As a junior last winter, Norval Black, a playmaking wide receiver for Northwest High School’s perennial state championship contending football team, blossomed on the basketball court.
“I believe he is one of the most athletic kids in the county,” Jaguars fourth-year coach Robert Smith said. “He does things you can’t teach. He can jump, he can run forever. He plays above the rim and he’s a great leader on the floor.”
Still learning the intricacies of the game—which Smith said will continue this winter—Black averaged 17 points and nine rebounds per game last year and the Jaguars needed those numbers from him if they had any chance of keeping with the county’s best teams. But that’s no way to contend for a state championship.
“A lot of teams have one or two guys who can put up big numbers and they don’t score 20 to 25 points, the team struggles,” Smith said. “I want all of our players to grow; we don’t have any players on this team who you give the ball to and he shoots 15 times.”
Last year’s go-to scorers, Black and returning shooting guard Adrian Thomas (nine points) will continue to be major playmakers but with the deepest squad Smith said he’s had since arriving in Germantown, Northwest won’t have to be so reliant on them. A much longer list of capable scorers gives the Jaguars more options; the goal is to have eight to 10 players share the offensive production each game. On any given night, any one—or more—of them could be in double digits, Smith said.
Of Northwest’s 14 losses in 2016-17, five were decided in the last 120 seconds. With all five starters—plus several players off the bench—back this season, the Jaguars have emphasized drawing upon lessons learned from heart-wrenching defeats to become more efficient at the most vital moments this year. And so far, so good. Northwest is off to a 5-0 start, including a victory over crosstown rival Seneca Valley.
“Just having that experience this year, I think we’ll take better care of the ball and take better shots,” Smith said. “We don’t need to shoot in five seconds, we need to remember to be more patient.”
While Northwest has the speed to run with just about any team, Smith said getting into a running style game where the Jaguars are going up and down the floor trading buckets against the county’s top teams is dangerous. Northwest has bolstered its defense in the offseason and is more focused on holding teams to 50 points or less.
“Typically, if you do that in Montgomery County, you can come with a win,” Smith said. “A couple of teams put up 80 points (the other night) but if you’re going up and down the floor with Springbrook, it’ll probably be 80-75 and you lose.”
With so many returning athletes now familiar with Smith’s system, there is a much better flow to practice; everyone knows the drills and routines, he said. And while no coach wants to create friction among teammates, the fight for more playing time has helped make Northwest’s practice more competitive—in a good way—and productive. Players are pushing each other more than ever and the results are sure to follow.
“This year guys are fighting to be in the starting group or in a rotation,” Smith said. “Practices have been so competitive, it’s really good.”