With 41 seconds left in last year’s Maryland 4A boys’ basketball semifinal against Eleanor Roosevelt, North Point Coach Jimmy Ball gathered his players near the home bench at Comcast Center. Playing for one shot in a tie game, the coach drew up a pick-and-roll for point guard Marquis Wright and forward Naim Muhammad with overtime a worst-case scenario.
Though the set worked to perfection with Wright getting free on the right baseline for a short jumper, the guard had initiated the offense too early. Wright’s shot rimmed out, leaving the Raiders time to convert the game-winner in the final seconds. The Eagles’ hopes for a repeat title ended with a 65-63 loss.
Wright’s “my point guard, so I’m going to live and die with him,” Ball said in an interview this week. “That’s what I’ve always told him. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to hit that shot.”
Once a freshman who lobbied to stay off the varsity squad, Wright has earned Ball’s trust over a decorated four-year career at the Waldorf school, notably outdueling phenom Aquille Carr with a 12-assist performance as a sophomore in the 2011 state title victory over Patterson.
After pacing fourth-ranked North Point (24-1) to a third straight Maryland 4A East title, Wright returns to College Park for Thursday’s state semifinal rematch with Eleanor Roosevelt (25-1) at 9 p.m. Defending champion Magruder (23-2) faces Baltimore Polytechnic (21-4) in the first semifinal at 7 p.m.
“I’m still not over [last year’s loss] until we win it again,” said Wright, who will play next year at Loyola (Md.) as North Point’s first Division I recruit. “I felt like the team was on my back last year, and I feel like they’re on my back again, so I’ve got to lead them to a state title.”
Wright has accumulated 1,068 points, 560 assists, 325 rebounds and 290 steals in his varsity career, but those raw statistics only begin to explain his impact at a school that just began varsity play in 2007.
Over an entire season, Wright has never led the team in scoring, yet he has long been the centerpiece for Ball’s free-flowing attack predicated on using defense to push the pace. This year, his career-high 16.6 points per game still rank behind senior forward Matt Bonds (19.3) on a team that averages an area-best 94 points per game.
Wright’s history at the state tournament sticks out in a year in which plenty of experienced players will take the court at Comcast Center. All three local schools at the state’s largest classification — North Point, Eleanor Roosevelt and Magruder — have won at least three straight region titles, and all three feature talented senior point guards.
“He’s one of the smartest guards around,” Thomas Stone Coach Dale Lamberth said of Wright. “He understands what he has to do for that team to be successful.”
Wright’s attitude has changed dramatically through the years, a progression that began when Ball had to convince the then-5-foot-7 freshman with an old-school, pass-first game to make the jump to the varsity squad.
Wright initially wanted no part of the move. He had logged enough court time with North Point’s upperclassmen during summer league games and fall open gyms to realize if he passed the ball, it wasn’t coming back.
Even after joining the varsity squad late in the 2010 season for a run to the region semifinals, Wright wasn’t sure about the fit. He applied to transfer to Bishop McNamara where he hoped to play alongside Stephan Jiggetts, an AAU teammate and the son of his godfather, only to be denied because he filed his paperwork too late.
“He wanted to let the older guys run the show so to speak, and I said, ‘If you’re the point guard, this is your team.’ ” Ball said. “That was always the battle.”
In hindsight, Wright can’t imagine leaving North Point, though it took a state title to seal the deal.
Wright was still inclined to defer to the older players during his first trip to the state tournament in 2011. Ball saw the sophomore gain confidence in his first full season as a starter, saving one of his best performances for the 76-72 final victory that capped an unbeaten season with the first state championship for a Southern Maryland Athletic Conference team in 39 years.
“Everyone hyped up that game, but I hadn’t really heard of [Carr] at the time,” Wright said. “That was good experience for me to show that I could hold my own against a great player in a great game.”
Wright has continued to grow into his role on the court over the past two years, while developing physically. Over the summer, he added two inches in height and packed on muscle, training privately in Largo with former NFL wide receiver James Milling.
Senior Anthony Williams, who has played alongside Wright since they were 5 years old, recognized the most distinct change at an informal scrimmage this fall.
Bonds missed an open layup and Wright let him hear about it, explaining that complacency cost the Eagles a second state crown. When a few players grumbled about playing time early this season, Wright called everyone together to clear the air.
“Every year, it just seemed like he added something new to his game,” said Muhammad, another longtime AAU teammate. “He always had the most talent, and now I think as a senior, he’s got the vocal skills down, the leadership to keep us together as a team.”