The Central boys' basketball team is a fixture at the state tournament, and those who play for the Falcons have become accustomed to appearing at College Park during March. Having their moves observed -- and dissected -- by thousands of fans is nothing new.

But after Central had labored through a 10-10 regular season, that tradition wasn't guaranteed to continue. The Falcons had not earned one of the top four seeds in the 2A South Region tournament, and senior shooting guard Chris Henderson said there was only one way for the Falcons to soar back into public spotlight.

"We had to win the region and make it to the state tournament," Henderson said. "That was the only way we could get rid of the regular season and get it so people would notice us again."

The Falcons (14-10) won four straight games -- including two on the road -- in the region tournament to make their second consecutive appearance in the state tournament. Henderson hopes this year's trip to the University of Maryland comes to a different conclusion.

"Last year didn't end the way we wanted it to," said Henderson, referring to the team's 72-50 loss to Wicomico in the state final. "But last year we played more like a team of individuals. This year's team plays more together."

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Henderson averaged 17.7 points and five assists during the region tournament, highlighted by a 21-point effort in the Falcons' victory over Southern-Anne Arundel in the region final. Henderson has been the focal point during the playoffs but was just as important during the regular season as the Falcons replaced three graduated starters and last year's leading scorer, West Otis III, who transferred to Suitland.

"I was the only starter returning, so I had to be the general out there for us," Henderson said. "This was my last year, and I want to make it a special one."

Henderson's play this weekend will be crucial if the Falcons are going to win their first state title since 1996, first-year coach Brian Taylor said.

"Chris has done everything we've asked him," Taylor said. "There were times this season when we were down and Chris really showed he was a leader by making sure everyone kept playing hard. We're back where we want to be, and that's at the state tournament."

-- Jon Gallo

Chris Henderson, left, has helped Central rebound from a 10-10 regular season to win a region title. Summer Graves has DuVal's girls in search of a fourth state championship in five seasons.