Experience counts for Eagles' Laycock Well traveled: Playing soccer in South America and Europe has helped the Centennial center prepare for the rigors of basketball.

January 21, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

In terms of physical age, Centennial center Matt Laycock is young. The junior turns 17 tomorrow.

But calculate his age in terms of sports and travel experience, and the bottom line is an athlete who is not afraid to compete with the most seasoned of athletes.

"There's not a center in the league I'd trade him for," Centennial coach Jim Hill said. "I know Wilde Lake's Carl Jackson [a 6-foot-8 Penn State recruit] is a nice player, but Laycock's a greyhound who can run all day."

Basketball is Laycock's second sport, one that he'll leave behind after next season in favor of a college soccer scholarship. He's a national under-17 soccer team member who has played in Ecuador, El Salvador, Chile, Holland and Germany.

But to watch the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder play basketball, one would guess he could easily play college basketball some day.

"He's smart, instinctive and seldom out of position," Hill said. "He's versatile, tenacious and adept at keeping the ball alive and following a missed shot. He also plays good defense and handles the ball well. Of all the good players we have, he'd be the hardest to replace."

Laycock, leads the Eagles by averaging 14 points and seven rebounds. He scored 18 points in Thursday's 60-47 victory over Oakland Mills.

His best game this season was a 21-point, 10-rebound effort against Glenelg.

"I'm a slasher-type of player with no one strength," Laycock said. "I try to do the fundamentals right."

He started playing basketball at age 10, two years after he started soccer.

His Howard County Youth Program travel basketball team, which included three other starting Eagles, Scott Bross, Denny Chapmen and Brian Otten, won two Baltimore City League championships in the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups.

Those teams played against such outstanding players as Dunbar's Tommy Polley and St. Francis' Mark Karcher.

Laycock averaged 12 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore, but missed eight games due to soccer commitments.

"It was a disappointment to miss six league games," he said.

This season he won't miss any games because the under-18 national soccer team won't be picked until March, and the under-17 team has completed its season.

His Columbia City United club soccer team played in the Dallas Showcase and the Richmond Showcase back-to-back weekends in December.

Because of that, Laycock didn't really hit his stride in basketball until the North Carroll Holiday Tournament.

"He's looked good ever since," Hill said. "He hit some clutch shots against Howard and scored when we needed it against Oakland Mills. His best games are in front of him."

Laycock considers Patrick Ngongba, when Ngongba played for Mount Hebron last season, to be the toughest player he's faced.

"Ngongba was all muscle," Laycock said. "But Wilde Lake's Carl Jackson is also tough."

Playing those guys doesn't quite compare to the toughness needed to play against the Ghanian soccer team that won the under-17 FIFA World Championship, however.

Nor does it compare to the stress created by playing soccer in war-torn countries such as El Salvador and Ecuador.

"El Salvador was scary because we had guys with guns guarding the center we stayed at. There was a guerrilla war going on that could erupt at any time," Laycock said. "And we had to leave Ecuador two days early because of a boundary war with Peru."

Another sports accomplishment that Laycock is proud of, in addition to Centennial's back-to-back state soccer titles, is his improvement at shooting free throws.

"As a freshman [on junior vasity] I shot 35 percent and received the FOWL shooting award from our coach Ed Trout who has a sense of humor," Laycock said. This season Laycock is shooting 85 percent at the line.

The JV went 18-1 his freshman year and is a source of pride for Laycock. At 8-1, the Eagles still have a shot at matching that record.

"But we still have a long way to go," he said.

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