S. Carroll is thrilled by crossover move

Basketball: Marshall Strickland, one of the nation's best-regarded players, has transferred from powerful DeMatha, much to the surprise and pleasure of a school not known for the sport.

January 08, 2001|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Right arm extended, South Carroll's Marshall Strickland soars toward the basket after splitting two Wilde Lake defenders. A third defender darts forth from Strickland's right, attempting to block the shot. In a blink, he flips the basketball to his left hand and finishes the layup, leaving the surprised defender swatting at air.

A few minutes later, the nationally touted 6-foot-2 junior point guard, playing his first home game for his newly adopted Cavaliers, drives the paint again. This time, the ball blurs as he curls it behind his back into his left hand and lays it off the backboard, thwarting a pair of astonished defenders.

Both moves by Strickland, who transferred from national power DeMatha in December after playing just three games for the Stags, elicit roars from a large crowd that percolates with excitement in anticipation of a season filled with such high-level moves - a season suddenly ripe with enhanced team possibilities.

"We thought it'd be a rebuilding year," Josh Boone, a 6-6 junior center, says after the 70-55 victory over Wilde Lake. "Now we're thinking we can go somewhere. He takes the pressure off me and has boosted our confidence. He raises the level of everyone else's play. And I've never seen a point guard who can make passes like he can."

After starting 1-1 without him, the Cavaliers have won their next six with him. Strickland averages 27 points and four assists, and he provides the leadership and extraordinary floor presence that would coalesce any team.

His best performance came in the final of the Ron Engle Holiday Classic on Dec. 29 at Middletown High. He scored 31 points, had eight assists and made four steals, rallying the Cavs from a 40-35 deficit midway through the third quarter by scoring 20 points in the final 12 minutes, handing South Hagerstown its first loss, 68-52.

On top of all that, Strickland brings a 3.9 grade-point average to South Carroll.

"He's stepped in like he's been here all season," South Carroll coach Jim Carnes said. "He's a leader with a great work ethic. He's physically strong, a great ballhandler, works hard on defense and learns quickly. We're happy to have a great kid who's a good student."

Strickland's fancy moves and scoring-and-passing prowess have initiated him favorably into his new small-town basketball environment and illustrate why the hype that follows him is not bogus.

Many publications and rating services place him among the top 25 juniors in the country, with Athlon Sports magazine ranking him as the fifth-best junior.

The hype began after he helped The Winchendon School, a 180-student Boston-area boarding-school team to the National Prep Invitational Tournament championship as a freshman in 1998-99. He averaged nine points and five assists that season.

He followed that with a solid sophomore season, averaging 14 points, six assists and three steals.

Short DeMatha career

After his father accepted a new job in Maryland last summer and the family moved in August, the hype followed Strickland to DeMatha in Hyattsville, where legendary coach Morgan Wootten has directed the Stags to five national titles and a 1,223-189 record.

Strickland's Hyattsville honeymoon was short-lived, however. After playing just three games this season for DeMatha, a Catholic school of 900 boys located in an urban area about a 75-minute commute from his new home in Mount Airy, Strickland transferred to South Carroll, a nearby rural public school of 1,545 students that has never won a state championship or produced a Division I player.

Strickland declines to say why he left the bright lights and national stage of DeMatha.

Wootten says he is uncertain why Strickland left but wishes he were still a Stag.

"I liked him very much," Wootten said. "He has an awesome future. He can be a premier point guard for anyone. He makes the play that 99 percent of players can't make."

Wootten said he wonders whether Strickland felt handcuffed by his system that restricts players to a set offense, limiting when they can and cannot shoot.

"He was adjusting to our system and was on his way, given a few more weeks. He averaged 27 minutes and 15 points playing just three games for us," Wootten said. "I've never had a kid leave that quickly. The two things he still needs to work on are running an offense and shot selection."

The player who replaced Strickland, Elijah Brooks, said: "He seemed to fit in well and get along with everyone. There were no problems with anyone."

`He won't be hidden'

Wootten said he doesn't think the transfer to a lower-key public school program will hurt Strickland. "Everyone in the country knows about him, so he won't be hidden," he said.

Carnes, a 25th-year coach at South Carroll, agrees with Wootten's analysis. Carnes said he received two calls from Division I schools even before Strickland enrolled at the Carroll County school.

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