Through nine games, all of Brian Benden's expectations for this basketball season were coming true.
Benden's Atholton team was having a great season with a 7-2 record. He was leading the team in scoring with a 16.2 average. He was leading in assists with a 3.5 average. And he was shooting free throws at an 2 percent clip (32-for-39).
That rosy picture changed last Wednesday when he severely sprained his ankle during a game at Centennial.
Now, the starting point guard is looking at Jan. 28 as his earliest possible return to action, a setback that has been hard to swallow for the competitive junior.
It is certainly a blow to Atholton's county championship hopes.
"We're really going to miss him," Atholton coach Jim Albert said.
The injury happened two minutes into the second quarter against Centennial.
"At the top of the key I went up in the air for a steal and just got my fingers on the ball, but when I came down I landed on someone's ankle and it [Benden's ankle] rolled over," Benden said. "I've had sprained ankles four times before this, but this is the worst one."
Benden hung around long enough to see his team take a victory before heading to Kernan Hospital for treatment.
"I was glad there was nothing broken so I will be able to play again this season," he said.
Benden had played the best game of his career in the league-opening victory against Glenelg on Jan. 7. He scored a career-high 24 points, including 19 in the second half.
With Benden's help, the Raiders held off a fourth-quarter Glenelg comeback. The Gladiators sliced a 65-46 Atholton lead after three quarters to 69-60 with four minutes to play.
Benden then scored six of Atholton's next seven points as the Raiders went up 76-64.
"I have a lot of respect for him as a player," Glenelg coach Klaude Krannebitter said. "He's a package player, a triple threat. He can drive the hole, pull up and hit a jumper or shoot the three-pointer. There's not many of those kinds of players around."
Benden averaged 12.2 points as a sophomore when the Raiders struggled to a 10-12 season. His strengths are shooting, distributing the ball and quickness.
"He's one of the quickest guards in the county," Albert said. "And I think he's the best point guard. He brings the ball up court well against pressure and shoots free throws well late in games. He also plays defense and can shoot off the dribble or standing still."
Albert thinks Benden's scoring average could be much higher, but the Raiders have won half their games by big scores and Benden has sat out part of those games.
Benden has three-point shooting ability, hitting 12 of 31 from that range through nine games. He was 39-for-84 from two-point range.
He also had 13 steals, 20 rebounds and had made only 22 turnovers in the first nine games.
Only 5 feet 10 and 136 pounds, Benden plays like someone much bigger.
He's not afraid to drive the lane if he sees an opening. And he's a ballhawk defensively.
"I'm not intimidated or afraid to guard anyone," he said. "It motivates me when I have to play against a guy who is doing well."
"Like most of our team he plays with a high confidence level," Albert said.
Benden grew up in North Laurel and has played basketball since he was in fourth grade. It's his No. 1 sport although he played football for the first time last fall and caught 12 passes as a wide receiver.
He has played on an AAU basketball team with Atholton teammate Tony Stewart and last summer attended the Metro Index Summer Basketball Camp in Virginia.
Albert thinks that if Benden has a weakness it is a tendency to sometimes get down on himself when he's not playing well. "I think he needs to learn to put his mistakes behind him," Albert said.
But Benden sees his self-critical streak as a positive. "It motivates me and makes me play better," he said.
For now Benden is keeping the ankle elevated as much as possible, riding a stationary bike to keep up his conditioning and eagerly awaiting his return to the court. He attended Friday's game on crutches.
"This has been a great season because everyone is enthusiastic, competitive, passing the ball and playing together," he said.