Freshmen make the grade

Basketball: Girls like IND's Chandrea Jones have moved this year's metro-area freshmen players to the head of the class.

February 08, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

The first time Chandrea Jones walked onto the court in an Institute of Notre Dame uniform in December, she didn't play like a freshman.

She had 29 points and 12 rebounds in a 73-72 overtime loss to Bullis Prep.

"I fit in pretty good," said Jones, a versatile 5-foot-8 guard. "At first I was pretty scared, but I got used to my team and we just clicked. I felt pretty confident pretty quickly."

Jones now leads the No. 2 Indians in scoring with 18.7 points a game and ranks second in the area's toughest league, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.

"Players like Chandrea have been playing year-round since they were about 10 years old, and that experience is really paying off," said IND coach Herb Hoelter, who also has started 6-foot freshman Brooks Webster.

Jones stands at the head of the girls basketball class of 2005, but she isn't the only rookie making an impact. Talented freshmen seem to be everywhere.

With No. 1 Seton Keough a notable exception, nearly every team ranked in The Sun's Top 20 this season has at least one freshman. Some have two, three or even four.

"The normal maturation of a freshman on JV, a sophomore maybe making varsity, a junior being a significant contributor and a senior being a starter and having a good year -- that's gone," said Bryn Mawr coach Jim "Snuffy" Smith, "because these kids are playing year-round and they're not really prototypical freshmen anymore in terms of their basketball experience."

Having several talented freshmen arrive at once is nothing new. Some members of a strong class of 1999 -- including McDonogh's Vicki Brick and St. Mary's Emily Lipton -- grabbed attention as freshmen, but there weren't nearly as many of them as there are now.

Coaches cite a variety of reasons for the influx of freshman impact players, including the talent and commitment of the youngsters, the experience they bring from competition in the Amateur Athletic Union and the timing of their arrival.

"This particular class caught the league [IAAM] at the right time, because we lost a particularly good class last year," said Roland Park coach Scott Buckley, whose top post player is freshman Breyana Hall. "Almost every team needed immediate help."

Jones and many of her classmates around the metro area have the skills and the confidence to fill roles usually handled by veterans.

Some of the many examples:

Northwestern's Taryn Bridgewaters has topped the metro area in rebounding and assist averages for much of the season.

Arundel's Alex McGuire leads the No. 15 Wildcats, the four-time defending Anne Arundel County champions, in scoring.

Each of the four teams in contention for the Baltimore County championship starts a freshman guard capable of putting up big numbers -- No. 4 Catonsville's Sandy Wasserbach, No. 18 Parkville's Patrice Griffin, Woodlawn's Brittany Taylor and Milford Mill's Tammy Rogers.

At No. 9 River Hill, 6-4 Brittany Gordon has helped pick up the Hawks after a rocky start in Howard County.

Severna Park coach Bill Giblin, who has three freshmen on his roster, said he is not surprised.

"Everybody knew that this is one of the better classes to come around in a while," Giblin said. "They're a talented group, and they're eager to learn. It's going to be fun to watch those kids for the next four years."

Donchez Graham, a Dunbar assistant who also coaches an older Baltimore Cougars AAU team, sees the influx of talent as a continuing trend in girls basketball.

"These girls are competitive, they're very talented, they don't mind working hard, they're goal oriented, and lot of them view it as way to get free college," Graham said. "With that as an incentive, it's amazing how focused they are. I'm amazed at the talent level."

Perhaps No. 17 St. Mary's gained the most from the freshman lottery. Coach Harry Dobson has four -- leading scorer Bri Gauthier, Bridget Noon, Breon Summers and Sharnae Hunt.

"They all come in bunches and it seems like for the past two or three years, we haven't had anything come in as freshmen," said Dobson, who also had four on the roster in 1996. "They're committed to basketball."

That commitment certainly is strong. Some of these girls played as much basketball in eighth grade as they will this season.

Wasserbach, for example, played on the Chesapeake Hurricanes AAU team and then was picked up by the Maryland Waves for the AAU national tournament. After the 60-plus-game AAU schedule, she played for the Blue Angels, a Howard County-based travel team of seventh- and eighth-graders that plays more than 30 games between Labor Day and mid-March.

"They've been coached by so many coaches that they bring a lot of basketball knowledge," Rogers said. "They can contribute right away."

Art Gauthier, assistant at St. Mary's, coached several of these freshmen on the Waves team that finished ninth in last summer's 13-and-under national tournament.

"Coaching AAU teams, you always have kids also playing softball and lacrosse, but with this group of kids, their first priority was basketball," Gauthier said. "That was rare. Basketball was their favorite, and that's where they put their time."

While the waves of freshman talent appear to be somewhat cyclical -- even on a regional basis (Carroll County has no top freshman this season but has a great sophomore class) -- some coaches say that talented players should constantly flow into the high schools ranks.

"I see eighth-graders coming to our games on a regular basis to see their future teams play," said River Hill coach Teresa Waters. "These kids are eating, sleeping, breathing basketball."

Sun staff writer Edward Lee contributed to this article

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