SILVER SPRING – Jao Ituka watched intently as his teammate Immanuel Page took aim from behind the arc. The ball flew through the air and slipped smoothly past the rim, causing Ituka to voice his approval at the three points Page had just tacked on the board for Gaithersburg High School.
The rising junior shouted “All day!” and a few of his teammates echoed his exclamation. Even in summer league play, after all, a first-half comprised of mostly three-point buckets is something to be celebrated. The Trojans boasted seven three-pointers by five different players in the first half against Walt Whitman High School on June 10 at the Mid-County Community Recreation Center.
Gaithersburg tallied just one lay-up in the first half, but those three-pointers kept hitting their mark and in the end, the Trojans claimed another summer league victory by a score of 49-47.
According to Ituka, who followed up his own relatively quiet first half by unleashing a barrage of over 20 points in the second half, the Trojans have been working on shooting better, particularly from outside the paint.
“Every practice, coach has us shooting, and he has us working on our ball handling. We’re trying to be a better shooting team, and I think we’re developing to be that,” said Ituka. “As time goes on, we’re going to get better at that, and today we showed it.”
“In practice, we focus on shooting a lot; shooting off the dribble, shooting while we’re tired,” said junior Tommy Czarnopys, who contributed a pair of first-half three-pointers of his own. “The rim gave us a good bounce tonight.”
Even though the Vikings struck first, Gaithersburg forced Whitman into an offensive lull that worked in the Trojans’ favor. However, Whitman’s Kai Holloway and Michael Bass made sure the Vikings didn’t let the game get out of hand. The two players combined for 10 first-half points and Whitman trailed by only three at halftime.
Meanwhile, Ituka made his presence felt on the court by shouting instructions to his teammates, even when he wasn’t handling the ball. Ituka said his conservative first-half performance was by design, motivated by the desire to prove himself a multi-faceted player. The rising junior had also run into foul trouble when he tallied three penalties early in the game.
“First half, it was kind of a facilitating type of half. I just passed and brought the ball up. I did what I could to get the other guys going,” said Ituka. “I was in foul trouble, and I started to see that we were down, so when I got back in the game I knew I had to turn it up and get the dub.”
The Vikings appeared unfazed by Ituka’s second-half intensity. Whitman soon surpassed Gaithersburg’s lead and started to pull away after a fast five points by rising junior Jack Goldman.
In fact, it was Goldman who also landed the last-minute trey that pulled the Vikings to within two points after Gaithersburg reclaimed the lead.
However, the buzzer sounded before Whitman could build any momentum. The Trojans had stolen a close one.
“We did alright. I think we could have played much better,” said Czarnopys. “They were packing it in, so it was hard to drive and hard to get people open. I think we played alright. We won.”
For longtime Whitman Head Coach Chris Lun, summer league games provide an opportunity for players to improve, try new schemes and play against tough competition that they might not encounter in regular season county games.
The Vikings are currently participating in two different summer leagues, which affords the fourteen Whitman student-athletes plenty of opportunities to get quality playing time.
“They give our guys more games, more chances for us to see people. We’re trying to play a really challenging schedule, and we’ve played some really good teams so far, and it’s good for us to play these tough teams,” said Lun.
One of Whitman’s main areas of improvement during summer league is the offense, especially when it comes to shooting the ball with accuracy.
“Offensively, we’re not remotely close to where we need to be. We don’t run a lot of the same stuff we run in the regular season. We’re not shooting well,” said Lun. “We kind of get disorganized and throw up some bad shots. We can fix that stuff. We’re just looking at effort and to see who’s competing.
“Tonight, we did some good things, but summer league is just trying to see what we need to work on, and right now we certainly need to work on offense.”