A case of learning when to dominate, not share

On High Schools

High schools

February 05, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Towson Catholic girls basketball coach Matt Fisher occasionally carries a look that implies that he'd be a bit more content if star guard Marah Strickland would channel her inner Kobe every now and then without being prompted.

Fisher would like the 6-foot junior to take over maybe a little bit earlier in games, rather than, say the fourth quarter of nail-biters like Tuesday's showdown with top-ranked St. Frances.

Strickland, who had a game-high 28 points in the No. 2 Owls' 57-55 road win, was largely invisible in the third quarter, touching the ball only three times in the period and giving Fisher a little heartburn.

"She was trying to share, and I told her she has to be more aggressive," Fisher said. "She's a team player, so she was interested in getting everybody else in the flow. I said, `Right now, you have to take over.' That's why she stepped up and took over.

"She takes it easy sometimes. She coasts sometimes and I tell her, `Marah, you have to play hard 100 percent of the time.' What she's trying to do is get her teammates involved. She stepped up because we told her in the timeout, `You have to take over.' "

"Everybody saw it. She's got gifts," said St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton. "She's a very good ballhandler and she can create her own shot. She can score, and that puts a lot of pressure on your defense. Towson Catholic did a good job of getting her the ball. Our job was to try to limit her touches, and we thought she touched the ball too much."

To be fair, a coach complaining that a star high school athlete coasts at times is not new. Often, the gap in talent between a gifted player and her competition, or even her teammates, can be wide enough that she can put it on autopilot, as it were.

And after the disgusting 113-point output from New York schoolgirl Epiphanny Prince in a game Wednesday, it doesn't seem so bad to have to be coaxed to shoot.

Luckily, Strickland, who transferred to Towson Catholic from St. John's at Prospect Hall in Frederick, is surrounded by an abundance of talent, so she can pick her spots to take over, though it took some time for her to find her niche.

Center Tracy Johns, for instance, had 12 points and five rebounds Tuesday, including the game-clinching steal against St. Frances center Mi-Khida Hankins on the last shot. Point guard Candice Walker and guard Brianna Wise had key moments near the end of the Owls' 56-50 win over No. 5 McDonogh on Thursday.

"I think she found her groove around December," Fisher said. "What she was trying to do was make sure her teammates and everybody fit into the system. That was her thing. She wanted to make sure everybody fit in before she took over. We gave her the keys to the car and said, `This is your team. Take over.' And she did it."

Said Strickland: "I have a great team, so sometimes I find myself sitting back and watching them while they lead instead of reminding myself to step up and play hard as well."

Strickland is used to being surrounded by high-caliber talent. Her brother Marshall (South Carroll) is the third-leading scorer on the Indiana basketball team, averaging 11.6 points.

Her older sister Marche is Maryland's all-time leading free-throw shooter by percentage (.804), as well as the all-time Terps leader in games started (117). She's seventh on Maryland's all-time scoring list, with 1,450 points from 1999 to 2002.

"I hope [to see Marche's game in my own]," said Marah Strickland. "She's a great player. When I'm hitting my shot, and she was a great shooter, they say, `Nice shot. You look like your sister.' I love to hear that. That's great stuff."

The Strickland pedigree and Marah's smooth all-around game are likely reasons for the presence of a number of Division I coaches at Tuesday's game, including representatives from Charlotte and Georgetown, as well as Temple coach Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner and perhaps the best point guard in women's basketball history.

But dominating the college scene and beyond is still to come. For now, Strickland and the Owls have another meeting with St. Frances on Tuesday night, with the possibility of a third game in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference playoffs later this month.

In the interim, Strickland is sticking with her message of sharing the wealth, until Fisher gives her permission to go Kobe.

"We're doing a great job with that," Strickland said. "And we need to stay engaged the entire game. I think if we do that, we should beat everybody. I need to stay engaged and to keep pushing myself to get better, to work on my skills, to get my skills tight."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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