RICHMOND — Five minutes before tipoff of Wednesday afternoon’s Virginia 5A state championship, Potomac Coach Keith Honore informed his starting point guard that he wasn’t playing. Elyjah Camp sprained his ankle during the Panthers’ quarterfinal against Norview four days earlier, relegating him to limited minutes during a two-point performance in Tuesday’s semifinal.
The junior playmaker begged his coach to at least let him warm up, and Honore eventually changed his mind. The next hour and 45 minutes rendered that one of the best coaching decisions he’s ever made.
“I understand the importance of this basketball game to him,” Honore said. “I’ve been a head coach here for 10 years, and he’s got to be the toughest kid I know.”
With L.C. Bird hacking away at Potomac’s lead and his team’s championship aspirations caving in around him, Camp stood tall and hit all six of his free-throw attempts in the game’s final 53 seconds. His resilience pushed the Panthers to a 67-61 victory at Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center to secure their second state title in three years.
“It was everything I practiced for and worked for since my freshman year,” said Camp, who scored 11 of his 14 points from the foul line. “I just needed that ring.”
Without Camp’s composure at the line, No. 6 Potomac (27-2) might have been swallowed up by the Skyhawks’ furious run down the stretch. Senior guard Charles Falden (35 points) put L.C. Bird on his back and poured in 19 fourth-quarter points, including 17 during the final 2 minutes 25 seconds. The slender slasher attacked the glass with desperation, converting three three-point plays in a 57-second span as Potomac watched a 17-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to two on Falden’s putback off his own free throw with 39 seconds to go.
“That had to be the greatest performance I’ve seen in a quarter,” Honore said. “I almost wish I had a ticket to the game and was able to watch it from a different perspective.”
But Jeffrey Gordon responded to Falden’s put-back with two free throws, and Camp did the same to ward off the Skyhawks’ assault. It was too much to overcome for L.C. Bird (24-3) after trailing by double digits for most of the afternoon.
The Panthers were 8 of 16 from three-point range and shot 56.3 percent from the floor.
Wednesday’s achievement was nothing new for Potomac’s program, but it was to Potomac’s players, none of whom started on last year’s squad that made it to the state semifinals. Two of them transferred to the Dumfries school this year and several rose up from junior varsity, forging their bond during Honore’s brutal boot camp in December and culminating in March.
“We had to make a couple sacrifices, and some of us had to take a back seat,” junior guard Charles Hyman said. “We just knew we were a family, and we weren’t going to be able to make it this far without pulling together.”