If Oakland Mills wins its sixth straight boys county basketball championship next winter, a sophomore phenom named Mike Hill will have likely played a key role.
Hill, who averaged 24 points and 16 rebounds as a freshman on the Scorpions junior varsity last season, is already being touted as one of the best county players to come along in the past decade.
"He's a Quinton Burton type of player," said Joe Lewis, Hill's cousin and summer league coach. Burton played at Hammond and went on to a fine college career at Providence before turning to pro ball in Sweden.
Those close to Hill think he has Division I college potential.
"If he continues to improve, he's Division I caliber for sure," said Ciaran Lesikar, Oakland Mills' junior varsity coach. "His raw talent is so tremendous. He's a natural offensive rebounder who's a smooth slasher. Once he develops a few more moves he'll be really tough."
Hill is 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, and looks like he'll grow a few more inches.
"He's by far the best freshman I've coached," Lesikar said. "Other teams totally keyed on him and double-teamed him last year."
Some of Hill's freshman feats last season are already becoming legend.
He scored 45 points in the last game of the season. That's close to the 51-point county varsity record set by Barry Young, former Mount Hebron great who played at the UNLV.
In another game, Hill scored 36 points and had 25 rebounds.
"He's a quiet kid who does what you tell him, but he's very competitive and hates to lose," Lesikar said.
Hill was tearing up the Kennedy Summer League before an untimely suspension derailed him and his team.
Oakland Mills, which won just one game in the league last year, jumped out to a 3-0 start behind the scoring of Hill and Chad Barr. Hill was scoring more than 20 points per game.
But in the fifth game, Hill was suspended for the remainder of the 10-game season for cursing at a referee.
"I said one word after being called for traveling," Hill said.
Lewis thinks the suspension is too severe.
"There's nothing in the rules about cursing, and the only suspension mentioned is one game for fighting," Lewis said. "So are they saying that cursing is worse than fighting? He's a first-time offender who never opens his mouth."
Minus four starters (Hill, Barr, Jerome Ware and Rick Alvarado), Oakland Mills dropped to a 4-3 record Thursday night, losing to Good Counsel, 68-41.
Oakland Mills had been tied for second with Good Counsel, both 4-2, in Division II behind Archbishop Carroll, 6-1.
The caliber of the league's competition is high. DeMatha High School, the perennial Washington, D.C., powerhouse, is in Division I and had a 5-1 record, trailing Kennedy, 6-1.
Hill learned his game playing against Lewis, a former football, basketball and baseball star at Oakland Mills, and an uncle, Kevin Hill, who was an outstanding player for Glenelg.
"When he was younger we used to beat up on him and make him play us one-on-one until he could get within three points," said Lewis, who played college football at Temple.
Hill spent last summer playing in the Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League and has played in both the Howard County Youth Program and Columbia Basketball Association leagues.
Hill also plays against older competition in a men's recreation league with Lewis.
"You have to throw him in the pool and make him swim. So far he's been swimming," Lewis said.
A week ago, the Oakland Mills squad spent a week at a team camp in Delaware playing four games a day. "We lost in the semifinals by one point in overtime, so we did well there," Lewis said. "We're young but play well as a team."
Lewis doesn't think Hill will have any trouble adjusting to varsity play.
One of Hill's goals playing summer league ball is to get used to the more physical style of varsity teams.
"Sometimes it gets intimidating, but most times I can handle it," he said.
Hill's varsity coach next season, Dave Appleby, describes him as a quality player who does his job.
"He's persistent and gets after you."