Kinney: Lane has been Mr. Consistency
If Plainfield's starters were punctuation marks, there is no doubt that Justin Sears and Diijon Allen-Jordan would be dual exclamation points, as in, "Did you see that ridiculous dunk!" or, "I can't believe he blocked that guy's shot again!"
Even in its structure, the exclamation point suits both the 6-7 Sears and the 6-5 Allen-Jordan for its leanness and its verticality.
No question that Sekou Harris would be the dash among this talented collection, as in, "Harris takes the outlet from Sears and --shifting into another gear that most high school guards don't have --flies past a defender and glides to the hoops."
He can shoot and he's a tough defender on the ball --but it's that tremendous speed that stands out so prominently.
You want your periods, your ending points? Look no further than Ed Anderson and Taylor Plummer, who generally share the fifth starting spot based on Plainfield's defensive matchups of the day. They're the stoppers, the ones who can bring a talented scorer's momentum to a screeching halt.
How about your colon, your comma, or even your question mark? Well, you can leave them all with Jahmal Lane, because the 6-2 senior guard has proven that he can multitask with the best of them and yet handle each specific detail of a job accordingly.
The multi-dimensional Lane will be looking to exercise every bit of his talent when his Cardinals, No. 4 in the MSG Varsity Top 15, battle No. 1, undefeated and defending champion St. Anthony for the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.
The colon indicates that what follows it is a summation, which, in Lane's case can be all the things he does so well: defends with intelligence and vigor, is outstanding on the break, rebounds with authority, possesses a dangerous mid-range jumper, shares the ball judiciously.
The comma? Well, we just used four of them to count off Lane's various qualities, so there.
And the question mark? That one you won't really need, because according to Plainfield head coach Jeff Lubreski, Lane's performance is almost never in question.
"To me the best player on a team is the most consistent, and Jahmal is our most consistent player," Lubreski said. "Every day you watch him you come away impressed. With some guys you'll say, 'Oh, I caught him on a bad day.' But just come and see Jahmal any day, practices included. You get consistency."
Any doubts about that, just ask St. Joseph of Metuchen, who just saw Lane ring them up for 22 points Friday night in Plainfield's 70-48 win the T of C semifinals. Asbury Park would have plenty to add, too, after watching Lane knock down 21 points two nights earlier in a 68-53 quarterfinal-round decision.
In fact, through eight tournament games, Lane is Plainfield's leading scorer at 18.0 ppg. (14.2 for the season) and yet also regarded as probably its best defender, whether he's covering an explosive swingman like 6-5 Quenton DeCosey of St. Joe's, a high-scoring shooting guard like Joel Hernandez of Teaneck or a quick, crafty point guard such as Ikie Calderon of Neptune.
"I love doing that. I can get going on both sides of the court," Lane said. "Actually, my offense comes mostly from my defensive play. If I'm hungry on the defensive side, my offense is going to come easy."
And here we return to Lubreski, who can't pinpoint an occasion when Lane didn't seem hungry on defense. So, even on a night when the jump shot is not falling or the opposing defense is particularly stingy, Lane finds a way to gather points for 30-3 Plainfield.
"I really think the way he locks in on defense helps him out on offense," Lubreski said. "He misses a shot or two, he's not carrying it down the court, because he just locks in again on defense. It's really special what he's able to do."
Lane was regarded as a solid defender last season when Plainfield (24-9) won the Group 3 title and reached the T of C final, where it fell to St. Anthony, 61-49. And even though he had a number of strong offensive game for the Cardinals (12 points, nine rebounds, in fact, that night against the Friars), Lane was a little inconsistent in that department. He might have hit double figures four consecutive games, but then totaled seven points in the next four.
"There were eight months in between seasons and some kids develop and change in that time," Lubreski said. "Obviously, Jahmal's a kid who did that. He's made some tremendous strides.
"He's been as tough a kid physically and mentally and locked in and focused as I've ever coached," he said. "To be able to do those things on both ends of the court…it's special, it really is."
One of the truly special aspects of Lane's game is how determined he is to meld his skills with the rest of the club's abilities. He doesn't feel the need to stand out, and is the happiest guy in the gym whenever Sears or Allen-Jordan stir the crowd with a monster dunk or Harris gets speeding citations at the end of one of his fast breaks.
"Those are my teammates and they're all phenomenal scorers," Lane said. "I'm basically Robin on this team and they're Batman. They're going to do their thing and if I can get going, it's hard to beat us. And as long as we pull out the Ws, I'm happy."
Plainfield enters the T of C final with a 14-game winning streak that began two days after a 43-31 loss to St. Anthony Feb. 7 in a regular season contest. Lane had just four points that night, but averaged 17.8 points in the next 14 leading up to this rematch. That's a string of steady performances that he was not capable of supplying as a junior.
"I just want to stay consistent every game. This is my senior year," Lane said. "I've been working out every day with (assistant) coach Mike Gordon in the gym, just working on my pull-up jumper, my three ball, getting into the lane, finishing with my left and right."
Against St. Joseph Friday night, Lane ran through his repertoire of offensive skills as if he were worried about missing a bus. He knocked down six points in the first quarter to help the Cardinals grab a 19-17 lead and erupted for 11 more in the second as the lead swelled to 37-23. He finished breaks, drove through the lane in halfcourt sets and also buried jumpers.
"I just wanted to come out with a lot of intensity on the offensive end and get them out of the game early," he said.
Lane can play the patient game, too, though, and that is what he is currently being forced to do with his college situation. He has attracted interest from such Division 1 schools as Rider, Monmouth and Central Connecticut, but is yet to receive an offer.
He's a 6-2 shooting guard who is really playing more of a small forward position for the Cardinals. Lane knows he can help another team win, but he can't demand that someone offer him a scholarship.
"I just want to stay humble," he said. "My time will come. I'm trying to be patient and humble and see what happens at the end of the season."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS