As first impressions go, Aaron King was at a severe disadvantage to the typical transfer student.
Barely three months prior to switching over to Gaithersburg High School by way of Quince Orchard, the 5-foot-4 King had orchestrated a summer basketball playoff win at the buzzer against the Trojans. About a dozen weeks later, King had shed the Cougars’ red and black for Trojans’ blue and gold, and he was teamed up with the very opponents he had eliminated from the playoffs.
There was, however, at least one person who was eager to welcome the former rival.
“I knew what he could do watching him play in the summer league,” Gaithersburg coach Tom Sheahin said. “He was the main reason we lost. If he was 5-11, 6-0, he’d be a major Division I recruit.”
King’s transition has been a seamless one, and it has led to a 13-2 start for the running and gunning Trojans.
Sheahin, prior to learning of King’s decision to transfer, had fully planned for this year’s team to be half-court based. Lacking a true point guard, the first-year coach was prepared to assign ball-handling duties to Dion Etheridge, a natural shooting guard more comfortable on the wing, which would have required a much methodical, slower-paced game. But King arrived, and all off-season half-court plans went out the window.
“He was the piece that we were missing,” the coach said. “I was going to have Dion, my shooting guard, play point. I don’t want to say we were going to be walking the ball up the court, but we were going to be more of a half court team. Aaron gave us options.”
After an 83-59 victory over Clarksburg on Dec. 20 — the Trojans’ fifth game of the season — King was averaging 10.6 assists per game as Gaithersburg eclipsed 80 in every single contest to that point.
“It really helps us spread the floor,” said Anthony Tarke, Gaithersburg’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. “We have shooters on the team who we know can knock down the shot and that’s how he’s averaging 10 assists a game, because he’s a pass-first point guard. That’s what benefits us.”
Sheahin has been coaching basketball for more than two decades. He’s usually a systematic kind of guy, having specific plays and specific sets for certain kinds of defenses and situations. In fact, he gave a detailed explanation of his press break: get the ball to Aaron King.
“We don’t have a press break set up,” the coach said. “It’s get the ball to Aaron and I’ve never done that in 25 years. He’s that quick.”
And there are, of course, the point guard intangibles. King has those too.
“I usually call plays from the sidelines and call the defenses out and Aaron does that,” Sheahin said. “They don’t come around too often. I’ll ask him what defense they’re in and what offense we should run and what defense we should be in and he’ll let me know.”
This type of autonomy out on the court has been one of King’s favorite aspects of transferring from Quince Orchard.
“At QO we ran set offenses all the time,” he said. “You don’t get to run. At Gaithersburg we run all the time and shoot whenever we’re open.”
Being a diminutive 5-4, King is nearly always the smallest player on the floor. This hasn’t stopped him from carving through the lane and either dishing it to an open man underneath or taking it all the way to finish for two of his 9.7 points per game. After playing summers with the Germantown Hardknocks Amateur Athletic Union team — where he created a chemistry with the Etheridge brothers — he’s a bit used to staring up at his defenders.
“It’s just heart,” he said. “You got to have the heart to play the game. I don’t think about my height. I just go out and try to be biggest player on the floor.”
While physically, that’s entirely unrealistic. But Sheahin will argue that King is invariably the quickest, the most selfless, the fastest and often the smartest. And, with the recent trend the coach has noticed paralleling a team’s post-season success with a bona fide point guard, those attributes portend a late run this March.
“In high school basketball play, you’ve got to have a good point guard,” he said. “If you look at the teams who win state championships, they have smart guard, fast guards who are good under pressure.”