If nothing else this basketball season, Lake Braddock vowed to never be “that team.”
You know, the team boasting a sizable post presence, only to leave that player camped out in the paint, his hands futilely raised in the while his teammates let shots fly from the perimeter.
Convincing an eager group of teenagers can be a hard sell, Bruins Coach Brian Metress admits. But during Tuesday’s game against T.C. Williams, senior James Butler performed in a way that left everyone buying in.
By feasting on passes from his willing teammates and shredding the Titans’ zone defense, Butler produced a career-high 46 points to lead the unbeaten Bruins to an 83-77 win. The performance continued Butler’s tear through six games, during which he’s averaged 26.5 points, and his four-year evolution into one of the area’s top forwards.
“When you watch some teams play with big guys, most people go, ‘Why don’t they throw it to the big guy?’ Our motto is, we want to throw it so much to the big guy that they go, ‘Gosh they throw it to a big guy a lot,’ ” Metress said. “James had 46 and three other players had career highs in assists. It took a couple games to get going, but now that we’re cohesive, the last three games have been lights out.”
None moreso than Tuesday. The game started off relatively slow for Butler, who had just four points after the first quarter. But after T.C. Williams’s center got into foul trouble, the 6-foot-7 senior began to have his way against the Titans smaller forwards in their zone, leading to a slew of open looks under the basket during the uptempo contest.
“In the second and third quarters, I started to build more momentum,” Butler said. “I could tell I was scoring a lot but I wasn’t really thinking about how many points I had.”
The team-first approach has helped quicken the growth of a Bruins squad that lost second-leading scorer Reagan Jones (graduation) and starting point guard E.J. Johnson (transfer), leaving a freshman and sophomore to start in the backcourt.
To compensate, Metress challenged Butler to take on more of a leadership role, directing traffic from his perch in the paint to find opportunities for sharpshooting teammates like Corey Pelham.
“We’ve all done a great job of building chemistry and we’re all sharing the ball and complement each other well,” Butler said.
For his part, freshman Quentin James attended a week-long point guard camp at Towson. There, he refined his skills for the varsity level, meshing them with the nuggets gleaned while serving as the team’s manager last season as an eighth-grader.
“The biggest thing I learned was self-confidence, having to now deal with hype squads yelling things at you from the stands and still being able to feel confident to perform well,” James said. “I knew I’d be at a size disadvantage as just a freshman, so my goal was to master the mental side of things.”
It didn’t hurt that he and his backcourt mate, sophomore Jordan Cobb, played together on the youth basketball circuit. And with Cobb’s speed allowing him to disrupt the passing lanes and pester opponents on the defensive end, the Bruins have more effectively employed their full-court press and, in turn, put together a flawless record to start the season.
“I see myself as a defensive threat and I believe I can guard pretty much anybody in the region,” Cobb said. “On offense, I’m trying to get open looks for James and Corey, and they go work after that. As long as we keep playing together and uptempo, we can keep this going.”