Shortly after Tyrone Massenburg was hired two years ago as the Suitland boys' basketball coach, Nick Lynch told him the school's marquee athletic programs were girls' basketball and track. Lynch, the Rams' football coach, did not mention his own team -- or boys' basketball.
Massenburg didn't respond because he knew Lynch was right.
Although Lynch has developed Suitland into a consistent playoff football team, nearly two decades have passed since the Rams have been at the top of the boys' basketball scene in Prince George's County and in Maryland. The Rams won county, region and state titles in 1985 but have not returned to the state tournament since.
Meantime, Suitland has won three Maryland 4A girls' basketball titles in the past five years. The boys' outdoor track team was the state's best two years ago and has combined with the indoor track team to register seven runner-up finishes since 1989.
"Compared to those teams, we haven't done anything," Massenburg said. "We're not even on the map because we haven't made a name for ourselves."
At least not yet. The 14th-ranked Rams entered the week on a five-game winning streak that had boosted their record to 12-4 overall and elevated them into third place in the Prince George's 4A League with a mark of 10-3. That represents a significant improvement for a team had gone 18-26 in the past two seasons combined.
"We've been building to be good team for a few years now," said senior guard Sean Jennings. "We have a team now, not just one or two good players like we had in the past."
What the Rams have this year is arguably the most balanced scoring attack in the league. They entered the week with four players ranked among the league's 20 highest scorers; no other team has more than three. The Rams' four double-figure scorers -- Jennings (14.5 points per game), senior guard West Otis III (12.6), junior guard Bobby Maze (12.0) and junior center Charles Richardson (12.0) -- have created matchup difficulties.
"They can create a lot of problems for you because you can't try to stop one guy," said Oxon Hill Coach Billy Lanier, whose Clippers defeated Suitland, 65-58, on Jan. 7. "I'm impressed by Suitland because they have so many options."
The Rams also are more confident. They entered the week having won six of eight games this season that have been decided by single digits; they won only half of 16 games decided by nine points or fewer a year ago.
"We know what it feels like to lose, and it makes us angry because we know we have the talent to win," Richardson said. "We believe we can win. We just have to go out there and do it."
That won't be easy. As much as Massenburg's squad would like to be included on a list of the most successful teams at Suitland, the Rams also would like to be mentioned in the same breath as Oxon Hill and Eleanor Roosevelt, the county's preeminent boys' basketball programs that have won every 4A South Region title since 1998.
"It all takes time. In the past two years, we had some great senior leaders that really stuck with it and made us get better as team, and [we] always believed they had what it takes to win a state championship," Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Glenn Farello said. "Suitland has all the pieces in the puzzle. They have great guard play, great senior leadership, and Charles [Richardson] does a great job for them inside. They will definitely be a factor in the playoffs."
How Suitland fares during the next two weeks may give an indication as to its chances in the 4A South Region tournament, which begins Feb. 28. The Rams were at Northwestern on Tuesday and are scheduled to play Crossland (Friday), Oxon Hill (Feb. 10) and C.H. Flowers (Feb. 14).
"We are so close to making a name for ourselves," Maze said. "I believe in this: There is a basketball god. If you practice hard and play as a team and do things the right way and work as hard as you possibly can, good things will happen for our team. That's just what I believe."