create open looks for him. He’s facing constant attention now, and Glick said the team’s leader is still learning to make the smart play consistently when he meets a double-team.

During the Roberts Oxygen Holiday Classic in which Gwynn Park lost to Montgomery County powers Springbrook and Magruder, Glick brought freshman Aaron Parker up from junior varsity and installed him as the starting point guard.

The pass-first distributor has helped settle down the attack, dishing out eight assists in Friday’s 84-46 win over Fairmont Heights, which Glick called the team’s “best offensive game of the season.”

“We knew we had to turn it up,” Harris said of his team’s play last week. “We’re supposed to be one of the best teams in the county. We didn’t want to disappoint all the people that said that.”

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