Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gwynn Park Yellow Jackets ready for another title run

Winters Mill awaits in Friday’s 2A semifinal

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Star
Gwynn Park’s Harold Washington sails toward the hoop against McDonough’s defense during Saturday’s 2A South Region final in Upper Marlboro.
The 2007-08 season has marked the re-emergence of the most successful boys’ high school basketball program in Maryland public schools history as Gwynn Park has won 25 of 26 games.

But as the Yellow Jackets recent history in the state semifinals has pointed out, the program’s 10 state titles mean nothing when a new year and another visit in the state Final Four arrive.

When the Yellow Jackets suit up to play Winters Mill in a state Class 2A semifinal at 9 p.m. Friday at Comcast Center, they will have a challenging task in front of them. The other three teams in the 2A Final Four — Randallstown, Wicomico and Winters Mill — have a combined 62-13 record. Gwynn Park beat Randallstown, 73-60, during the Christmas break.

Approaching the season with confidence, the Yellow Jackets figured they would be in this position.

‘‘We did think we were going to be state champions before the season started,” said senior standout Sean Thomas following Gwynn Park’s 72-56 victory against McDonough in the 2A South Region final. ‘‘We had that trust in each other. I believe if we stay focused and humble and continue to play our way, we should finish with a title.”

The Yellow Jackets have benefited from a deep corps of seniors and a number of juniors who have stepped up this season. Senior point guard and co-captain Harold Washington has been one of the county’s most impressive players, averaging 19 points, 12 rebounds and five assists per game. Meanwhile, junior forward Corey Anderson has been an important piece of the puzzle for the Yellow Jackets, averaging 15 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.

Throw in Thomas (21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) and senior multi-sport star Chibuike Achuko and Gwynn Park has a formidable lineup. But the Yellow Jackets may be without one important piece as senior forward Ronnell Leggett suffered three fractures of his left orbital bone, leaving Gwynn Park coach Mike Glick unsure about his availability.

Glick understands that Winters Mill, which features 6-foot-7 Rashad Blackwell (8.7 points, 8.1 rebounds) and star guard Cammeron Woodyard (20.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and three assists), will be a test.

‘‘They’re a great team, very well coached and have a great player going to Penn State,” Glick said of the Falcons and Woodyard, who has committed to PSU. ‘‘We have our work cut out for us.”

Gwynn Park should be wary of the task at hand because the team has lost three state finals this decade (2000, 2002 and 2004). The 2004 final, a 66-65 loss to Baltimore’s Douglass High in the final seconds, was particularly heartbreaking.

‘‘Based on what I’ve read about them, they are really well-coached,” Winters Mill coach David Herman said. ‘‘They play hard and get after the ball. Our kids play hard and I think real good defense and we’re ready to play.”

Glick said the Yellow Jackets have another factor on their side.

‘‘I feel if we survived the county, then we can compete with anyone in the state,” Glick said. ‘‘I think [Prince George’s] County has a great feeder system and having four [boys] teams make it [to the state semifinals] from all four classifications shows that we’re the best basketball county in the state and in the nation.”

E-mail Terron Hampton at thampton@gazette.net.

Boys Class 2Astate semifinals

Gwynn Park (25-1) vs.Winters Mill (19-5)

When: 9 p.m. Friday.

Where: Comcast Center,University of Maryland,College Park.

Players to watch: Gwynn Park — Sean Thomas (21 ppg, 10 rpg, 7 apg); Harold Washington (19 ppg, 12 rpg); Corey Anderson (15 ppg, 13 rpg, 9 apg). Winters Mill — Cammeron Woodyard (20.5 ppg); Devon Lesniak (14.6 ppg). a