With regular-season coaches vacationing or confined to the bleachers, area high school players are capitalizing on the relaxed atmosphere of summer league basketball throughout Maryland.
"It's great because the kids get to play under the whistle in organized ball," said Coolidge's regular-season coach, Frank Williams. "And there isn't a lot of pressure on the kids because the coaches aren't coaching them."
Williams has watched his city championship squad put a lot of pressure on a number of suburban teams competing in the Blair League.
The Blair, Kennedy and Falconers leagues feature some of the top scholastic players in the area. The St. Barnabas League, which ended regular season play this week, and the Whitman League, in its first season, have also offered court time for area youths.
In the Blair League, Interhigh and Metro Conference teams, including Coolidge, St. John's, Mackin, Dunbar and Carroll have been challenged by Gaithersburg, Springbrook and Whitman.
Springbrook's taunting defensive pressure and fastbreaking offense have kept the Blue Devils competitive. Rising seniors John Hymes (6 feet 3), Kevin Williamson (6-0) and Chuck Lightening (6-4) have helped Springbrook to impressive victories over St. Albans, Mackin and Northwestern.
With Lightening getting the rebounds and throwing quick outlet passes to Williamson, Springbrook has been scoring often off the break. Hymes, a small forward, has been a major scoring threat.
Gaithersburg has been aggressive on defense and smooth on offense.
In the middle, its relies on 6-6 1/2 Michael Tate, a sophomore who is transferring from Oxon Hill. He is supported by 6-5 1/2 Doug Lowery and 6-3 Robert Hallman at the forward positions, and guard Todd Mayo has been scoring consitently from the outside.
Whitman, which made it to the state AA final last winter, has shown patience on offense. Twice this summer, the Vikings, who also play in the Sidwell Friends League, have nearly upset Dunbar, losing by 55-54 at Blair and by 56-51 at Friends.
Seniors Scott Roth, a 6-4 forward, and 6-3 forward Mike Malachuk have been leading the young Vikings. Both are averaging in double figures.
Although the Blair team doesn't have the talent to contend for the league title this summer, as it did a year ago, it has the league's top scorer, Shaun Clifton. A 6-1 1/2 swing man, he has been scoring at will, averaging 32 points.
In the Kennedy League, Walter Johnson, Wootton and Newport Prep have been the front-runners during the first two weeks of action.
The Falconers League at Central High School has two of the best big men in the area, 6-8 Tyrone Powell of Forestville and 6-8 Byron Tucker of Potomac.
Gwynn Park and Potomac have been a step above the other teams in league play, but Friendly, Suitland, Bladensburg, Forestville and Central have been competitive.
Potomac has lost only to Gwynn Park, 60-44, and perhaps has the best team in the league. The Braves are averaging more than five dunks a game and Tucker is averaging 32 points.
Donald Grant, 6-0 point guard (20 points), has directed the Braves' fastbreak. Grant has been able to Tucker, 6-5 center Joe Weatherford, or 6-5 forward Jason Scott open much of the time.
Gwynn Park doesn't have standout players, but 6-1 1/2 Darryl Reddick has been leading the way with a 14 point average.
Other top scores in the league include Powell (22.5 points), Crossland's Kado Wilkes (18) and Andel Dixon of Largo (20).