Imagine an SUV. That’s the Henry A. Wise High School boys’ basketball team. That’s Micah Till.
It’s powerful, strong, balanced and smooth with a little giddy-up and plenty of room for teammates. It’s a great car, and like any great vehicle, it needs a driver. Not just any driver — it needs the best.
Wise has exactly that. It has Justice Sneed.
“I look at our team, and we always talk about the car of this team, and Micah Till is the car of this team,” coach Rob Garner said. “But the driver is Justice Sneed. He’s the driver of the car. Now Micah Till, we’re going to go where he rolls, but Justice Sneed is the driver.
“We’re more of an SUV. We’re big, we’re diesel, man. We want to play a power game. In the past, we’ve been quicker, we’ve been more of a sports car. But we’re an SUV and that’s not something we’re going to hide.”
The same analogy could have been made for Eleanor Roosevelt last year. The Raiders were built nearly identical — big man who can make a three, athletic swingmen, deep bench, tremendous point guard — to this Wise team, the county’s best shot at keeping Maryland’s 4A crown in Prince George’s. If Emmanuel Matey was the driver of Roosevelt, the county’s SUV last year, the keys have been tossed to Sneed.
Unlike most point guards, an inherently altruistic bunch whose numbers don’t quite pop as most other positions’ do, Sneed’s value is clear as day on paper, if not only because the Pumas went two games without him. While Kyle Hill was fine in replacement, Wise was a shell of its former self. With Sneed saddled by illness, a flu he caught overnight that made a gym “feel like negative 10 degrees,” he said, it needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat DuVal and all 32 minutes to beat 6-11 Oxon Hill by five.
“To me, it makes a world of difference,” Garner said. “He was out two games and we were clinging for our lives. Kyle Hill did a solid job, a real solid job, man, but nobody does it better than Justice. He’s our leader. They have a little saying ‘In Just we trust.’ That shows how much they look to him.”
When Sneed returned, there was no more need for clinging. The Pumas thumped Bowie, Northwestern, and Suitland by double-digit margins, scoring 75, 73, and 76 in each, respectively, leaving just one remaining game, an all-but guaranteed result against winless High Point, separating them from a perfect league record. Which is funny, because going undefeated in the league was never even on the lengthy list of goals Wise set out to achieve this year — it was just added along the ride.
“Our goal was to get to the county championship,” Sneed said. “Once we beat Roosevelt and Bowie, we knew it was possible [to go undefeated], and we set out to prove we were the best team in the county.”
There was a time not too long ago when Sneed didn’t want to be the best at anything on a basketball court. His passion had faded after elementary school. Football, he decided, was a better fit. So he didn’t touch a basketball for a few years until one day, during a basketball unit in gym class, Sneed wowed the teacher to the point he earned an invite to the local travel team, which the teacher coached.
“I just realized the love for basketball was back,” he said. He never put shoulder pads and a helmet on again.
In Sneed’s first two years of high school, he played for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference’s Bishop McNamara, playing well enough to start his sophomore year, but he decided for a number of reasons to transfer to Wise. He had heard nothing but good things of Garner and the program the coach was running.
“He wasn’t going to hand anything to me,” Sneed remembered, “and I respected him for that.”
Now, almost two years later, Garner has handed Sneed the keys to his SUV.
“I see that we got a whole bunch of different puzzle pieces,” Sneed said. “My role is just to make them fit in the right place, so nobody is doing too much, everybody is getting some love.”
As most every team’s goal goes, Wise’s is set on the Comcast Center, site of the state tournament. The point guard has embraced his responsibility of a safe arrival.
“I’m just there making sure everybody’s going the right direction,” he said, “making sure we’re making the right turns, making sure we get to Comcast.”