FREDERICK -- It's been just about two months since Frederick High School's boys basketball team finished its first appearance in the Final Four since 1956.
But Luke Justice isn't wasting time. The soon-to-be Frederick senior is playing on a traveling AAU team plus a high school club team this summer. He has some goals in mind — a player of the year honor, a state title next winter, to be the best teammate possible and a spot on a college roster in a year's time.
His interest in basketball started at the age of 3, and it was his mother who pushed him in that direction.
"She had offers in college for basketball and soccer, but she was really big on basketball," Justice said. "She wanted me to play, and she taught me everything. My dad wanted me to play, too, so I have to thank my mom and dad."
Justice said basketball wasn't his best sport at first.
"I was actually a better baseball player (he was a pitcher) than I was a basketball player," Justice said. "I miss baseball. When I was 12 years old, I was in the state championship in Maryland before I moved out here. I threw my arm out in the middle of the game. We ended up going to a doctor, and he said if I continued pitching, I was going to tear a ligament. I would have had to get surgery, so I had to quit playing baseball."
Like a lot of high school players in his sport and others, basketball is a year-round sport for Justice.
"I miss the fun activities," Justice said. "I always enjoy watching football. I wanted to play it at one time. I miss out on the activities like summer time when everyone is in the pool or hanging out.
"I feel like it's always worth it," he said. "Basketball is my first love."
Wanting to improve on a good season
FHS was 21-5 this season and won the class 4A Longs Peak League title. For his part, Justice averaged 13 points a game and sank a pair of key 3-pointers in a playoff win over Mead.
"Coach (Jeff) Conway has already told us that we were an unknown coming into this (recent) season — that no one expected us to be good (FHS hadn't won a playoff game since 2012)," Justice said. "Because they know we were in the Final Four, every team is going to be giving us their best effort. We've got a bullseye on our back."
There are some differences between high school play, club team play and AAU play.
"Around AAU time, that's where I work with my coaches and a trainer," Justice said. "I work on my skills, see what I can do with the ball, pick and roll. It's more of a one-on-one type thing. When it goes to high school, it has to be a team effort. In AAU, you put five guys out there, and it's skill basis. In high school, you can be upset by a team that gels.
"My AAU coach, Coach (Brandon) Brown (the new coach at Cherokee Trail High School), has done really well with me," Justice added. "He's given us the idea of treating this like a high school game. If you can play defense, you can win. Practices are more like one-on-one. It's very competitive."
Justice earned all-state honorable mention this year and a first-team, all-conference citation. He thinks the Warriors will be a solid team next season, even though they have to find replacements for Alex Sturn, the coach's son, Jacoby Conway and Bryce Conover.
"When I go to a park and see kids play, it makes me happy," Justice said. "Basketball is such an important sport. It gives people opportunities, maybe make a future out of it. It makes me want to play even more."
There was a time when Justice didn't want to continue, though.
"I came home from my first practice. I was making mistakes, turning the ball over. I came home, crying, and I told her I didn't want to play any more," he said. "My mom said, 'There's no reason to cry.' She took me back outside after practice. We shot around for another hour and a half. She told me to never give up.
"I always thank my mom for that."