Just when Ken Dunn thinks he has seen it all from his young basketball team this season, another series that catches his eye unfolds.
"Look at that," he said, sitting at the far end of the gymnasium and pointing to his South River players during an exhausting five-on-fivepractice session Wednesday afternoon.
"There's a sophomore passing to a sophomore, with a sophomore blocking the shot and another sophomore getting the garbage points."
One of those second-year players, co-captain Darren Hall, especially has been worth watching this season.
Hall, 15, ranked as the county's third-leading scorer at 19.7 points a game going into Friday's tussle with rival Southern. He nearly has doubled his scoring average of last year, when he burst onto the scene as a skilled freshman seemingly unfazed by the pressures of varsity competition.
"He came to us with a lot of good fundamentals," Dunn said. "He was very fundamentally sound; a good passer and very unselfish. And we were pleasantlysurprised at his ability under fire. You'd figure he'd get his head handed to him, but he came out of it pretty good."
His toughness comes, in part, from a three-year stint with the D.C. Express, a nationally ranked Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic team.
"That's the best competition you'll play against all year," Hall said.
He also participated in the physically demanding Annapolis Men's Summer League at Truxtun Park, teaming with 17-year-old South River junior point guard Al Lee.
"Most of the guys are 20 and over, so we're playing against some high-caliber people," Lee said.
"I knew Darren was going to come into his own this year. He mainly has me and (junior guard) John Bolster dishing out the assists. We'll just throw the ball into him for points, or he'll throw it back out for the outside jumper."
Perhaps Hall's smartest maneuver this year came off the court, when he enrolled in a weight-training class during the first semester and added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame.
"He really improvedhis vertical leap and his upper-body strength," Dunn said of Hall, whose weight now fluctuates between 200 and 205 pounds. "It's helped his maturation physically."
Hall, who grew up in Prince George's County and moved to Davidsonville three years ago, has scored in doublefigures in every game this season, including a career-high 32 pointsagainst Chesapeake on Feb. 8.
But as Dunn explains, this isn't bydesign.
"We have talked to people about seeing if we can get the ball into him, or with Al Lee, if he's hot we'll try to get it to him. But we don't diagram specific plays for them," Dunn said. "We have a rule here that if you're open 10 to 12 feet from the basket, shoot it.
"I want them to know their roles, but I don't want them to back down from an open shot. Then again, I don't want these guys doing dipsy-doodles and all this fancy stuff when they don't need to, either."
A lack of leadership -- the roster contains only two seniors, and neither starts -- contributed to a skid that saw South River lose six of seven games before defeating Pallotti Tuesday, 66-49, to clinch a spot in the 3A Region IV playoffs.
"We don't have that one kidright now, because of the maturation process, who has filled that role," Dunn said. "We could call Darren our leader inside, and Al Lee our leader outside. (Junior forward) Edmund Hicks once in a while comes on and takes a little bit of a leadership role."
Chesapeake coach Tom Kraning witnessed Hall taking charge against his team earlier this month in South River's 64-57 overtime win.
"When they needed abasket, they went to him," Kraning said. "And when he got the ball, he didn't beat himself. He knew what to do. He was constantly taking advantage of lapses in our weak-side defense. He's a solid ballplayerwho gets the job done."
Though hardly a one-dimensional player, Hall admits he needs to improve defensively.
"I have to work on my footwork and my legs need some work," he said. "Some added quickness would help my defense."
"Like a lot of big guys, he has a tendencyto use his height instead of his feet," Dunn said. "He's getting better, though. He's not on a downgrade."
That said, Dunn returns hisattention to the scrimmage, where
Hall snatches a rebound and fires an outlet pass to Lee, who slowly brings the ball up court, spots a seam between two defenders and bursts up the middle.
As a third defender steps up from underneath the basket, Lee directs a perfectly placed bounce pass to Hall on the wing for a driving lay up.
Dunn smiles and nods his approval. Another shining moment from his young players doesn't go unnoticed.