Area teams are getting big assists from guards

This Thanksgiving, many local college basketball coaches are grateful for their point guards. A bounty of exceptional players -- many who played at local high schools -- has emerged at the position, giving several teams a chance for improvement. Here are the ones who have made the most impact:

Pe'Shon Howard (Md.)
After a season to forget that was bookended by severe injuries, there was preseason speculation that freshman Seth Allen or sophomore Nick Faust was better suited to the point. But Howard, a 6-foot-3 junior, has seized the job, ranking seventh in the nation in assists at 7.8 per game.

After hitting only one of eight shots in an opening-game loss to Kentucky, Howard has thrived by thinking pass first. In three games since, Howard has taken only five shots but had 26 assists and just six turnovers.

Weekend schedule
Navy vs. Prairie View, 3:30 p.m.
Mount St. Mary's at G'town, noon
American at Florida Atlantic, 1 p.m.
Hofstra at GW, 2 p.m.
Boston U. at George Mason, 4 p.m.
Ga. Southern at Maryland, 7 p.m.
Wilmington (Del.) at Howard, 2 p.m.

"Taking care of the ball -- I know that's the main issue with coach [Mark] Turgeon," Howard said. "He's a point guard. Actually every coach we have is pretty much a point guard. Talk about scrutiny in practice."

Tilman Dunbar (Navy)
Forget athletics. Transitioning to the Naval Academy is difficult for any plebe. But handling things without a hitch on the floor has been the 5-10 freshman from Paul VI, who directed Navy (2-3) to wins that have broken their 22-game losing streak overall and 23-game skid against Division I teams.

In a win last week over Binghamton, Dunbar had 16 points, and his 11 assists tied the program record for a freshman.

"We were hard on him during practice because I understand how important that position is," coach Ed DeChellis said. "He's gotta play as a poised point guard at 18 years old, and that's a challenge for him. I think he's doing a heck of a job."

Dunbar leads the Patriot League in assists (6.6 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4). He also is the top scorer for the Midshipmen (11.8 points per game).

Joe McDonald (GW)
Last year, coach Mike Lonergan made McDonald his top priority, recruiting him to replace graduated standout Tony Taylor. In his second game Saturday at Boston University, McDonald scored 21 points and collected seven rebounds, leading GW (1-1) to its first victory and earning Atlantic 10 co-rookie of the week honors. He also has hit the first 11 free throws of his college career.

The 6-foot-1 McDonald has a physical style that allowed him to average nearly 11 rebounds per game as a senior at the Landon School. It also paved the way for success on the football field. He picked up the sport as a high school senior and drew college interest as a wide receiver.

"For me playing receiver was a lot like rebounding," McDonald said. "It takes timing, good hands and a little bit of aggression. The quarterback would throw the ball up for me. I'd go up and get it."

Markel Starks (G'town)
In a starting lineup in which he is the only player shorter than 6-foot-8, there is plenty of pressure -- literally and figuratively -- on the 6-2 junior. Though the Hoyas often run their Princeton offense through forwards Otto Porter Jr. (3.3 assists per game) and Nate Lubick (3.0 apg), Starks (1.8 apg) has been efficient with the ball, committing just seven turnovers in four games, and is blossoming as a scorer after averaging 7.1 points per game last year.

On back-to-back nights in the Legends Classic, Starks guided Georgetown (3-1) to an upset of No. 11 UCLA and a near-upset of No. 1 Indiana, hitting 16 of 28 shots, including six 3-pointers, on his way to 43 points.

"He emerged as their vocal leader," ESPN's Andy Katz said of the Georgetown Prep product.