Meshing perfectly

After key losses to graduation, Douglass is 14-0 and ranked seventh, but the Ducks think their opposition is underestimating them

Boys basketball

January 24, 2007|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Reporter

Douglass guard James Walker heard from the critics before the start of the season. The word was that the Ducks were going to struggle after having lost key players to graduation.

"They started out as whispers," said Walker, adding that the whispers eventually became shouts.

Not even a 14-0 start by No. 7 Douglass could quiet the noise.

"Even though we're undefeated, people still say, `You haven't played anybody,' " said Walker, who, along with junior backcourt mate Omar Strong, a first-year starter, have sparked the Ducks' fast start. "Of course there's pressure, but being at Douglass, that sort of comes with the uniform."

Douglass' toughest challenges won't come until next month, when it faces a tough Northwestern squad and traditional league powers Lake Clifton, Dunbar and Walbrook.

"There's no such thing as a soft part of the schedule because we realize we have to respect everyone's game, no matter who we're playing," said Strong, the Ducks' point guard. "And it seems like with us being Douglass, everybody's going to play us as hard as they can. Whether you believe they're supposed to be bums or not, they're going to rise to the occasion."

The Ducks generally have been winners under 11th-year coach Rodney Coffield, who guided Douglass to Class 3A state titles in 2002 and 2004. But Douglass' run has been derailed in the regional playoffs the past two seasons.

The Ducks of 2004-05 finished 19-7, losing in the Class 3A North regional final to eventual state champion Randallstown. Last year's Ducks finished 17-4 after a 2A North regional semifinal loss to Milford Mill.

"We were disappointed, but we found out that we were not as good as we thought we were," Coffield said.

Said Walker: "We had beaten Milford Mill in the fall league, and I believe we already had it in our minds that it was going to be an easy win. But they came out and I guess they surprised us."

This season, it's the Ducks who believe teams are underestimating them.

Although 6-foot-6 center William Martin is back from last season's team and is averaging 10 rebounds, seven points and four blocked shots, gone are 6-4 forward Tyrone Flemming, who averaged nine rebounds, as well as 6-1 shooting guard Antione Smithson, who averaged 13 points, six rebounds, four steals and four assists.

"I don't think people expected us to be where we are because we lost guys like Tyrone and Antione," said Walker, 17, who shared point guard duties last season with Darren Thompson, who has graduated. "But I don't think they knew we had good players moving up from a JV that went 14-1 and was undefeated for most of the season. I don't think they recognized players like Omar."

Strong, 16, spent the summer working out to improve his strength and played Amateur Athletic Union ball with Baltimore Select's 16-and-under squad.

"Last year, I was 5 foot 7," said Strong, who weighs 150 pounds. "This year, I'm 5-9. So I'm not only a little stronger, but I'm also a little bigger."

Not only does Strong average 17 points, four assists, three steals and two rebounds - up from last year's 10 points, two assists, two steals and two rebounds - but he's also shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line.

"Omar is a point guard with excellent shooting range," Coffield said. "He complements James in several different ways - including with his ability to see the floor and find James, and with his ability to take the pressure off of James by consistently hitting the outside shot."

Strong's best game was in a victory over Washington's Theodore Roosevelt, as he scored 32 points and had four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

"Omar brings a lot to our team," Walker said. "He plays good defense, has good ball control, he's smart and can shoot the ball."

However, it is Walker, a "natural point guard and shooting guard," according to Coffield, who "is the definite leader of this team." A two-year starter, Walker averages 14 points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists.

"James is the young man with the most experience, and I depend on him to guide all of the younger guys," Coffield said. "James has a ton of energy - so much that I sometimes get tired just from watching him in practice. Plus, James is probably the quickest person on the team."

Walker's best outing was in a rout of Digital Harbor, when he scored 24 points - half on 12-for-14 free-throw shooting - and had nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.

"James comes from a family of basketball players, with a younger brother [Denzell, 14] on the JV at St. Frances, and an older brother [Demetrick, 21] who graduated from St. Frances," Coffield said of Walker, who said he attended Douglass "to be different from" his older brother.

"Once in a while, I'll look at the rankings and I wish we could play [No. 2] St. Frances, because I believe we're one of the best teams in the city and that we can beat anybody at any time," Walker said. "We're a good team with a great tradition. As long as we understand the hard work that has gone into building that tradition, we can continue to prove everybody wrong."

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