It’s just about impossible to quantify a player’s exact value in any sport, aside from maybe golf. There are things stats can’t record, like hustle and leadership, the intangibles that oftentimes set a player apart. After this weekend’s Frederick County-Montgomery County Challenge at Tuscarora High School, Lamell Washington’s value can be labeled as this: a whole heck of a lot.
With the 6-foot-6 forward in the lineup, the Titans are a tank. Prior to last weekend, they were 5-0 and had coasted through the likes of Frederick (72-59), Walkersville (85-45) and Gov. Thomas Johnson (57-39). Washington had recorded four consecutive double-doubles and was on the heels of two straight 21 point, 17 rebound nights.
But last Friday, heading out to shovel his driveway, he slipped on a patch of ice by his doorstep and landed awkwardly, putting all the weight on his hand and spraining his wrist.
“I was just doing chores, man,” he said after a close call with Northwood on Friday which he sat out from.
He and coach Pat Cook agreed he would sit out during the challenge in which the Titans would see a seemingly unthreatening and winless Northwood team and a strong Quince Orchard squad. What would ensue was a pair of 32-minute displays on just how important Washington is to Tuscarora.
Northwood nearly stunned the Titans, losing by just two after trailing by 11 at one point in the fourth quarter. The following night, Quince Orchard would erase a 10-point deficit in the fourth to extend the game to overtime where the Cougars eventually handed the Titans their first loss of the season.
“Well, when you lose 21 [points], 17 [rebounds], four [blocks], you know, I did [expect this],” Tuscarora coach Pat Cook said after the Northwood game. “It's tough to learn new roles and when you're learning new roles, sometimes it's hard. I had production from the bench, guys contributing from the bench, but we still made some really careless mistakes…we put them back in the game with silly mistakes.”
But, as much as Washington’s absence amplified his significance to the Titans, it was also an opportunity for others to take on bigger roles. Carney Bernard, a senior Montrose Christian transfer, was nothing short of spectacular in both games, scoring 23 against Northwood, 21 of which came in the first half, and 28 against Quince Orchard.
“Carney was unbelievable. But you know what? I expect that from Carney,” Cook said. “Carney’s a good player and he gets overshadowed a lot by Lamell and Kwa [McDonald] and a lot of the accolades they get but, you know, Carney can play. And Carney probably would have gone for 40 [against Northwood] had he hit some of the shots that went in and out.”
Bernard’s expanded impact could have a lasting effect on the Titans’ play the rest of the season. Tuscarora’s offense typically revolves around Washington and McDonald, who along with Bernard spoke with coaches from Eastern Mennonite and Salisbury universities. But he didn’t make quite the impression that Bernard did, although he did close out the Northwood game with several big time free throws and gritty defense.
“[Lamell] is a great player and he does so much not only scoring, because obviously anybody can score, it’s the things like rebounding, blocked shots, stuff like that, maybe even more assists because he’s a good passer so it’s like I knew I had to step up,” Bernard said after the Northwood game. “I haven’t been as aggressive as I was today and obviously more scoring opportunities came for me.”
Others took on heightened roles as well. Chris Abbernathy was incredibly clutch down the stretch, once throwing in a layup backwards after absorbing contact that had Cook laughing on the sideline, and Brison Hopper provided some stable ball handling and a few buckets of his own.
“Everybody’s important,” Cook said. “Whether it be your best player to your worst player, you miss them. It’s still a loss and teams still have to come and learn to play without them.”
On Sunday, Washington said he was unsure if he would be able to play in Wednesday’s clash with Urbana but that he would absolutely be in the lineup against Oakdale next Tuesday in arguably the county’s most anticipated matchup of the year.
“I see that I’m a big piece of the team but I was very happy for Carney,” Washington said. “He stepped up on the court. Hopefully he can keep playing like that, hitting threes, we’ll be pretty good.”