It came as no surprise to the nearly 2,000 spectators inside the Prince George’s Community College gymnasium that the 38th annual Prince George’s County Coaches Boys’ All-Star basketball game was won by a South squad that included four seniors from two recent state championship teams.
But during the course of the game, a 67-63 South victory over the North, it was often players from schools whose seasons ended short of playing for a state title at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center that rose to the occasion.
In fact, in the first half the South got its biggest spark from two reserve players, Largo guard Phillip Thompson and Suitland power forward Gerald Gray. Both entered the game five minutes into the event when both respective coaches, Rob Garner of state champion Henry A. Wise who oversaw the South squad and Lawrence Pugh of state semifinalist Central who manned the North team, made wholesale substitutions.
Thompson repeatedly drove to the basket between North defenders to convert on layups or draw fouls. With Thompson drawing a lot of defensive attention, Gray scored six straight points for the South squad at one stretch, first completing a conventional three-point play, then adding a 3-point field goal.
“It really was quite an honor being selected to play in this All-star game,” said Thompson, who said he remains undecided on his college choice. “There are a lot of really good players in P.G. County, so to be picked for this game is a real honor. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win. I learned so much from coach [Lewis] Howard during my four years at Largo. I just want to play anywhere next year.”
On the North squad, a pair of Bowie seniors, Dejuan Smith and Cory Washington, whose career finales with the Bulldogs were well shy of the region final, were instrumental in keeping the game from becoming a rout. The South had gained a 15-point lead on three different occasions in the first half, but a pair of 3-pointers field goals from Washington kept the North squad within a respectable, 44-33, at the intermission.
“We just wanted to finish off with our best effort,” said Washington, who is getting looks from Chesapeake College and Arcadia College. “We fell behind early, but we kept fighting back. I think Dejuan really got hot in the second half. It was an honor just to be able to play in this game.”
Through the early stages of the second half, both teams traded baskets and when both coaches made their sweeping substitutions with 15 minutes left, the South still owned a comfortable, 51-36. But that soon changed and few fans had cause to exit the gym prematurely.
Smith had struggled in the first half, making only one short jumper, but during a 90-second span of the second half he connected on three straight 3-point field goals and then a driving layup to bring the North squad within 53-47. On the North’s next possession Smith recorded an assist on a layup by Roosevelt’s Bryant Best and suddenly the South’s lead had dwindled to four points at 53-49.
“In the first half, they really beat us up,” Smith said. “But in the second half, we played our game. We got out in transition more and then my shots started to fall. I started to get hot and I just kept looking to shoot. We never came all the way back, but we played our best once we settled down. Of course, it was an honor to be able to play in this game.”
After a quiet start to the first half, Gray connected on his second 3-point field goal of the night and then added two free throws and a layup to give the South a 65-59 lead with less than one minute remaining. Layups by Best and Parkdale’s Adrian Winslow brought the North to within two at 65-63, but Wise’s Lavonte Sanders sealed the verdict with two free throws with nine seconds remaining.