Chopticon's victory Monday against the New School for Enterprise and Development, a Washington public charter school, will be recorded in the official game book. But the Braves' 80-29 victory over a three-year-old program that fields only underclassmen resembled a practice far more than a game.
Yet you won't hear any complaints from Chopticon. Practice is something the Braves are getting a lot of these days -- and the rewards are evident.
Chopticon, whose game against Enterprise was its only one in a 16-day span, is taking this time to get back on track after two early-season losses. The Braves went undefeated through the regular season a year ago en route to the Maryland 3A final four.
"People don't understand that last year was a very special circumstance," Chopticon Coach Rich O'Donnell said. "We did not lose a single player to injury. We did not have one player miss a single practice. Everything, everything has to fall into place to go undefeated, and that happened for us last year."
The Braves (6-2) returned four starters from that unbeaten squad but were faced with a more difficult schedule in addition to replacing point guard M.J. Estep, the All-Extra Player of the Year in 2001-02. They lost their opening game against No. 20 Southern Maryland Christian Academy (12-0), 84-72. The Braves fell again four games later to No. 16 Thomas Stone, 66-64, on a last-second tip-in by the Cougars' Denzel Satterwhite.
"I really think that the losses helped us refocus," senior center Terrell Reeves said. "Not winning our first game, we knew right then we were not going to have another perfect season, and that's okay. That wasn't our goal. Our goal is to get back to Cole Field House.
"And that tough loss at Thomas Stone, that just made us think more about the things we have to do to win."
Among other things, O'Donnell decided to reconfigure his lineup. Sophomore Brandon Somerville, originally brought in to replace Estep, was shifted to shooting guard. That sent senior T.J. Carter, the league's top scorer at 25.4 points per game and a better ballhandler at this stage than Somerville, to the point.
"I've said it before, you just can't replace a guy like M.J., so it's been hard," Reeves said. "M.J. and T.J. both have their great qualities, but they are very different. T.J. is more of a scorer. M.J. was more of a playmaker and only scored when he needed to. We had to make some adjustments."
Chopticon eased to the championship of its Four Star Holiday Tournament with big wins over Great Mills and Northern (combined score of 140-79) before dismantling Enterprise.
In addition to Carter, senior forward Jonathan Pease is averaging 16.9 ppg, and Reeves is in double figures at 11.3. Junior forward Charles Carter ranks fourth on the team in scoring with nine points per game.
"We're getting there," said O'Donnell, whose team will return to action Monday at Great Mills. "I think with time we've gotten much better in transition, on offense and defense. We still have to work on our half-court offense and some other things, but it's coming.
"I don't mind all the practice time. It's fine. We're not stale. You can tell by the way we played [Monday] we're not at all stale."
The Braves' players seem to have rediscovered a bit of last year's swagger, and the fans are no doubt sensing it, too. Chopticon's gym was filled for Monday night's game -- and the crowd stayed to cheer until the end despite the lopsided score.
"We have all the pieces to the puzzle that we need," Reeves said. "We're just working on putting them together. The first one-third of our season is over, and the jitters are out. Now it's time to buckle down and put it all together."