Amir Boney just needed a little bit of reprogramming.
For two years at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, the 6-foot-6 Boney recalls being requested of two things: rebound and block. No need to seek out scoring — that would come via put-back buckets and offensive rebounds.
Northwestern coach Terrance Burke didn’t see it that way. In fact, he saw Boney as the complete opposite when he took in the transfer.
“His only role there for two years was to rebound and block shots,” said Burke, who has taken the Wildcats to a 5-10 record. “So he comes over this year and we’re asking him to score and do so much more.”
Naturally, Boney resisted, his mindset zeroed in as an offensive afterthought. But when it clicks that he’s 6-6 with guard speed, small forward length, and center height, well, the results can be astonishing.
The first such example of it all coming together was a Jan. 16 tilt with Suitland. Ram big man Gerard Gray picked up a few quick fouls and had to sit, leaving the lane severely undermanned to contain such an athletic presence as Boney. The senior promptly hung a season-high 35 points in the eventual 77-69 loss.
“They just kept putting him in a one-on-one situation and he kept blowing past him every time — and one,” Burke said. “And he did it all four quarters, which is rare for him.”
“He’s long. He’s long,” Gray said, repeating to emphasize Boney’s ranginess. “I mean, he can get to the basket and he can run the court. He just uses his length to get to the basket.”
Even when Boney followed that 35-point eruption with 24 on Bladensburg and another 24 on Parkdale, Burke said he still wasn’t as aggressive as he needs to be.
“He really only started in the second half,” the coach recalled. And that’s something Bladensburg coach Antonio Williams is rather thankful for, even if his Mustangs still lost 91-88 in overtime.
“He’s athletic,” Williams said. “He actually was a shock to us because our focus was on little Mike [White], the point guard. We tried to get the ball out of his hands but when we got it out of his hands it went to Amir and he beat us. Once everything broke down he was there.”
Boney said that summer Amateur Athletic Union tournaments away from the rigid structure of Don Bosco boosted his development into a scorer. Even then, however, it still took a few weeks into the high school season for the predacious instincts to take over and the passive ones to become benign.
Boney was solid night in and night out, scoring double-digits in Northwestern’s first five games. But the fact remained: diminutive Mike White was putting up more numbers than his 14-inch taller teammate.
“It’s hard. There’s so many scorers and so many people who can get buckets,” Boney said. “[My teammates] are always telling me to keep shooting, keep scoring.”
Boney had actually told his teammates prior to the season that he was going to have a monster game like the one with Suitland, only it was completely in jest.
“That’s when I realized I really could do it,” he said. “I started strong in the first quarter, kept scoring in the second, and at halftime my teammates were telling me to keep shooting, so I kept shooting and I kept scoring the whole game.”
Suitland coach George McClure rotated three players on Boney throughout the game, yielding minimal success at best. Therein lays the unique issue Boney presents each opposing coach: who exactly gets the assignment of a 6-6 forward with the big man height and the guard speed, though admittedly lacking the handles?
“I think the biggest part with him being 6-6 and playing the way he does is you don’t know who to put on him,” Williams said. “If it’s man, you don’t want to put a big guy on him because he’ll go by him but if you get a small guy he’s going to be able to post up. It’s not easy.”
And still, the most difficult task surrounding Boney lies with his own coach, who is still attempting to cajole a little more aggressiveness out of his forward, which he says is just beginning to scratch the surface.
“There’s no one that can guard him,” Burke said. “We had to change the pace of the game for him. He can get to the rim anywhere outside the 3-point line on two dribbles. We need him to block shots. We need him to rebound. We need him to score.”