Jim McCauley has watched enough competition at national Junior Olympics tournaments to know that winning a championship is an unrealistic dream for most teams.
So it was this week for the Maryland Hoopers, the state's entry in the Amateur Athletic Union's national 16-and-under tournament in Clovis, N.M.
After winning its first game Saturday, Maryland dropped two straight and was knocked out in the preliminary round, thereby ruling out any chance at a national basketball title.
"We didn't win a national championship, but we had fun," said McCauley, Maryland's assistant coach. "It's disappointing, because we were so close to moving on. We could just as easily have won both games that we lost."
The Maryland team got fine representation from Mount Hebron High School seniors Kris Bryant and Erica McCauley, Jim's daughter. Erica, Hebron's star point guard who played both guard positions for the Hoopers, scored 37 points in three games. Bryant, Hebron's star forward who was The Howard County Sun's Player of the Year last winter, also scored 37.
Maryland got off to a good start on Saturday against the host team from Clovis. The Hoopers took a 20-point lead early in the second half, then coasted to a 76-55 victory. Erica and Bryant each scored 13 points.
In their second game against Pacific Southern of Los Angeles, the Hoopers took a 28-22 lead in the first half, then saw Pacific go on a 16-4 run and never look back. Maryland lost, 79-70, as Bryant led the Hoopers with 15 points. Erica hit two three-pointers and scored eight points, but could get off only seven shots.
"We missed a ton of shots, we forced some things, and they blanketed Erica," Jim McCauley said. "We were out to lunch."
Maryland faced a quicker, taller team from Louisiana in its third game, which the Hoopers needed to win by six points to advance to the double-elimination round. And when Bryant and Randallstown's Nyota Mitchell -- the Hoopers' 6-foot forwards -- got into early foul trouble, it spelled big trouble for Maryland.
Louisiana eliminated Maryland, 76-67. Erica scored 16 points, including three three-pointers. Bryant added nine.
Sonia Chase, a 5-9 guard from McDonogh, scored 21 points and hit three treys against Louisiana. She was Maryland's leading scorer in the three games with 45 points.
"Some of these teams are so good and so athletic," said McCauley, who has watched or coached Erica in four national AAU tournaments. "I watched a game between New Jersey and Georgia. Each team had three girls over 6-2. I stood next to a girl from the Massachusetts team who was 6-6, 240.
"Erica says this is the best thing for her. With all the publicity she gets back home, she says this always humbles her and shows her how much she still needs to work."