The Gwynn Park girls' basketball team has barely struggled in its march through its first 12 games in the Prince George's 3A/2A/1A League. The defending Maryland 3A champions have won by an average of 34 points.
Despite a balanced scoring attack that has four players averaging in double figures -- junior guard Kemena Brooks leads the team at 11.6 points a game -- and tenacious pressure defense that has yielded 35.8 points per game, Coach Marvin Vann is concerned. Victories have come so easily for the third-ranked Yellow Jackets, especially during the second half of the season, that Vann is attempting to guard against complacency in the final few weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Gwynn Park's biggest challenge in defending its 3A East Region title could come from No. 13 River Hill, Vann said. The Yellow Jackets defeated River Hill, 64-59, at the IAABO Tournament on Dec. 26.
"Last year, I didn't need to motivate them because Douglass won the [league] title, and they were always in front of us," Vann said. "But now, I'm trying to rack my brain to figure out if I can keep us motivated to keep getting better because there are some good teams out there that we haven't played yet. We won't be able to beat those teams by 30 points like we've been doing."
Improved at the Line
Improved free throw shooting has led to better fortunes for the C.H. Flowers girls' basketball team. Although the Jaguars have made 51.1 percent of their foul shots in the Prince George's 4A League, that has been boosted during a four-game winning streak.
In victories over Northwestern, Crossland, Parkdale and Laurel, the Jaguars made 42 of 72 of their free throw attempts (58.3 percent) to raise their season percentage. In five losses this season, C.H. Flowers made just 56 of 125 of their free throw attempts (44.8 percent).
"There's nothing free about free throws because they are costing us basketball games," said Coach Patrice Frazier-Bond, whose team was 9-5 overall and 8-4 in league play entering the week. "If we get to the free throw line, we need to capitalize on it."
Frazier-Bond had each player on her team shoot about 200 free throws during practice last Saturday, and she said she makes each player shoot about 150 during weekday practices.
But the Jaguars are not the only Prince George's 4A girls' basketball team struggling from the free throw line this season. Only two of the 11 teams are shooting better than 58 percent: Suitland (63 percent) and Oxon Hill (62.1 percent). The Rams and Clippers entered the week tied for first place in the league standings.
Third-place Largo is shooting 48.9 percent from the free throw line, having attempted a league-high 419 free throws.
"Since the league has a lot of good teams and we are so evenly matched, I think the games in the playoffs are going to come down to who makes their free throws and who doesn't," Frazier-Bond said. "That's why we work on free throws every day."
Good Signs for Crossland
Crossland boys' basketball coach Sam Harris has taken a new approach toward motivating his team. Harris began writing the name of each opponent during the week on a sheet of paper that hangs by the door to the team's locker room.
Harris used the tactic before his team's 65-60 victory over Parkdale on Jan. 14, and after his Cavaliers proceeded to win three of their next four games, Harris made signs for Oxon Hill and Suitland this week. Crossland hosted the first-place Clippers on Tuesday and are scheduled to play the Rams on Friday.
"If we want to be county champions, then we have to beat everyone we play. It's like they're standing in our way, and by putting up signs of who we play next, it keeps them focused," Harris said. "Every time we leave the locker room, every one of our players touches the sign. It's worked for us so far, so hopefully we can keep it up."
Crossland (8-7 overall, 6-6 league) lost to both Oxon Hill and Suitland earlier this season, but Harris said he expected his team to struggle at the beginning of the season. The Cavaliers had just two players with more than 10 games of varsity experience before this season -- senior guards Anthony Watts and Deon Williams.
Harris attributes the team's turnaround to the play of junior guard Steve Harley (27.5 points), who has involved his teammates more offensively in recent weeks. Harley had a combined 19 assists in victories over High Point and Largo last week.
"Steve's a great scorer, but he's not trying to do it all himself now, and the rest of our team is not standing around watching him try to do it all anymore, either," Harris said. "He getting everybody involved and making the players around him better."