Despite his large, 6-foot-6 frame, it's easy for Chopticon junior Charles Carter to hide on the basketball court.

With so much attention paid to his three senior teammates -- cousin T.J. Carter, Jonathan Pease and Terrell Reeves -- Charles Carter can sometimes slither unnoticed to his favorite spot on the baseline, 10 or 12 feet from the rim, and just wait.

There Carter can easily bury a shot, and an opponent. And it's a place his teammates hope to find him often as the Maryland 3A South Region tournament kicks off Friday. Carter is the X-factor for the defending 3A South Region champs.

"We've seen tremendous improvement from Charles as the season has progressed," Braves Coach Rich O'Donnell said. "I think that he's really become a team player. He's working harder away from the ball. He's hitting the boards harder and not hesitating to shoot the ball when we need him to shoot it. I think that's really helped us come together as a team."

To outsiders, Carter is one of the unknown pieces of the Braves' puzzle. He isn't as much of a scorer as his older cousin. He doesn't have the flare for the dramatic that Pease brings with his high-flying dunks. He doesn't show the shot-blocking nastiness that Reeves relishes. But Carter's play, and that of sophomore guard Brandon Somerville, will prove critical in the playoffs.

Like last season, there is an understanding on Chopticon's team that the starters are likely to play every minute of every game in the postseason, barring injury, severe foul trouble or a blowout score. With a very deep Thomas Stone team lurking, such a short bench will be forgiven only if the five starters play the way last season's five did -- nearly flawlessly.

"It is a lot of pressure, but at the same time I like it," said Carter, a two-year starter who ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 9.5 points per game. "If the game is close, I want to be in there, and I know the other guys feel the same way. We do get tired, but that doesn't mean we want to come off the floor."

Unlike the team's Big Three, Carter's role is less defined. He isn't needed to be the main scorer, because T.J. Carter and Pease both rank in the top five of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference at 21.4 and 15.6 points per game, respectively. And Pease (6-7) and Reeves (6-2) handle most of the pounding and rebounding in the paint.

That leaves Charles Carter to fill in for whoever is down.

"We all have roles on this team, but what's hard is exactly defining his," said Reeves, who averages 12.7 points per game. "He's capable of doing so many things; of being one of the best players in the SMAC. We see that in him. When he's on, he's really on. But when he's off, he's really off. There isn't much in-between. Fortunately for us, he's on more often than he's not.

"With us not playing many people, that will be very important in the playoffs. We need all five of us. There is going to be a quarter here or there where we need Charles to be the man."

Chopticon's Charles Carter, right, battles for a rebound with teammate Brandon Somerville and Thomas Stone's Michael Dobson in a Dec. 18 game.