Gophers keep their sights set on states

January 19, 2007

Glen Burnie boys basketball coach Mike Rudd and his team gave up quite a bit to play in last weekend's Basketball Academy mixer at Morgan State in the hopes that sacrifices in January in Baltimore pay dividends in March in College Park.

To fit in games against City and Dunbar at the Basketball Academy, the ninth-ranked Gophers had to reschedule an Anne Arundel County league game against North County into December, forcing them to play four games in six days to make it all work.

And Rudd had to give up tickets to Saturday's Ravens-Indianapolis Colts playoff game to get the team ready to play Dunbar, which, considering the outcome at M&T Bank Stadium, may not have been such a bad surrender.

To be sure, the Glen Burnie players, as did all the participating teams in the 11th annual Basketball Academy, got more than a couple of basketball games for their time and effort in their first trip there.

The players were given a tour of the National Aquarium, lectures on drugs and alcohol and how to take the SAT, plus a pep talk for college-bound seniors.

"We wanted this experience," Rudd said. "[Jan. 11] was phenomenal. They [the seniors] had a guy give them a reality check. If Maryland, Georgetown and Duke aren't recruiting you right now, they're not coming. And there's nothing wrong with that. They need to hear the message from somebody else other than their coach."

But, as important as the cultural and educational benefits of playing at the Basketball Academy, the real purpose for the Gophers was to try to duplicate the feeling of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's 4A tournament from start to finish.

"This is a different atmosphere. None of these kids have been to the Comcast Center," Rudd said after the game with City. "One of the reasons we wanted to come up here is it is a state playoff atmosphere.

"With the kids, it's all foreign to them. You've got some fans for you, some fans for their team and some fans for somebody else. They're just here to watch great basketball, which this tournament is all about."

The Gophers (11-3) got an important 57-50 overtime win over City, even after missing a chance to win at the end of regulation. They had closed a five-point, fourth-quarter deficit and had the ball in a tie game with a chance to win, trying to dribble out the last 1:30.

However, do-it-all senior forward Garrett Blackstone was called for a backcourt violation just before he could make a cut to the basket.

Rather than wallow in the moment, Glen Burnie rallied behind senior center Devron Baynard, who had all seven of his points in the overtime, and Blackstone, who had 19 points and nine rebounds.

"It [the win] is big for us," said Blackstone, who averages 13 points, eight rebounds, 2.4 assists and two steals. "Not a lot of people expected us to win. Truthfully, some of the people on the team needed to prove it to themselves. That's what made it big for us."

Said Rudd: "He [Blackstone] wouldn't get fiery two years ago. Last year, it started to come. But this is his senior year. This is it. It's not that he hasn't worked hard before, but the reality of it is this is his senior year. I'm real comfortable with him having the ball around the basket or the perimeter because he does so many different things."

The Gophers, who dropped a 67-62 decision to Dunbar at the Academy, were beaten, 66-55, Tuesday in a county showdown against fourth-ranked Broadneck.

But come March, they hope to see those losses and the win over City as just steps on the way to something bigger, perhaps a return to College Park, where Glen Burnie played in the state semifinals in 2003 and 2004.

"Had we lost this [City] game, it still would have been a great experience. We're all happy that we won," Rudd said. "But we have lofty goals. We want to go back to the Comcast Center, and coming up here and getting this experience, we feel ... will help us down the road."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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