When he was a freshman point guard for River Hill's junior varsity team, Tommy Brenton never imagined how much of a hassle it would be to simply get into a small car.
For the 6-foot-4 do-everything senior, a first-team All-County selection last season, it's now a process: Anybody in the back seat has to slide over and the front seat moves all the way back.
"It's tough. I'm not liking some of the small cars my friends drive," said a smiling Brenton, who grew 7 inches since the days when he was a 5-foot-9 ninth-grader.
Brenton has found many more positives than negatives with his added height and it is most apparent on the basketball court, where he has led the No. 13 Hawks to a 14-2 mark with consistent play as one of the county's most complete players.
Inside or outside, Brenton - who can play every position on the floor - has caused continual mismatch problems for opposing teams, making them pay by averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. With his ball-handling skills, ability to post up, accurate outside shot and knack for finding open teammates, Brenton has proved to be an ideal fit in third-year coach Matt Graves' Princeton-based offense.
"I think what Tommy does so well is he looks at each game and says, `OK, what can I do to make our team successful?' " Graves said. "He's going to get his points and get his rebounds, but he's also setting our other people up, and that's a big thing. I think that's what separates him from other good players."
Brenton's biggest growth spurt came between his sophomore and junior years when he went from 5-10 1/2 to 6-2. In his first varsity season last year, he played point guard and averaged 13.4 points, five rebounds and four assists as the Hawks went 15-9.
The addition of sophomore point guard Mike Campanaro this season has enabled Brenton to play wherever he can most exploit the other team's defense.
"He's talented and versatile, and the one thing that stands out the most with me is that he's got a pretty high basketball IQ," Wilde Lake coach Phil Chenier said. "He understands that, `Hey, if I have a guy on me that's smaller, I'm going to take him inside.' And yet, he has the versatility where if he has a bigger guy on him, he can go outside and shoot from there or take him off the dribble. You've always got to know where he is and understand that nine times out of 10, the ball is going to find his hands, and he can do everything."
When Brenton gave up soccer and baseball in middle school to concentrate on basketball, he had no idea how well things would work out. With his father, mother and older brother all no taller than 5-foot-10, the prospect of surpassing 6 feet seemed unlikely.
"When he went up to 6 feet, we thought, `That's great - he'll top out there and you have a good-sized point guard for high school,' " said his father, Jeff, who has two brothers and a nephew who are 6-foot-2 or taller. "But then, between his junior and senior years, he kept growing, so that was a nice surprise."
Brenton, a team captain and one of two seniors on the Hawks' roster, has enjoyed being looked up to. Playing on a senior-laden team last season, he was well aware that he would need to further step up in a lead role this winter.
"I didn't really know I was growing so much until my parents were like, `Wow, you've really grown a lot.' So I just kind of took a look and it was like, `Wow, I did grow a lot.' It's fun being big and being that person that everyone sees as bigger. It's made it a lot easier to rebound, and I can be more of an all-around player and help wherever I'm needed."
Teammate Zach Serleth said Brenton's value to the team goes beyond the points he scores and the rebounds he grabs.
"Tommy's our best player, by far. But he also gives us all so much confidence on the court. We know we can always go to him, and he makes us better as a team. He's just a good player who makes us more of a team," he said.
Brenton is drawing attention from a number of Division II and III colleges and plans to play basketball at the next level. But his focus now is on the work left in a fine senior year at River Hill.
Asked what the key was to the season's success, Brenton came back with a quick response: "Team chemistry. We just all roll together. We know each other very well, and everybody knows their roles on the court."