Chris Rueckert's first love was swimming, but when you grow to 6 feet 7, you learn to be fickle.
Rueckert, who was literally and figuratively wet behind the ears when he took up the sport of basketball as a freshman, quietly has transformed from an aquatic standout to Harford County's most productive center.
"Chris has been improving every game," said C. Milton Wright coach George Constantine. "His confidence is growing and he's starting to realize what he can do."
It wasn't always this way.
When Rueckert exchanged his Speedos and goggles for baggy shorts and high-tops three years ago as a freshman, he had the height (6-5), but lacked the skills needed to excel on the hardwood.
"He was a project that needed to be worked on, a lot," said Ron Dove, an assistant coach who helped convince Rueckert to play basketball. "I hate to force a kid to do anything, but when you see a kid his size, it makes you want to get him to play so that it can help pay for his college one day.
"We knew if he improved and grew a little bit more, we could get him to a point where he could play in college."
At times this season, Rueckert, who is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds, has looked like a Division I prospect, while at other times -- like last Tuesday's four-point effort against Edgewood -- his 235-pound frame has faded into the backdrop.
The senior's brightest moment came in C. Milton Wright's 82-58 victory over Fallston last month, when he led the Mustangs with 31 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks and earned the Baltimore Sun's Athlete of the Week honors. That same week, the Forest Hill resident had 23 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks in a 72-51 victory over Joppatowne.
Rueckert's humbling experience on Tuesday helped end the Mustangs' winning streak at 10 games, but he has been the difference other times. The 18-year-old senior had 22 points in a win over North Harford, 20 points in a victory over Harford Tech and 25 in a 69-48 drubbing of Havre de Grace on Friday.
"I think the loss to Edgewood was good for us because it gave us a reality check," said Rueckert, who hit only two of 10 shots from the floor while being double- and triple-teamed by the Rams. "We won 10 straight before that game and we were kind of coasting, but now we realize we still have six games left and we know what can happen if we're not up for a game."
Rueckert also realizes that his success wouldn't be possible without his teammates, none of whom started for last year's region finalist team.
"We have a very unselfish team and the perimeter people work hard to get him the basketball and he's aware of that," said Constantine, whose team improved to 12-5 overall, 7-2 in the league, after Friday night's win over Havre de Grace.
"He's experienced success this season and it has kind of been contagious. His brother Dave [Rueckert], Duane [Fisher], Rob [Spicer], Marcus [Perkins], Pete [Troilo], Chris Russell, Korey [Smith], Will [Steedman], Chris Wilson, John Brooks, they've all caught it."
Like all of his teammates, Chris Rueckert knows his game still has great room for improvement. He also understands that for his team to be successful down the stretch, it is going to have to learn to adjust to collapsing defenses.
Coach Dove says he is confident that Rueckert will make the necessary adjustments, and he should know. After all, he's the one who convinced him to take up the sport in the first place.
"I had his older sister, Elise, in my math class and I heard about a 6-5 freshman coming in from the middle school and when I found out it was her brother, I asked if he would be interested in playing basketball and she immediately said, 'No,' " said Dove. "She told me, 'He's a swimmer. Everyone in our family swims.'"
And some can play basketball, too.