The Takoma Academy boys’ basketball team is all about “putting money in the bank,” says senior Charles Vines. The first deposit, though, came in August, well before the season’s official start in November.
At the time, it had been recently announced the team would be under the tutelage of first-year coach Jerry McFarland, who attracted a few new transfers, and he would be bringing an entirely different system by which to navigate a schedule with a serious uptick in difficulty. A “team bonding” moment was in dire need.
So McFarland took his new-look team to Mount St. Mary’s for a weekend team camp from Aug. 3-4, a road trip where its only friends and family would be teammates and coaches.
“We were playing against a whole lot of different styles of basketball and for us to be away from home and together — there’s something about being away from home that helps you come together,” McFarland said. “There’s no distractions. For us, being away from home, the kids decided it was more me giving them directions and them setting out and pursuing the goals they wanted to accomplish.”
Vines remembers the first game at The Mount, though not necessarily the opponent, trivial information in retrospect.
“We didn’t even get to stretch,” Takoma’s second-leading scorer (11.9 points per game) recalled. “We lost. But the coaches brought us together. In basketball, you got to put money in the bank. That’s what [McFarland] always tells us. You have to put in what you expect to get out. You put money in you’re going to get interest.”
And, as interest goes with banks, it accrued slowly for Takoma. The Tigers dropped two of their first three in the McFarland-era. A week later, following consecutive wins over St. Alban’s and Evangel Christian, they lost three straight and another two games later, allowing their record to slip two games below .500.
“Sometimes kids coming through middle school and church league, they feel like they just got to walk out there and they’re going to win,” McFarland said. “It’s just building a culture of practicing hard and working hard every day. Our best player won’t always start but the kids who worked the hardest or our best rebounder — he’ll start every day.”
McFarland claims he had several offers to coach for schools considered to be in the area’s upper-echelon, and he has coached a number of that ilk — Riverdale Baptist for two years, Bishop Ireton for 14 and Calvin Coolidge for another two. He took Takoma for the challenge of building a program, putting his footprint on a school.
And a challenge is exactly what he inherited. A cursory glance at the roster reveals all 13 players standing 6-foot-4 or below to match up against national powers such as Montrose Christian, Paul VI and Riverdale Baptist, and local’s with plenty of strength in Clinton Christian, Bullis, National Christian and Potomac (Va.).
McFarland didn’t just accept a difficult schedule, either. He practically doubled it.
“We could have made things a lot easier on ourselves,” he said. “We didn’t have to play Montrose twice, we didn’t have to play Clinton Christian twice, we didn’t have to play National Christian twice or Paul VI. We felt like that with a schedule like that, it’s going to better them as individuals. The kids want to play, and sometimes the best way to get exposure is to play these loaded teams.”
Matching up against coveted recruits such as Montrose’s Allonzo Trier and Riverdale’s Chinanu Onuaku is precisely why leading scorer Olyadoyin Fadojutimi transferred from High Point over the summer. Public schools were challenging, sure, but he wanted more. McFarland provided the perfect fit.
“It was just something I was more excited about,” he said. “Paul VI, Riverdale Baptist — that is just playing against the best. I realized I have to play at different paces at this level.”
There comes a point, though, where playing such a thorny schedule is only worthwhile if the team can compete. McFarland has twice vindicated his decision to load up the slate. The first came just as it all began: away from home.
The coach took his team to Texas for a holiday tournament, hosted by Southwestern Adventist University, and Takoma came home with a trophy in hand, the school’s first-ever win at the tournament. The second such moment came with a stunning, 66-65, win over Montrose on Jan. 6, another first.
“I like our schedule because I feel like no one else would take us seriously if we had an easy schedule,” Vines said. “You got to beat the best.”