There was no shortage of naysayers when Kyle Depollar decided to transfer from The Heights to Walt Whitman High School this season. The shooting guard had torn it up under coach Sunny Hemphill as a freshman — what could he possibly gain from changing schools now?
“People were telling me, ‘What are you doing? You got the green light, why are you transferring?’” recalled Depollar, who is Whitman’s leading scorer this winter at 14.3 points per game.
Well, those detractors can now make the trip to College Park this week and pay the admission fee to watch Depollar and the Vikings vie for the 4A state title.
“I guess making it to the Comcast Center kind of shut them up,” he said after Whitman upset Clarksburg for the 4A West Region title, 49-44, and the school’s first appearance in the state tournament since 2006, when the Vikings won their only state championship. “Before the season started our goal was to get here and anything else would be a failure. ... And you could say we’re something of a Cinderella because a lot of teams do overlook us.”
It’s not unlikely that Annapolis, whom Whitman will see in Thursday’s scheduled 7 p.m. semifinal, was also somewhat overlooked when it came playoff time. The Panthers’ last successful run came in 2005, just one season prior to Whitman’s, and they suffered eight losses this year to boast a fairly similar record (17-8) as the Vikings (20-6). Their playoff stretch is even eerily parallel. Both teams knocked off the top seed in their section — Montgomery Blair for Whitman, North Point for Annapolis — and either another one or two seed from the other section in the region finals.
“I’ve already been watching the film,” Whitman coach Chris Lun said. “We’re certainly going to have our hands full but we’re just excited for the opportunity.”
Montgomery County compatriot Springbrook will not be following the underdog narrative on the right side of the bracket. The Blue Devils are the owners of the richest basketball history in the county and one of the state’s, winners of five state titles — Whitman has only appeared in four state tournaments — to go along with five additional final runs and seven semifinals, a total only bested by five other schools in Maryland. They sport the best record (24-2) of any team left in the 4A, which is the exact same as Prince George’s County champion Henry A. Wise, whom they are scheduled to meet in College Park Thursday night at 9, making the winner the de facto favorites in Saturday’s championship.
“We match up pretty good,” said Springbrook’s Andrew Robinson, a senior who leads the team with 17 points per game and is averaging 19 in the playoffs. “They got the two bigs down low [Micah Till and Devin Moore] and Justice [Sneed] is pretty good up top. It would be a good matchup. We know we’re going to have to play our best game to beat them and not get caught up in the hype, just play our game.”
Prior to Friday night’s 4A North Region final with Dulaney, Blue Devils coach Tom Crowell labeled the Lions as “probably the best team we’ve seen this year.” And then Springbrook won by 30, playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time.
“There were moments [Friday night], the offense, the 3-point shooting — it was almost like a perfect storm,” Crowell said. “It was just a great night for us. I said Dulaney would be the best team we played and believe me, I still wouldn’t want to play them again, but Wise will definitely be the best team we’ve played.”
On Thursday, the moment that Depollar and the Whitman boys and the Robinsons and the Springbrook boys sought since November will alas arrive. Maybe there will be an all-Montgomery final, maybe it will be a Prince George’s-Anne Arundel final. Blue Devils guard Aaron Robinson just wants to play some basketball.
“I have never been this excited for a basketball game in my life,” he said. “This is definitely the biggest moment in my basketball career.”