North County's one-two punch

Boys basketball: Seniors Jerome Goodman and Mark Jennings, best friends off the court, are giving opponents of the 16th-ranked Knights multi-dimensional troubles, offensively and defensively.

February 11, 2000|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Jerome Goodman patrols the inside. He's become the first option on offense and an altering influence on defense.

Mark Jennings can fill in every blank. He's played every position this season and can focus on any part of the complete game he brings to the floor, whatever is needed at a particular time.

The North County Knights, ranked 16th with a 13-5 mark, are enjoying a breakthrough season, and coach Mike Francis is fast to credit this senior duo -- a multi-dimensional, one-two punch that has created match-up problems for one opponent after another.

"Jerome and Mark have meshed together quicker than anyone else we've had, and the rest of the team is starting to understand that we can go as far as they can get us," said Francis.

"I think the two of them have also come to realize that we go as they go."

Goodman and Jennings both were called up to varsity late in their sophomore seasons. Inseparable off the court and complimentary on it, the two have improved on different facets of their respective games to get the most out of their senior seasons.

A strong supporting cast -- 11 players back from last year's 10-13 season -- has done its share to help the Knights grab hold of second place in Anne Arundel.

The success starts with Goodman, a springy 6-foot-6 center, and Jennings, the 6-foot-5, do-it-all swingman.

"One night he may be on and I'm not, so we get him the ball, and I'll work on rebounding and blocking shots," said Goodman, who is averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds and 6.5 blocks a game.

"And some nights, I may be on, so he'll feed me the ball, and we just get it done. If someone is having an off-night, we pick up the slack in other places."

And the occasion when both have it all working?

"When we're both on, it's kind of hard to stop North County as a team," said Goodman. "Because when Mark is on and I'm on, then everyone else is clicking together, and we're getting it done."

That has been the case for much of the season, most recently apparent last Friday at Broadneck. Goodman hit for 20 points, and then Jennings decided it was his turn to take over the deciding minutes.

He hit a three-pointer from the top of the key in the final minute to give the Knights the lead and then found himself at the free-throw line one point ahead with 12 seconds left.

After he made two free throws, Jennings had himself a 21-point performance, and the Knights had secured a 73-70 win.

"I told the guys after the game that as a coach, you live for that one-point differential with your senior on the line and less than a minute left to win the game," said Francis. "Mark came through. He and Jerome both came through in the second half."

Jennings, averaging 14.7 points, four assists and seven rebounds a game, was more of a proven commodity coming into the season after a junior season in which he averaged 14 points a game.

The emergence of Goodman -- who's playing more comfortably and dominantly around the offensive basket , selecting his spots to block shots without piling up fouls, and running the floor better -- has given Francis plenty of options and opposing coaches plenty to worry about. Whom do you try to stop?

"People are slacking off me now more, because they have to respect Jerome. When he gets the ball inside, it's two points," said Jennings. "That takes a lot of pressure off the perimeter players now. But they can't sag too much -- then, they'll have to deal with me. It's like a one-two thing, and everything just flows real nice."

A strong bond

The flow continues off the court, where Jennings and Goodman are best of friends and both refer to the other as a brother. The connection is apparent when they're out on the floor.

"We play a two-man game sometimes, and Mark and I just have a bond that's real strong. I can't explain it in words, but it's there," said Goodman.

A message also comes with the success this season, which both Jennings and Goodman hope doesn't come to an end until the Knights make their first state playoff appearance at Cole Field House in College Park.

"We try to show a lot of determination and always encourage the younger players to always work hard," said Jennings. "It's very important that you give the effort, and if you put in the hard work, you can get anything done."

Goodman and Jennings are still weighing their college options.

Goodman, who won a state title in the high jump last spring, is looking for a college where he can compete in track and play basketball. He is thinking of studying computer science or math.

History has been a favorite subject with Jennings, who has a number of schools interested in him for basketball.

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