'We're all for one'

Undefeated Lake Clifton boys share common goal: a state championship

March 02, 2009|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,glenn.graham@baltsun.com

In November, right after final cuts and before the first practice, Lake Clifton boys basketball coach Herman "Tree" Harried sat down with his newly assembled group to discuss what would lie ahead.

The talk consisted of individual job descriptions and an overview of team goals. He warned his players about the long hours of practice and the demanding expectations: hard work, conditioning, discipline, constructive criticism and then more of the same the next day.

"I try to discourage them as much as possible," said Harried, a 12th-year coach and a Dunbar graduate who played at Syracuse and professionally overseas. "And then I ask, 'Do you really want to do this?' After that, I can always go back and say, 'You agreed that you wanted to do this, and now you have to accept it.' "

The 2008-09 Lakers, who began as a mix of returning talent and high-impact newcomers, have been "all in" from the start.

In completing a 22-0 regular season, the Lakers limited a talented City team to 34 points on its home court for an early statement win, recovered from an early 11-point deficit to supplant St. Frances as the area's No. 1 team midway through, and, more recently, went to Walbrook and handled their rivals by 19 points.

But the finest display of talent and togetherness came in the second half of last week's Baltimore City championship game against Digital Harbor, in which Lake Clifton shot 75 percent from the field and held the No. 4 Rams to five points to win, 69-30.

If it sounds special, the Lakers will tell you otherwise. Work remains as the Lakers look to reach their ultimate goal of bringing home the program's second state title, beginning with Class 3A North regional play this week. Lake Clifton is scheduled to play Mervo today in the quarterfinals.

Only two Baltimore City teams - Southwestern in 1996-97 and Douglass in 2001-02 - have had undefeated seasons since the city schools began competing in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state tournament in the 1992-93 season.

The Lakers are driven to be the third.

"Coach Tree says the games we've played and won are in the past - they're over and won't mean anything if we don't achieve our goals. So we kind of don't look back on things, but look forward," said junior guard Antonio Barton, who transferred from National Christian Academy along with his brother, Will.

The making of this "potentially" special team started with a talented returning group led by guard Jason Sharp and forward Cleveland Melvin, both seniors, and emerging junior center Karee Watson.

When Harried heard rumors about the Barton brothers - two highly regarded Division I prospects - coming aboard, he wanted to wait until he saw them before he would allow himself to think about the talent he would assemble.

Sure enough, they stopped in the athletic department to introduce themselves on the first day of school.

"I've never seen two guys come in with a modest, no-ego attitude in my 12 years of coaching," Harried said. "So the guys that they may have taken some playing time from had to accept them because they liked them first."

With Harried, every practice, game and interaction with his players includes a life lesson.

Every school day, each player has to sign in at the athletic office first thing. On game day, each has a conduct sheet his teachers have to sign concerning attendance, missed assignments or any potential problems. The player then returns the sheet to Harried, who examines it on the spot. Four players made the school's honor roll.

"We sign in every morning, and it's like we have a job; it makes us be on time. And the conduct sheets keep our grades straight for college," Sharp said. "Coach Tree has taught me to be a man on and off the court, and he's been like a father to me. I can ask him for anything and he will give it to me, but I have to give something back to him."

During that first meeting, Harried emphasized that there will be no individual accolades handed out during the season and then closely scanned his group. And what he saw was just that - a group. One of his few problems this season has been his players being too unselfish.

"We all took a back seat, and we're all for one," said Will Barton, a versatile forward. "We don't care about the individual stats as long as we're winning. That's all we care about."

THE LAKERS' STARTING FIVE

Name : Antonio Barton

Year , Pos. : Jr., PG

Key stats : 14 ppg, 6 apg Glenn Graham's skinny : The transfer has fit right in with an ability to distribute and find his own shot.

Name : Jason Sharp

Year, Pos. Sr., SG

Key stats : 11 ppg, 3 rpg

Glenn Graham's skinny : He brings strong leadership to the floor with a knack for making big shots.

Name : Will Barton

Year, Pos. Jr., G-F

Key stats : 18 ppg, 10 rpg

Glenn Graham's skinny : The versatile and athletic 6-foot-6 standout is the Lakers' do-it-all player.

Name : Cleveland Melvin

Year, Pos. Sr., F

Key stats : 17 ppg, 4 rpg

Glenn Graham's skinny : In his third season, the 6-8 forward has added inside toughness at both ends. At 6-8, he's a hard worker inside who loves to do the dirty work

Karee Watson

Year, Pos. : Jr., C

Key stats : 5 ppg, 7 rpg

Gelnn Graham's skinny : At 6-8, he's a hard worker inside who loves to do the dirty work

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