Ramel Stephens' rise from unproven player to extremely valuable sixth man on York High's basketball roster is due, in part, to inspiration supplied by a former Bearcat.
"C.J. Smith is a like an older brother to me," Stephens said during practice on Thursday afternoon.
"He shares my passion for the game and introduced me to SA (Salvation Army gym)."
Stephens, who averaged just 2.4 points a game as a junior, is averaging 10.7 this year.
He can beat defenders off the dribble and also pull up for jump shots.
"Last year, I watched the way that C.J. controlled the ball, and how he improved his shot," Stephens said. "And I thought, if he did it, I can do it, too."
Smith scored 14.4 points a game for York High last season. He's attending Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore.
"We stay in contact to this day, and we still go at it (one-on-one) when he's home," said Stephens, who goes to the Salvation Army gym every day after practice.
"C.J. and my cousin, Na'Shon DeShields, they both inspired me and told me I would have to be ready to step up this year because they weren't going to be there."
The ex-Bearcats supplied the inspiration, but it was Stephens' whose sweat ethic caused the transformation.
"The work that Ramel put in over the summer was insane," York High coach Troy Sowers said. "He's a 6-1 kid with a good vertical leap who can get to the rim. He averaged two points a game last year, and this year, he's had a couple of 20-point games this year."
Stephens is one of a number of unproven Bearcats at the beginning of the season.
"Everyone was unknown with the exception of Tavon (Parker) and Derek (Wilson)" Sowers said.
"Ohsajid Beard's come a long way. He never played organized basketball before this year, and he's produced some double-doubles this year. Stephen Dickson runs the show for us, and he's a pass first, point guard. Jahaire Wilson is a sophomore, and in the game against Hempfield, he had 12 (points) and 18 (rebounds) and took two charges. DaiQuest Casiano went from scoring a little over one point a game last year to more than seven a game this year."
The players have blended together to win 24 games, so far, and the York-Adams Tournament championship for the second straight year. They're hoping to add a District 3 Class AAAA title to the list of achievements.
The Bearcats will take on defending champion Chambersburg (15-8) in a district quarterfinal game at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
"They have three returning starters from a district championship team," Sowers said. "They have the 6-8 kid (Mitch Stahl), their 6-5 kid (Evason Ogbanna) is all over the glass, and Kellen Williams is a great scorer. Plus, Tay Charles is a solid point guard."
Williams averages 14.8 points a game followed by Ogbanna (11.3) and Stahl (8.8).
Parker is York High's scoring leader at 20.2 a game. Derek Wilson (13.0) and Stephens are also in double figures, and Jahaire Wilson is contributing 9.6 points and a load of rebounds.
The offense doesn't need any adjustments, but Sowers is looking for better fundamentals on defense so there won't be a repeat of Wednesday's foul-shooting fest when York High and Hempfield went to the line a combined 53 times.
"Our experience in districts is that they (the officials) call them (the games) really tight," Sowers said.
"You have to be fundamentally sound to win District 3 Quad A games. Don't reach and block shots under control. There are always things to work on, and we need to make sure we're fundamentally sound on defense Saturday."
Reach Dick Vanolinda at firstname.lastname@example.org