The bright lights of the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center have long since faded into a distant memory, but the Tuscarora High School boys basketball team is using those memories as motivation this winter.
In the 2011-12 basketball season, Tuscarora made its first ever trip to the Class 3A state semifinal round — a 47-mile commute to College Park — and it lost to Baltimore City’s Patterson Mill.
“It was neat,” coach Pat Cook said of playing on the same court as the Terps. “I’m used to taking three steps and you’re right there with your team. On Comcast, you take three steps and your team is still 8,000 miles away.”
Since it is just November and a regular season game has yet to be played, the state playoffs seem many miles away. Now, Cook is focused on devising strategies on how to replace two starters — Jaylen White and Bobby Ingram — and five others that he lost to graduation.
“They’re two great kids that worked real hard,” Cook said of White and Ingram. “It was nice to see them succeed.”
The duo led Tuscarora to a 20-6 record last season and its first ever state semifinal appearance. But there’s plenty of talent coming back — at least one more year — with Lamell Washington and Kwa McDonald in the fold.
Washington, a forward who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds last winter, and McDonald (nine points, three assists) both seem convinced that the high-powered and up-tempo Titan offense hasn’t lost a step.
“I don’t expect many teams to try and keep up with us,” Washington said.
Tuscarora’s athleticism stretches far beyond the starters and both Washington and McDonald expect that to translate into a variety of zone defenses from opposing teams. But even then, as the zone minimizes a team’s edge in the athletic ability, there’s one more thing to worry about that wasn’t such a huge concern last year: shooting.
Cook learned that Carnie Bernard, a former Montrose Christian student who saw minimal time for the Montgomery County national power, was moving into the neighborhood and would be transferring to Tuscarora, where playing time will not be in short supply. And Bernard, a 6-foot-2 combination guard, can shoot.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I wasn’t upset,” Cook said of his reaction upon hearing of Bernard’s transfer.
Washington and Bernard were former teammates in middle school, which should help smooth over the transition between schools for Bernard. But what might be an even bigger gain for Tuscarora is Bernard’s ability on the defensive end.
“He can guard any team’s best player,” McDonald said.
Not to say that the Titans lack on the defensive side, but there certainly were a few instances where they could have used an oversized guard like Bernard. He could have had an impact against Patterson’s Aquille Carr, who scored 24 points.
Tuscarora now must deal with being the favorite and the team to beat.
“We have a lot of talent,” Washington said. “It’s just being humble ... We’re just trying to be a better team than we were last year.”