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TJ prepared for anything

March 11, 1999|By MARK KELLER

EMMITSBURG, Md. - Eight feet can hardly be considered long distance.

But over the course of a 32-minute high school basketball game, an additional eight feet on the length of the court can feel like miles to the players involved.

That's what led Thomas Johnson coach Tom Dickman to Knott Arena on the Mount St. Mary's campus Wednesday for the Patriots' final practice before today's Class 3A state semifinal game against Aberdeen.

[cont. from sports page]

Why practice at Knott Arena and not in their own gym at the high school? Because the court at Mount St. Mary's, like the one the Patriots will play on at Cole Field House today, is eight feet longer than TJ's.

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"This is the first time we've done this, and the main reason is that a lot of our game is in transition," Dickman said. "By doing this, we have a better perception of what that eight feet is.

"Our big guys - Chris (Williams), Marcus (West) and Ron Wells - they can run the floor. Now, their center has to run another eight feet to catch them. I'm not sure they can do that over 32 minutes," Dickman said.

Not only did practicing at the Mount help prepare the Patriots for a slightly longer court, but also for the larger building. And even though Knott Arena is dwarfed by Cole Field House, the points Dickman wanted to get across Wednesday were not lost on the players.

"I'm really glad we came here to practice, because it really gives a great feel of how it's going to be down at Cole Field House," Williams said. "But we've got to be ready. The court's bigger, but we're going to work that to our advantage. That's good for us. We're a good running team."

Dickman sees to it that his team is prepared for anything that might occur at this time of year. Wednesday's practice is one part of that, as is Dickman's insistence on scheduling the Patriots against the best competition available. TJ's only loss this year came at the hands of Oak Hill Academy, the nation's No. 1 team.

"It's not pleasant at the time when you're losing those kinds of games. But by the same token, if you can hang in against an Oak Hill, it gives them the confidence to play with anyone," Dickman said.

"They blew out teams by 30 points, and for us to actually make it a good game really gives us confidence," said Nick Kefauver. "Down the road, whenever we're in situations like that, we know we can tough it out."

Dickman said he wants his players to believe that they can play with any team they face, and do it on any floor they play on. His teams have always been able to do that in the past. The Patriots are making their third straight state semifinal appearance, sixth in seven years and 12th overall under Dickman. And this was supposed to be a "rebuilding" year for TJ.

"Making it this far is a big accomplishment," said Michael Foreman, the only current TJ player who played on the 1997 championship team. "But I know what it feels like to be champs. I want the other guys to have that feeling, too."

And the difference between winning the title and merely making the tournament may be as little as eight feet.

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