County still waiting for next trip to Cole


March 23, 1994|By BILL FREE

Spring is here.

Another winter has come and gone without a Carroll County boys basketball team playing in the state tournament at the University of Maryland.

Cole Field House dreamin' has been just that for county high school basketball players over the past five seasons.

Where have the likes of Geoff Rupert and Bobby Briggs gone?

They were the kind of talented young basketball players who defied the odds and led South Carroll to the state Class 3A championship game in 1989.

Briggs gave up basketball after high school, but Rupert went on to make a name for himself at Washington College where he recently completed an outstanding four-year career in which he scored more than 1,000 points.

Rupert rates that trip to Cole Field House at the top of his list of thrills as a basketball player.

"It was like a whole different place," he said. "You could fit all of Carroll County in that gym. Playing there was something people here almost never do."

The obvious question is how did Rupert, Briggs and company accomplish such an unusual feat?

"Our whole team was just outstanding athletes," said Rupert. "And we were pretty smart. Our sixth man was Mike Landry who went to South Carolina and played football. One of our starters, Warren Bell, played football at East Carolina. Our center, Den Dutton, transferred to South Carroll from Frederick County. Our other starter was Rob Belluomo. We worked hard and wanted to win."

Rupert was a 6-foot-5 junior point guard on that 1988-89 South Carroll team and Briggs was a 6-6 senior forward. Rupert averaged 13 points and Briggs 28 points.

"I wasn't that nervous once we got to Cole Field House," said Rupert. "I was more nervous in the regional final at Westminster High School, where we beat Thomas Johnson to get to College Park. There were a lot of people packed into that gym."

South Carroll blitzed Towson High in the state semifinals that year before losing to a talented Potomac team in the championship game.

Moments after that loss to Potomac, Rupert was interviewed by a Carroll County cable television station and he said: "After being here this year, we're going to have to work that much harder next year to make it back down here."

With Briggs graduating, very few people figured the Cavaliers had much of a chance to even come close to Cole Field House in 1990.

But Rupert almost willed South Carroll into the state tournament in his senior season, averaging 19.9 points and 7.8 assists a game and leading the Cavaliers within one victory of a return trip to the state 3A tourney. Oakland Mills defeated South Carroll in the regional final.

It has been said that Rupert might be the smartest basketball player to ever come out of Carroll County.

One longtime observer of basketball in the county said: "Geoff Rupert taught three different teams how to play basketball in his three seasons at South Carroll."

Make no mistake about it, he could play the game.

After all, he grew up on the Johns Hopkins basketball team bench watching his father, Gary, coach the Blue Jays and lived, ate and slept the game 24 hours.

Gary Rupert, who played at Bloomsburg State, taught his son all the fundamentals of the game and the little tricks a player needs when not blessed with an abundance of athletic talent.

Gary Rupert was the first to admit he got by more on brains than brawn on the court.

Rupert said proudly of his son: "Geoff was a team leader who put the ball in the hands of other players and made them better players. He was so team-oriented that you didn't know he was scoring 19 or 20 points until the game was over. He was not a shooter but a scorer. There's a big difference."

Geoff Rupert scored most of his points in high school and college off steals, offensive rebounds and fast breaks.

"I don't have much of a jump shot," said Geoff.

Veteran South Carroll athletic director Fred Baker said of Rupert: "He was probably as complete a player as ever played here. He was a good ball-handler, rebounder and could do a lot of different things well."

Not only did Geoff Rupert have his father to teach him the game of basketball but he had two older brothers to play against all the time.

There was Gary, now 27, and Greg, 24, who both played basketball, lacrosse and football at Liberty High. Gary went on to be a starting quarterback at Johns Hopkins, and Greg was a midfielder and attackman at Washington College.

"It's kind of interesting how they all went their separate ways in sports in college," said the elder Rupert. "But they competed against each other in all three sports [basketball, lacrosse and football] in the backyard."

Geoff Rupert said he veered away from lacrosse after trying to play goalkeeper against his brother Greg's shots and he never really liked football that much.

Basketball was Geoff's game and he was good enough to attract recruiting letters from Division I schools such as Southwest Missouri State, Bucknell and Drexel.

"They all told me I might be able to play for them by my junior year," said Geoff. "But I knew my basketball career would be over after college, so I wanted to play all four years. That's why I chose Washington College and it was everything I expected it to be."

When asked why Carroll County hasn't produced more players capable of leading their teams to the state tournament, Geoff said: "It's probably the area. There is no place to play basketball year round or after school. There are no playgrounds open at night and the schools aren't open to play in. I used to play on a 9-foot rim on a garage just so I could play."

Maybe Geoff Rupert has a good point in this continuing problem of putting together outstanding high school boys basketball teams in Carroll County.

Building more outdoor courts is worth a try.

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