Whether he's threading an unlikely pass through a maze of defenders' limbs or arching one of his distinctive lean-in jump shots, Jeff Bowling, Robinson High School's shooting guard, has the ability to devastate a defense.
Yet Bowling, the Northern district's most prolific scorer (17.6 points per game) and one of the areas top assist men (over six per game), seems just an eyelash away from being a complete player.
In a recent game, he deftly stripped a T.C. Williams player of the ball. His layup closed the Williams' lead to 61-58 with 1:09 remaining.
Bowling would score Robinson's next four points and he would finish with 17, but the Rams would come up short, losing by 73-64 and dropping into second place behind the Titans.
"That was a tough loss," said Bowling. "They built a lead in the third quarter and we tried to get close, but . . . "
But the Titans were able to quiet Bowling during a critical stretch, when they outscored the Rams by 13-2 in the first three minutes of the third quarter.
Against West Springfield, he had four assists and five points in the first quarter as the Rams took a 19-12 lead. But the 6-foot senior would be plagued by foul trouble and foul out with 3:32 remaining in regulation, before the Rams would pull out a 64-60 overtime victory.
He was called for an offensive foul on his bread-and-butter play, the in-your-face lean-in jumper that usually produces a field goal and foul shot.
"I just try to draw the foul," he said. "I just go up strong with the jumper. If they start calling the (offensive) foul, I'll just go straight up or pass off. A couple of games I've been in foul trouble, but it's difficult to change your style."
"He does try to create three-point plays," Robinson Coach Bob McKeag said. "Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it doesn't work out. Sometimes you just have to put the ball in the basket and not worry about the three-point play."
No doubt, there are few guards in Northern Virginia who can stay with Bowling as he jukes right, then left, then beats them right. In the area, his ability to draw a shooting foul is among the best, and few other players enable their teammates to shoot layups consistently the way Bowling does.
McKeag knows what a charm he has in his back court. "He has the ability to shoot the jumper," McKeag said. "And if the defense comes out on him, he passes to the open man. I feel more comfortable when he has the ball on the transition."
"He's a good decision maker. He's a fairly complete player."
But McKeag, the demanding coach and perspicacious critic, stops short of heaping all-out praise on his star player. When McKeag speaks about Bowling, he pulls up suddenly, as Bowling on a fast break.
Why? Perhaps, because on occasion Bowling has had to force shots and, on occasion he has become frustrated against the box-and-one, triangle-and-two and diamond-and-one defenses he invariably plays against.
"It's frustrating sometimes, but it's something I'm getting used to it," Bowling said. "It makes me work a little harder. I think I've progressed over the three years that I've been on the varsity."
"Defenses are beginning to key on him," McKeag said. "Sure, it's frustrating him. It's difficult to work so hard and never get an open shot. He feels it's his responsibility to generate offense if things aren't going well. Sometimes it looks like he might be forcing it.
"But every time he shoots the ball, I'm thinking what defense I should call, because I'm confident it's going in."
One of the reasons that Bowling might be trying so hard is that, aside from power forward Chris Warren, McKeag has not gotten the offensive production from his other players that he expected.
"I think he's an eyelash away from being able to handle those defenses in a mature manner," McKeag said. "He needs some help from his teammates and until others step forward and do that consistently . . . if I were playing us I'd key on Jeff and Chris, too."
Because Bowling is such a capable passer and ball handler he expects to play guard in college. "I don't think I'm tall enough so I'll have to play point guard."