Clyde Gross and J.J. Hicks have been friends for five or six years, they estimate. They've been youth football teammates on the Cape Sinclair Cougars and youth basketball adversaries -- Gross playing for the Severna Park Hornets, Hicks for the Annapolis Jaguars.
But before this summer, the two friends hadn't been teammates in the same back court.
Gross, 15, and Hicks, 14, are playing for Broadneck High School's team in the Anne Arundel Recreation and Parks Summer Basketball Senior League. The league, which runs through Aug. 2, features games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights on the outdoor courts at Lake Waterford Park in Pasadena and is an opportunity for local high school players to enhance their skills in the offseason in a competitive atmosphere.
Gross, a 5-foot-10 point guard, will be a junior at Broadneck this fall, and Hicks, a 6-0 guard, is a rising sophomore. The two, however, were not teammates in the 2004-05 season. Gross impressed Coach John Williams during practices last November and made varsity, averaging seven points a game and starting about a third of the games. Hicks averaged about 17 points on the junior varsity.
In a league where wins and losses are not nearly as important as fine tuning -- or, in some cases, developing -- skills to be showcased five months from now, both Gross and Hicks have ideas about what they want to get out of this league.
"Try to be a captain on my team. Get better going to the basket, finishing with the basketball," Gross said.
"Left hand, driving to the hole, [drawing] contact," Hicks said.
Last Thursday evening at Lake Waterford, the two got a taste of what a cold shooting night can be like, a night when nothing's going down.
The Broadneck team is small -- Hicks and another six-footer, talented sophomore Kevin Hunt, are the tallest players on the squad -- but quick. Coach Williams, who is not permitted to coach the team in the summer league but can watch the games, said the young Bruins are "probably going to start five guards."
But Glen Burnie, Broadneck's opponent last Thursday, was quick, too, and it forced Gross into a string of missed shots early.
Hicks, too, couldn't buy a basket in the early stages, and Broadneck trailed by eight at halftime. Gross eventually finished with eight points, and his nice running floater down the baseline drew Broadneck to within two points, but Glen Burnie prevailed, 34-30. Hicks finished with seven points, but was just 1 for 7 from the foul line.
"Couldn't hit anything, couldn't make any shots," Gross said.
Despite the off night, Gross has a full-fledged backer in Williams.
"His understanding of the game is probably better than anybody in our program," Williams said. "That was obvious to us [on the coaching staff] even in his freshman year. He's going to be asked to score this year and definitely pick up some of the leadership slack that's left us."
Of Hicks's play at guard, Williams said: "His progression has been from the perimeter, developing a shot. He has the making of a pretty deadly shooter from the outside."
There's also some family history that the friends are, in their own way, trying to live up to. Each has a brother who was a standout player in the county in recent years. Gross's brother, James Bowen, played guard for a Spalding squad that was ranked 19th in the nation in 1999. He then went on to win the junior college national championship with Dundalk Community College in 2000.
"I see he can have that type of [winning] attitude," Bowen said of his brother. "He's got to play with a little more emotion out there on the court instead of laid back."
Hicks's brother, Jamaine Young, was one of Broadneck's most prolific scorers. He earned All-County and honorable mention All-Met honors as a forward in 1996 and went on to play at Chesapeake Community College.