When Rob Garner played basketball for Potomac (Md.) between 1988 and 1991, Gwynn Park was one of the best teams in Prince George’s County. The Yellowjackets won 10 state championships between 1968 and 1988 and continued to contend into the early-2000s. Gwynn Park hasn’t performed at that level over the past decade.
In May, coach Michael Glick left Gwynn Park for Meade, and the school needed an emergency coach through the summer. Garner had been coaching Wise for seven years, but the school’s athletic director didn’t renew his contract last March. The 45-year-old considered taking a break but Garner saw Gwynn Park’s vacancy as a challenge to turn the program into the powerhouse it once was.
Garner accepted the school’s emergency coach position and became the team’s permanent coach in October. Though Gwynn Park is 4-8 in Garner’s first year, he believes he’ll make the Yellowjackets a perennial contender.
“Gwynn Park is going to be special,” Garner said. “I say it now so when we are special, it won’t be the first time I’ve said it. There’s going to be a time when Gwynn Park High School is the best public school in the DMV.”
Over seven seasons at Wise, Garner went 131-34 and won the 2014 Maryland 4A championship. He said it was “hurtful” leaving the Upper Marlboro school, but the experience motivated him to build another successful program.
Because of his accomplishments at Wise and with Friendly between 2007 and 2011, Garner said Gwynn Park players didn’t want to disappoint him in practices. By taking the job in late June, Garner got a head start on developing trust with a team that returned one varsity starter.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job,” Garner said, “if I didn’t believe I could take Gwynn Park to an elite status.”
Garner doesn’t know how long Gwynn Park’s rebuilding process will take, but he thrived at the start of his previous coaching tenures. Friendly lost in the state championship during Garner’s second year at the school, and Wise won the state title in Garner’s third year there.
“Gwynn Park is the biggest mountain I’ve ever had to climb or face,” Garner said. “That’s what makes me so excited.”
— Kyle Melnick
St. Andrew’s Episcopal navigates a conference of big men
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Coach Kevin Jones calls his team “perimeter heavy.” Even the players with low-post size, such as the two 6-foot-8 forwards on his roster, know how to handle the ball and shoot from distance.
The result is a Lions squad that thrives on getting stops and moving into transition. That means they can go on runs in a hurry — dangerous, game-altering runs.
“In a split second they can score 15 straight. They have that potential,” Jones said. “So you don’t panic as much when this team is down.”
The Lions have four starters back from last season and have shown an ability to hang with the Mid-Atlantic Conference’s best. They’re 13-5 with a 4-2 conference record. Last week, they took down Sidwell Friends. After scoring just six points in the first quarter, St. Andrew’s raced past the Quakers for a seven-point win.
Jones said one of the Lions’ strengths is their ability to limit traditional big men. They see plenty of them in the MAC.
“In terms of guarding us, it’s difficult for anyone,” Jones said. “You always have to give something up.”
St. Andrew’s will need any mismatch it can get down the stretch, as rematches against Maret, Flint Hill and Sidwell could determine its chance at a conference title.
— Michael Errigo
Old Mill takes down rival Meade
More than 100 people were stranded outside the Meade gymnasium Friday, unable to watch the home team play rival Old Mill because capacity had been reached. Players could barely hear their coaches during game action. Even each team’s cheerleaders were competing against each other to see who could do more tumbling during timeouts.
The players matched the intensity, diving for loose balls and trash-talking after baskets. Powered by a 17-2 run in the third quarter, Old Mill came out on top, 63-52.
Mahzi Thames and T.J. Speight combined to score 27 of Meade’s 31 points in the first half but were held to just 11 after intermission. The Patriots exploited Meade’s zone defense to get their transition game going .
“We want to make them take tough, uncomfortable shots,” Old Mill Coach Mike Francis said. “We want to rebound and run. That’s the basis of our defense.”
Daevone Johnson scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, including two straight steals that resulted in breakaway layups. Tra Thomas added 14 points.
After reaching the 4A semifinals last year, Old Mill’s return journey has hit some bumps, including consecutive three-point losses in conference games last week.
“Teams are stronger this year, and we’re trying to match their intensity and effort,” Francis said. “We need to match what we did against Meade down the road.”
— David J. Kim
Youth won’t get in the way of Potomac
With any young team, it can be difficult to stack up wins, but Potomac (Va.) didn’t lower its expectations entering this season.
The Panthers have a young roster, loaded with underclassmen. Although they got off to a shaky 2-2 start, they have been able to adjust and now lead the Eastern District (14-4, 8-0).
“One thing I told our guys was we’re not going to use the fact that we’re young as an excuse,” Coach Keith Honore said. “We have to live up to the standards that’s been set by our program … they know this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Three of Potomac’s starters are sophomores, and the team prides itself on the fact that no single player carries the team, which is averaging 60.5 points.
As youth takes over the roster, the seniors, including starting guard Rejahn Woods and wing Jakhari Taylor, have been able to serve as mentors.
“We have a rich, rich tradition, and all these guys want to be a part of that tradition,” Honore said. “You’re remembered by what you do your senior year, so it’s important to the young guys and coaches that we do it the very best we can. We owe it to the seniors to do it; we’re playing for those guys."
— Sammi Silber