Selfless Play Leads Fairmont Heights Boys Basketball to First State Title Since 1981
Fairmont Heights boys basketball coach Chuck Henry was confident his group was going to be special this past winter season.
Henry recalls verbalizing at a meeting for his coaching staff last March that he thought the group could be good enough to win the MPSSAA 1A state title, despite having an extremely young roster which featured 13 players that were either juniors or sophomores. The skill was there, but the Hornets needed to be coached up.
"I knew we had a lot of talent, but we had to teach the guys how to play better basketball," Henry said. "Once we increased their knowledge of the game, we could see we had something special."
It's safe to say the Hornets got the coaching they needed. On Mar. 11, Fairmont Heights topped Edmondson-Westside 65-52 to win the 1A state title. The Prince George's County School finished its season 17-8, and with its first state final triumph since 1981.
"It's been weird. The administrators who have been with us are overwhelmed with excitement," Henry said of the past few days. "I think we've embraced it, but I think the parents are more excited than anyone. The parents have sacrificed a lot to help our program."
What the parents and administration are excited about is a group of players who came together and learned to play basketball selflessly. That's as great a reason as any that Fairmont Heights was able to find success this year.
The Hornets regularly played an 11 man rotation, and Henry said that non-starters led the team in scoring during numerous games. Being able to rely on the team's depth and being able to keep players fresh allowed Fairmont Heights to play a much more uptempo style than most.
"Guys sacrificed their points, starting games, and their bodies. They gave everything they had for the good of the team," Henry said. "We like to do a lot of pressing off misses and makes, but we are a very good half court offensive team too. However, we pride ourselves on playing intense defense."
In the middle of all the action this season for Fairmont Heights was junior guard Darren Lucas-White. An explosive player that averaged 18 points per game, Lucas-White was the heart of the team and a leader for all around him.
Lucas-White was joined in the starting lineup by fellow guards Shemarri Miles and Anthony Craven. Miles, a junior, averaged 10 points per game while running point for the Hornets while Craven, a sophomore, brought tremendous size to the guard position for Fairmont Heights. Henry has high expectations for Craven, and thinks he has the potential to eclipse the 1200 points scored career mark.
Juniors Jakale Norman and Mandell Quigley, as well as senior Juwan Butler, rounded out the team's key guards. Norman brought some offensive firepower off the bench, shooting over 35% from behind the arc, while Quigley was a great change of pace point guard who excelled on defense. Butler was also a key force on defense for the Hornets, with Henry saying his aggressive and quick style of play made him the team's best on ball defender.
The team also got excellent play from a trio of forwards, which includes juniors Kimani Benjamin and Yearlarndo Reed, as well as senior Francis Willis. Benjamin was a big time scoring threat for the Hornets, averaging 14 points per game. He also saved his best for the end of the season, scoring 42 points in Fairmont Heights' final two games.
Reed was also productive on the offensive end. One of the best rebounders shooters on the team, Reed averaged 11 points per game and shot over 40% from behind the arc. Willis was a physical presence for the Hornets, hauling in 11 rebounds a game and frequently sacrificing his body. Also a vocal leader, Willis will be playing football at Morgan State next year.
Early on in the championship game though, Fairmont Heights struggled. The Hornets trailed Edmondson-Westside by nine early, and had to claw their way back into the game. Eventually Fairmont Heights managed to do it, and pulled away with a 21-9 burst in the fourth quarter.
"Once the final buzzer went off I was in absolute shock. These kids worked so hard, I was extremely proud of them and happy for them," Henry said. "I made a promise to them that anything was possible. I'm glad me and my coaching staff lived up to that."
Despite the state title triumph, Fairmont Heights aren't relaxing. Henry and his coaching staff are already back to work, gearing up to make another championship push next season.
"The boys for now are focusing on keeping their GPA's over 3.0. They know that's our standard," Henry said. "So it's back to reality for the Fairmont Heights Hornets."
|March 16th, 2017||By: Wick Eisenberg|