Millionaires find success with in-game adjustments

Travel up Millionaire Drive some hot, summer day and one might see Williamsport guard Isaiah Washington sprinting upward. Go by the school’s weight room that same day and one might find Jahad Thomas and many other Millionaires working out.

They are not asked or told to be there at those times, but they show up and work anyway. They understand that glory has a price. Williamsport paid that price in the offseason and has reaped the benefits in the most tense moments all year as a result, frequently dominating the fourth quarter while capturing a second straight District 2-4 Class AAAA championship.

Now Williamsport (23-2) is hoping to win another championship and begins that quest Saturday against District 11’s Bethlehem Liberty.

“The thing like about this team is it can adapt to whatever style a team throws at us. Sometimes they adjust right away, sometimes it’s a process,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “They keep trying things and figure it out. It’s a don’t-quit team and they are very resilient. They just keep coming.”

That happened in both District 2-4 playoff games. Williamsport overcame deficits against Wyoming Valley West and Scranton, excelling when it mattered most. Thomas Ross led the fourth-quarter charge against Valley West before the Millionaires outscored Scranton by 13 in the fourth quarter while turning a 3-point deficit into a 68-58 win.

Williamsport does not plan things this way and honestly would love nothing more than to blow out opponents. But it also does not panic or break when things are tough. When it gets too tough for some opponents, it seems just right for Williamsport.

“It says a lot about our toughness and it says a lot about what coach Taylor instilled in us,” Washington said. “We play a faster pace than a lot of teams and can do it longer and we try and wear teams out. It’s good conditioning and it’s just playing Millionaire basketball.”

“(Against Scranton) we just all believed. We had to just keep playing as a team,” said center Chris Kinley, who scored 18 points in the win. “We believed we would win as long as we stuck to the script, completed the game strong and knew the personnel and took care of business.”

Williamsport has done that in just about every game in the fourth quarter. Early in the season, it overcame second-half deficits against Valley West, Pottsville and Lely, Fla. Washington hit the game-winning free throws in that comeback. Comeback wins over White Plains, N.Y., Bartram and State College followed.

The Millionaires shined in the fourth quarter as well in their home finale against national power Princeton Day Academy. Instead of coming back, Williamsport blew out Princeton Day down the stretch, closing the game on a 13-1 run against a team that features Division I recruits.

“That’s a big thing. We have been finishing this year every game strong,” Kinley said. “Our second halves been a lot stronger than our first and we have to sharpen that up. If we play the whole game the way we do the fourth we should be in good shape, but it’s a good boost to be able to finish like that.”

Kinley and Washington will play college basketball at Navy and Penn State, respectively. Thomas is an all-state player who also might play Division I basketball. Many know all about those three and fellow versatile starters like Achilles Watson and Herb Stelly. All five have been instrumental to the team’s success, especially in the fourth quarter.

Players who have flown under the radar, though, also have been huge. Without athletes like Ross, Tyler Gardner, Greg Ousley, Brandon Fedoriw and Brice Harris, Williamsport might not have the energy to have frequent fourth-quarter success. Ross has been huge late in the season and also in the Pottsville comeback. Gardner has provided muscle inside and tough defense, while Fedoriw and Harris are relentless defenders outside.

Ousley is coming back after suffering two serious knee injuries the past two seasons. The senior is similar to Thomas in that he is strong enough to be a force inside, but also quick, smart and versatile enough to play like a point guard. He has been another X factor and that bench has had plenty to do with the late-game success.

“You really couldn’t do that without solid role players coming off bench. We have received stellar bench play the entire season and it’s not always the same person,” Taylor said. “Those guys get us jump-started and the guys that are on the scout team and give us good looks in practice are a big help. It’s the other guys you don’t hear about a lot that allow us to wear on opponents.”

That is Millionaire basketball. Williamsport features one of the state’s premier basketball traditions and this team has added to it the last two years. It has never been about one player at Williamsport. It always has been about the team and flourishing when times seem toughest.

“Coach tells us before the games when you think about team we’re playing you have to think about what you have to do to dominate,” Washington said. “So in the fourth quarter it’s like the other quarters. You just try to make plays, get the ball in the right people’s hands and play hard.”

Somewhere former Millionaire players and coaches must be smiling.