25-0 Annapolis goes for its first 3A title

`It's ours to win or lose,' says veteran coach Brady, seeking first perfect season

Boys basketball

March 09, 2000|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Leading his team into Cole Field House for the 14th time in 23 seasons, Annapolis coach John Brady is in the Class 3A semifinals for the first time, positioned to go undefeated for the first time, and has the "super team" label, also a first.

Top-ranked Annapolis (25-0) makes its Maryland-record 25th appearance in the state tournament at College Park at 3 p.m. today against Montgomery County's Paint Branch (20-5).

Annapolis won state titles in 1974 under the late Al Laramore and in 1990 under Brady. Paint Branch, in its seventh appearance, last won a state title in 1977.

The biggest thing the teams have in common is that both are nicknamed Panthers, Annapolis from the East region, Paint Branch the West.

No. 13 Randallstown (22-3) plays Northern-Calvert (18-7) at 5 p.m. in the other semifinal, with the victors playing for the 3A state championship 3 p.m. Saturday at College Park.

"Usually there is a super team in each classification that comes into Cole as the one everybody expects to win it all," said Brady, whose previous 13 appearances with the Panthers were in Class 4A. None of those teams arrived undefeated.

"We're the super team that everybody wants to upset this year, but our players are very confident, as they should be. It's ours to win or lose."

Annapolis became the first Anne Arundel County team to go unbeaten in regular season at 22-0 and then beat three regional foes by an average margin of 36 points to set a county record for most consecutive wins (25).

The returning all-county big three -- junior point guard Marcus Neal (17 points, eight assists) and seniors Thomas Hawkins (19 points, seven rebounds) and Marcus Johnson (18 points, 6.5 boards) -- led the rampage.

Three times the Panthers have scored 100 or more points; six times they hit 90 or more.

"They're very quick with three [Neal, Hawkins, Johnson] legitimate Division I college prospects who have exceptional range and confidence," said Paint Branch assistant Keith Adams, who watched visiting Annapolis dismantle 16-10 DuVal, 70-49, in the East final.

Paint Branch hopes to counter Annapolis' perimeter game with a pair of 6-foot-5 big men and quick guards. "They have two impact players inside who can score around the basket, although they try to drive more than they post up," said Brady.

Junior forward Jamal Wise leads Paint Branch in scoring (21.8), rebounding (11.6) and blocked shots (3.0), and senior center Seye Aluko averages 11.8 points, 10 boards and two blocks.

Backcourters Mike Evans and Tamar Daley combined with small forward Seyi Oyenuga for another 15 points a game as the Montgomery Panthers outscored opponents 67-54 on average.

"We expect them to try and play up-tempo, but we run the floor pretty well, too," said second year Paint Branch coach Walter Hardy, whose team was 8-16 last season but is ranked 12th in the Washington area after upsetting then-No. 8 Wheaton, 65-56, in the West final.

"Our guys can play with anybody, and we have to play hard and aggressive against Annapolis," Hardy said.

From Brady's viewpoint: "We have to be able to rebound, stay out of foul trouble and shoot well. If we do those things, we should win. Like I said, it's ours to win or lose."

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