Wise girls’ basketball program rebuilds

In recent years, Wise has set the standard in Prince George’s County girls’ basketball, closing the past three seasons in the state tournament at UMBC. Behind high-scoring guards Eliqua Brooks and Khadijah Gibson, the Pumas once again came up just short of their first Maryland 4A title last March, falling in the final to Gaithersburg.

Coach Walter Clark quickly built Wise, which opened in 2006, into one of the state’s top programs. With an entirely new varsity roster this year, the veteran coach is embracing the bumpy path back to that level.

“It’s a slow process,” said Clark, whose team is off to a 1-3 start. “They’re getting better. Are they getting better as fast as I would like them to? Not quite, but I don’t think I can rush it.”

Brooks and Gibson combined to average almost 38 points per game during a senior year that included a perfect run through Prince George’s 4A competition and a county title. Now, Brooks, a second-team All-Met, plays junior college ball at Angelina College in Lufkin, Tex., while Gibson is a reserve in her freshman season at Fordham.

Even without Gibson and Brooks, Clark didn’t expect his squad to look quite so different. Sophomore forward Ciara Lee and junior guard Carolyn Cosey were slated to return to the starting lineup until both suffered knee injuries during the offseason that will keep them out of action this year.

When Wise began the season with a 77-54 loss to Suitland on Dec. 5, the only Puma player in uniform with significant varsity experience was senior Charnell Ferguson. The guard who transferred into the program from C.H. Flowers is currently leading the team in scoring with 20.3 points per game.

“Unfortunately, [Ferguson] can’t bring it up and pass to herself and shoot it, too,” Clark said. “We have to give her some better support.”

The Pumas, whose lone victory came against winless Northwestern, did not participate in a tournament this year and have not played since Dec. 18. Clark thought the team was signed up to play in the annual IAABO Invitational and by the time he realized it was not, he wasn’t able to secure entry in another event.

The break has proven beneficial as Clark has been able to fit in a few extra practice sessions, giving the inexperienced group much-needed court time together.

Though Clark’s squad will be hard-pressed to challenge for another Maryland 4A South title, he said the league has better depth with more quality teams than it has had in years. Over the previous three seasons, Wise went 62-3 against Prince George’s County competition, but Clark expects a tight race at the top of the 4A league this year with Eleanor Roosevelt, Bowie, C.H. Flowers and Suitland capable of taking the region crown.

“If we keep coming along, maybe in a year or two we’ll be there,” Clark said. “Right now, we’re just not up to that [level] the way they are.”

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