Today's Best Matchup

Two Teams That Can Look Each Other in the Eye

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007

From his first practice this season, Coach Steve Thompson knew his five Bethesda-Chevy Chase players standing 6 feet 4 or taller were going to tell him how to run the team. Except for having to crane his neck to look at them, Thompson had no problem with that.

"It's a luxury most [public school] teams don't have," Thompson said. "It changes the way you coach a team."

When the eighth-ranked Barons meet No. 3 Largo in the first Maryland 3A semifinal today at Comcast Center, they will see another public school team with an unusual surplus of height. The Lions have four players 6-5 or taller, including 6-11 junior center Maurice Sutton.

Since height might be the most desirable commodity in a young basketball player, private schools seek out many of the taller players in the area, leaving the public schools with shorter low-post players.

"You get what you get," Largo Coach Lewis Howard said. "But when you see he's tall, you know you want him. It gives you a tremendous edge."

B-CC's starting front court will feature 6-8 senior Maurice Pearson (committed to Ohio), 6-6 senior Jonathan Gregg and 6-4 junior Austin Cooley. Backing them up are 6-5 senior Jordan Herrera and 6-4 junior Tyler Henry. Backing up Sutton and 6-3 Kwame Morgan, the Washington area's second-leading scorer, are three seniors -- 6-7 Norman Washington, 6-6 Craig Horne and 6-5 Marcus Lecounte.

At the majority of the other area public schools, any one of them could be the team's tallest player.

B-CC and Largo's opponents have had to adjust all season. Very few have relied heavily on half-court offenses, where size becomes even more of a factor. Those teams also have been forced to find offense on the perimeter. B-CC allowed an area-high six three-pointers per game, even though the Barons yielded just 53.6 points per game.

"We've had some opponents who shoot as much from behind the three-point line as they do inside," Thompson said. "You live by the three, and you die by the three. It brings on a lot of inconsistency."

Another advantage today's semifinal opponents share is the luxury of being able to work on big-man skills in practice. Thompson and Howard said having more than one big man at practice has pushed their tall players each day and enhanced their development. Several coaches said tall players can lose interest in practice when they scrimmage against players four or five inches shorter.

"It's great if you can have a kid who can practice like that," said Magruder Coach Dan Harwood, whose team is in the 4A semifinals, but not as genetically fortunate. "When you get to the playoffs, a lot of teams usually have at least one big guy, and you want to be ready for him."

Of course, size doesn't guarantee success. Harwood can point to his 2001 team, which didn't have a player taller than 6-2, and, in the 4A final, defeated Eleanor Roosevelt, which featured 6-3 Delonte West and 6-5 Eddie Basden, both of whom made the NBA.

"If you're 5-10, you can block out a 6-10 guy," Harwood said. "If you get tough kids, you can block anyone out, and it works. Against taller teams, that's very important."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company