As summer basketball winds down, the anticipation at Gonzaga High School builds up.
Mark Tillmon -- who many think will be the best high school basketball player in the metropolitan area this winter -- solidified those feelings with his play this summer. The skills Tillmon and his teammates displayed over the past few months spark anticipation that Gonzaga could win its first Metro Conference basketball title.
"I don't want to say we're the best team," said Tillmon, a 6-foot-2 senior guard. "But, if we play hard and together, I think we can be on top. That's where we want to be, on top. Otherwise, we'll be disappointed."
Tillmon, a starter since his sophomore season, averaged 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists on his way to being selected first team all-Met last season. "I was shocked to make first team," he said.
Earlier this month, Gonzaga overcame a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat McKinley Tech in overtime to win the Sidwell Friends summer league championship. Gonzaga went undefeated at Sidwell, where the top Metro and Interhigh teams compete, and lost only once -- to St. John's -- in also winning the Blair summer league title.
"They are very talented and very deep. This is definitely the best Gonzaga team I've ever seen. I think they should probably start off the season ranked as the No. 1 team in the city," said St. John's Coach Joe Gallagher.
Although many who saw him play marveled at Tillmon's ability, he hopes to improve his jump shot even more to enhance the best element of his game. "I love to go one on one," Tillmon says, "because I think I can take anybody."
"He's a terrific player," said Ed Tapscott, coach at American University. "He has excellent quickness and leaping ability -- a very athletic player. He's improved his jump shot, but, what I really like about him most is that he's a competitor and he comes to play every night."
Many colleges, including Georgetown, Villanova, Michigan State and Duke, have been heavily recruiting Tillmon, but he said he will not choose a college until the end of the basketball season as a personal incentive to ensure he keeps working hard.
If Gonzaga intends to overtake DeMatha and St. John's -- the teams that have dominated the Metro -- it must improve on maintaining momentum in key games. Its momentum subsided and almost disappeared in a summer game against DeMatha at Sidwell.
Leading by 15 points entering the fourth quarter, Gonzaga soon found itself in overtime against the Stags. Encouraging, however, was that Gonzaga eventually won the game.
Tillmon knows faltering against DeMatha, which has dominated the Metro Conference, cannot be done. "DeMatha will always be the team to beat," Tillmon said.
Tillmon will be the key to Gonzaga's success this season, but the team is solid at other positions, particularly with 6-7 junior center Perry Carter and improving 6-4 senior forward Scott Gilly.
"I've always been impressed with Carter, and Gilly has really improved to the point where he'll be a major factor for them," Gallagher said. "And, of course, they have Tillmon, who is one of the premier players in the country, not only the area."
Tillmon has maintained his perspective. If basketball ended for him tomorrow, he said he would still attend college with his plans intact.
"I'd be a business man," Tillmon said.
This season, Tillmon's business will be to take Gonzaga to the top.