Basketball practice was coming to a close and the Whale Branch Early College High School boys, as they do each practice, worked through a late-game situation.
Justin Rhode passed up a shot and fed senior Charles Jiles, who dropped in a 3-pointer from the wing. Whale Branch coach Linc Lyles used the moment later to describe Rhode's poise, rare for a freshman and what allowed Rhode to contribute right away after moving from Greenwood before the school year.
"A lot of kids force things," Lyles said. "More often than not, he's going to make the right decision."
The even temperament is a common trait among the Whale Branch newcomers -- Rhode and juniors Denzel Daniel and NyQuan G-Smith -- who have each provided a boost during Whale Branch's run to the Class 1-A state championship game by not getting rattled and by meshing well with teammates. When the Warriors play Lewisville on Saturday at Colonial Life Arena, Rhode and Daniel probably will be in the starting lineup. G-Smith could provide minutes off the bench.
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The Warriors are a deep team and Lyles has worked to develop the core players who have been with him during each of the program's three seasons, but a little good fortune also has played a part.
Daniel moved back to the Beaufort area from Michigan, where he was born and has moved back and forth growing up. Lyles thinks Daniel might one day be a small forward, but he proved a natural fit in the post and has quietly emerged as one of the team's most reliable players and a double-double threat.
"You can yell at him and get on him and he's fine; you can brag on him a little bit and he's fine," Lyles said. "I wanted him to fit in, and he's done more than fit in."
G-Smith moved from Charlotte during his sophomore year but could not play basketball due to an issue with his transcripts not transferring correctly, he said -- an issue corrected in time for the 2012 track season. He practiced with the Warriors' basketball team last season but could not play. He started some games in the post early this season but missed several games with illness. He has been working his way back and now has a chance to contribute in the title game.
"We feel ready," G-Smith said.
Rhode broke out with a 20-point performance during a second-round playoff victory over Timmonsville. His game has been molded by his father, Joe, a former prep standout in Washington, D.C., and his older brother, Javarus, who helps coach the Warriors.
It was Justin's mom, Audrey, a former college athlete who teaches at Whale Branch and coaches volleyball, who told Lyles her son was a basketball player. During limited contact in the fall, Lyles saw Rhode's ability. A broken foot kept Rhode from contributing more this season.
"Our goal for him is to become a complete player," Lyles said. "He's already brought an almost complete game when he got here."
Class 1-A boys basketball championship
Who: Whale Branch vs. Lewisville
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: Time Warner Cable, Channel 520, will be showing all of the state championship games.
Admission: $10 for all games, children 5-and-under are free
Details: Handheld signs, posters and noisemakers are not permitted.