Around much of these parts, the crocuses are out and the daffodils are ready to open. But it's also tournament time and, in Columbia, the late bloomers are getting the attention.
After a miserable 2-7 start, Wilde Lake (16-9) has reached the semifinals in Class 2A and, after some rocky moments earlier in the season, the Wildecats' Phil Chenier Jr. is coming along quite nicely, too. The blossoming of each has been symbiotic.
"He was up and down," said Wilde Lake coach Paul Ellis. "As we started to mature as a team, he started to mature as a player. He's giving the ball up and getting it back. As he's developed as a player, the team has developed as a team. He was the most talented player we have, but not the most productive. Now he's becoming the most productive, too. He's our major rebounder at both ends."
Chenier just turned 17 in October. Though he carries 180 pounds on his 6-foot-4 1/2 frame, he's still maturing physically. He already has the maturity to carry his famous name. His father was an NBA All-Star guard with the Bullets in the 1970s, and that sometimes created unfair expectations for him.
"I think it's happened," he said. "People kind of want you to pick up where he left off. That's not really fair to ask of a high school kid . . . I don't think you can listen to it. I have no control over what anybody says or writes. I just go out and play basketball and let the chips fall where they may."
The chips and, after an early-season slump, the shots are falling right for Chenier. After a 32-point effort against Hammond in the regional championship game he's averaging 16.3, second on the team to senior guard Joe Guyton (17.8). Senior captain Randy Miller adds 12.8.
Chenier didn't devote himself to basketball until last year. In fact, he played soccer at Wilde Lake through 10th grade. "I kind of outgrew soccer," he said. "All those little guys out there trying to sweep your legs out from under you."
Last summer he attended the Metro Index basketball camp, played well and was the camp's MVP for the week -- a real confidence booster. It's that intangible -- his new confidence level -- that has given Chenier his greatest personal satisfaction this season, and he's proud of it.
"Before, I'd say, 'Maybe I can take this guy.' I'd hesitate. I know you have up and down games. You have to know what type of player you are. I'm a good player. I think I'm a real good player at this level. At the next level I'll probably have to start all over again and work my up."
But his immediate concern is Edgewood (23-1), whom the BTC Wildecats play tomorrow at Cole Field House (7 p.m.). Edgewood is one of the four top seeds, all from the Baltimore area. Other semifinal pairings at Cole involving area teams include Class 1A Joppatowne (18-4, No. 1 seed) vs. Williamsport (14-11, No. 4) tomorrow at 5 p.m. Today, it's Class 3A Catonsville (24-0, No. 1) vs. Oakland Mills (17-7, No. 4) at 5 p.m., and Class 4A defending champion Annapolis (21-3, No. 1) vs. Parkdale (19-5, No. 4) at 9 p.m.