Late Wednesday evening, a group of young men nothing shy of beatific stood at midcourt at Northwood High School. They took pictures as dozens of parents spilled out from the bleachers to capture the moment. They smiled, laughed and playfully punched each other in the arm.
It was hard to tell that those 11 players had just lost their last high school “game.”
The group at center court comprised of the White Team for the Montgomery County boys basketball senior All-Star game. This squad, which eventually lost to the Green Team, 105-98, was a jigsaw puzzle built from players hailing from Watkins Mill (Tyvon Grant, Alex Sotomayor), Col. Zadok Magruder (Nick Griffin, J.J. Epps, Justin Witmer), Sherwood (Brandon Loiacono, Joey Destefano), Wheaton (Tyron White), Northwood (Sean Vanduring), Albert Einstein (Josh Ogburn) and Walt Whitman (Andrew Castagnetti), and was coached by Einstein coach Rich Porac.
The victors, headed by Poolesville’s Kenny Kramek, deployed the best from Winston Churchill (Dominique Williams), Richard Montgomery (Justin Senou), Quince Orchard (Charles Porter), Springbrook (Tomazye Anderson), Northwest (Elliot Gambrell), Poolesville (Kirby Karmack, Collin Turner), Paint Branch (Tre Galloway), Gaithersburg (Mateen Etheridge), Damascus (Rashard Budd), and Walter Johnson (Michael Lumbuku).
From early in warm-ups, which was hardly anything more than a dunk contest, all the way to the waning seconds, when Epps, whose team was down seven with less than a minute remaining, attempted a 360-degree layup past Turner, there was a lax demeanor where winning was far from the top priority for either team.
“It was sort of like a homecoming in a sense,” said Anderson, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “Seeing all my friends that I played with these past couple years and it was just fun to come out here and play with all these guys.”
Nobody may have had more fun than Castagnetti, who averaged 13.2 points and 5 rebounds a game this season for the Vikings. The 6-foot-3 forward scored a game-high 18 points, all on 3-pointers, and he and Epps looked as though they may as well have been playing together since middle school.
Early in the second quarter, Epps shimmied one way and then hit Anderson with a crippling crossover the other way that put the Springbrook guard on the floor and, while the crowd crowed in appreciation, he slipped a pass to Castagnetti, who buried his fourth 3-pointer in less than four minutes.
“On J.J.’s move, I was shocked. I was scared I was going to miss that shot,” Castagnetti said. “I had to back him up for it. I was like, ‘You made a nice move’ and playing with a kid like J.J. is unbelievable. When he gets to the rim and he sees you, it’s unbelievable. It’s fun.”
Each player donning an All-Star uniform seemed to find their moment at some point or other. Grant busied himself by launching threes from so far back that even his own coach, Jay Tringone, who has given Grant the greenest of lights, may have disapproved. Senou and Witmer posted the only dunks of the game, White got Anderson again on a nifty step back crossover through his legs, and Anderson was spotted on more than several occasions cherry-picking, looking for a chance to “show my athleticism,” he said afterwards.
Not surprisingly, the coaches seemed to rather enjoy the luxury of picking between the county’s top 22 players to sub in.
“It’s nice, I mean, these kids just knock down shots,” said Porac, who took his Titans on a brief Cinderella run through the playoffs. “It’s like, you have to defend everyone. Everyone is athletic, they all know the game, it’s just fun and that’s what tonight was about.”
Green 105, White 98
Green 27 12 36 30 — 105
White 25 29 22 22 — 98
Green: Tomazye Anderson 15; Collin Turner 15; Tre Galloway 14; Justin Senou 14; Dominique Williams 12; Mateen Etheridge 9; Elliot Gambrell 8; Michael Lumbuku 8; Charles Porter 5; Rashard Budd 3; Kirby Carmack 2.
White: Andrew Castagnetti 18; Tyvon Grant 13; Josh Ogburn 14; Brandon Loiacono 11; Joey Destefano 8; J.J. Epps 8; Nick Griffin 6; Justin Witmer 6; Alex Sotomayor 6; Tyron White 5; Sean Vanduring 2.