The University of District of Columbia's Michael Britt plays basketball at two speeds -- fast and faster.
The skinny 6-foot-7 forward, who many say is among the best all-around players in the metropolitan area, has slowed his game enough to allow his teammates to catch up. The result has been a nine-game winning streak by the rejuvenated Firebirds.
"Las Vegas style. I probably play at 100 miles per hour," said Britt, who looks and plays in a style similar to San Antonio's George Gervin. "Sometimes I don't know what I'm going to do on the court. When Coach (Wil) Jones recruited me, he tried to change my game some. I think he gave up because there's no way I can change now. I don't try to be flashy or show off, that's just my game."
The firebirds (14-7), who are fighting for a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs, will need one of Britt's best performances tonight when UDC plays at Radford. The Firebirds' other all-America candidate, 7-foot center Earl Jones, sprained an ankle in his team's 30-point victory over Morgan State Saturday night and will not be at full strength if he does play.
"I stepped on someone's foot when I came down and twisted my (left) ankle," said Jones, who is first on the team in rebounding and second in scoring with 13.2 and 19.7 averages, respectively. "It's not too serious."
Britt says Jones has become more aggressive and is playing the way a big man should. Without Jones, UDC could be in trouble against Radford, a team it defeated by 20 points two weeks ago. "I'm scared a little," said Wil Jones.
"Like Britt, Earl does so many things for us. Earl has changed his style a little and our offense became stronger. Earl's defense was always good but he's become more aggressive on offense and on the boards."
Despite having Jones, Britt, and other returnees 6-6 Steve Smith, 6-3 Greg Carson and 5-10 jump shooter Hawkeye Daniels, UDC lost seven of its first 12 games and seemed ready to self-destruct.
"We were all playing as individuals and it showed," said Britt, who is averaging 21.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, three steals and three assists per game. "Everyone was doing his own thing, including me. At times, we looked like we were ready to break loose and something would happen and we'd lose.
"We finally told ourselves if we want to win we'd better play together. Everyone has his role and has started to play it. We lost two tough games at Western Kentucky in triple overtime and at Siena, then we got it together. We're running more now than we used to and that's the way I like it."
The fast-breaking Firebirds are averaging 82.2 points per game. More important, they have cut down their turnovers, improved their shooting and stopped opponents from scoring at will. Once allowing nearly 80 points a game, UDC's pressing defense is surrendering slightly more than 70 points a game.
"That's been the key, the kids know what they're doing out there now," Jones said. "We have forced many turnovers and been able to turn them into transition baskets. Another key has been the stable play of Weaver Blondin. He doesn't lose the ball and keeps our offense moving."
Blondin, 6-4, is still learning when not to shoot after being a big scorer while at West Springfield and Massanutten Academy. He and Carson play well together in the Firebird back court.But when Jones wants to shift into higher gear, he sends in Daniels and Reece Morgan.
Jones and Britt insist they won't be disappointed if the Firebirds fail to be selected for the playoffs. Britt, who was forced to sit out part of last season when a discrepancy was discovered in his high school transcript, said if his team wins 17 games -- one more than last year (16-11) -- he would be satisfied.
Jones realizes three of the four South Atlantic Region births are virtually wrapped up by top-ranked Mount St. Mary's, defending champion Virginia Union and powerful Randolph-Macon. Based on won-lost marks, the last spot will go to either Elizabeth City, Longwood (Va.) or UDC. Even if UDC is passed over, the committee could select the Firebirds as a wild card or swing team for another region.
Britt is a skywalker who easily leads the area in flamboyant dunks. Still, he plays down the fancy stuff and insists he just wants to keep improving and help his team win.
"A few rebounds, a few baskets, a steal here and there, just enough to contribute," said Britt, a sophomore. "Right now, I don't think there's any team around that can outrun us. We're playing real well now as a team and if we continue to do that, who is going to beat us?"