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Spruce now root of Hubs' success

January 03, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

In one month, North Hagerstown senior Purnell Spruce - a first-year player - has gone from being the backup point guard to posting two of the best single-game assist marks in school history, turning a position coach Tim McNamee worried about into one with depth and talent.

"The guard position was a question mark for us, which was new," McNamee said. "We've usually had very good point guards over the years, and that was the question mark that's really been a surprise for us."

Spruce started the season as a backup to senior Arthur Claybon, while learning the Hubs' up-tempo, transition style. Essentially, he had to shed his senior status and accept basketball life as if he were three years younger.

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"He hasn't played before, so basically he's a senior, but yet he's like a freshman," McNamee said. "He's a senior body with a freshman mentaility at times, but he's been a fast learner for us."

And how.

In North's second game of the season - a 61-53 victory over Brunswick on Dec. 13 - Spruce came off the bench and provided a spark to the Hubs with his transition ability.

Spruce's play allowed McNamee to start him three days later against Clear Spring, and the results spoke for themselves. Spruce set a Hubs single-game record with 17 assists in the 62-42 victory.

"Purnell has given us so far that extra boost, and I really didn't know he'd be able to start this early, but after the first or second game, I couldn't keep him out of the lineup," McNamee said. "It's something he earned, it's not something that was given to him."

Spruce turned the Hoffman's Two-Town Showdown last weekend into his own playground. Against Fort Hill, he had 16 points and eight assists. Then against Allegany, he returned to what he does best, dishing out 14 assists - good for a tie for fifth-best in a single-game - in addition to his nine points.

Spruce specializes in long passes upcourt, with his favorite target - swingman Marshall Branch - often the beneficiary on the fast break. Branch scored 19 points against Fort Hill and 18 against Allegany.

"I don't think early he saw the floor as well as he's seeing it now, and I think that comes with experience," McNamee said. "In the few games we played, he picked that up. Now he knows who to look for, and he's not forcing the ball as much as he did early in the year."

Spruce's development gives North two senior point guards who can run the floor and direct the Hubs' fast-break offense - a luxury McNamee never envisioned in preseason practice.

"(Spruce has) been able to take some pressure off Arthur Claybon, who's also been steady for us defensively," McNamee said. "(Spruce has) cut down his turnovers ... and if he continues to improve, he's gonna be a good player for us."

What McNamee didn't say, was that Spruce already is.

Turning it around


  • Smithsburg's boys, which finished 5-18 a year ago, are 4-1 after winning the James Buchanan Holiday Tournament. The Leopards beat York Tech by 28 and host JB by 15 over the weekend. Smithsburg also holds and eight-point victory over Brunswick earlier this season.

    We'll learn more about the Leopards during a three-game stretch from Jan. 17-24, when Smithsburg hosts No. 5 Middletown, then travels to No. 6 North and No. 8 South Hagerstown.

  • No. 8 McConnellsburg's girls went 4-20 last season, but are already 8-2 this season.

    The Spartans have all five starters back from last year, and that experience is paying huge dividends. McConnellsburg defeated No. 6 Southern Fulton 56-54 on Dec. 21 - one of only two losses for the Indians - and despite a disappointing 48-27 loss to James Buchanan at the JB Holiday Tournament, all signs are pointing in the right direction for these Spartans.

  • Heritage Academy's girls already have more wins this season (six) than they had all of last year, going 5-16. Two of their three losses this season have been by a combined seven points.
  • Mercersburg's girls have played just three games this season, but their two wins already surpass the one victory they had all of last season.
  • Chambersburg's boys, whose 1-6 start and numerous close losses have already been detailed in this notebook, have rallied for four straight victories - including the Gettysburg Tournament title - with freshman guard Jonathan Notichka leading the way.
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