Tuscarora basketball team reaching for new heights -- Gazette.Net Photos from Thursday's game" /> Photos from Thursday's game" />







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Tuscarora High School forward Lamell Washington, gliding ahead on a fastbreak, delivered a confident, strong dunk.

A bit later in the first half of Thursday’s summer league basketball game against Oakdale, Tuscarora guard Kwa McDonald drove for a slam of his own but didn’t jump quite high enough and missed.

McDonald cocked his head to the side, grimaced and said, “Oh my God” as Washington came to pat him on the back.

When McDonald went to the bench, Tuscarora coach Pat Cook greeted him with a message: McDonald can jump as high as Cook’s son can.

“My son’s 9,” Cook said chuckling.

It’s been a fun summer for Tuscarora, which moved to 9-0 with Thursday’s 44-33 victory against an Oakdale team that was missing Clay Conner (attending a point guard camp) and Zach Thomas (injury).

Even with McDonald’s miss, the symbolism was clear. McDonald and Washington — the only returning starters from Tuscarora’s first trip to the state semifinals last season — will play a large role in how high the team rises next season.

Within Tuscarora's scheme, their roles won’t change much, but both players are becoming better leaders this summer. That included Washington encouraging McDonald after the missed dunk — even though he also teased his teammate by telling him, “You need to work on your legs.”

“Any time somebody is playing their hardest and trying to do something, I think Lamell respects that,” Cook said. “That’s the leadership we’re looking for.”

McDonald also led by example, showing how to shake off a mistake. He kept attacking the rim, either getting layups or finding open teammates when defenders collapsed.

“Coach, he relies on simple, fundamental basketball,” Washington said. “That’s going to be our toughest transition. We’ve got a lot of athletes on the team, and we’ve just got to learn to play simple basketball to get more efficient play.”

So where does McDonald’s dunk try fit within the team’s identity?

“It’s a great attempt, but I also want him to know, if he’s going to take the attempt, he’s got to make it,” Cook said. “If you’re going to do that, you’ve got to explode to the hole. You can’t worry about getting fouled or anything like that. You’ve got to kind of play reckless abandon.”

Cook said he “absolutely” would be fine with McDonald trying to dunk when similar circumstances next present themselves.

“He tried it,” Cook said. “He knows what it takes now.”