Samuel Howard doesn't deny a 6-foot-7 frame has led to a lot of his basketball success.

"Being tall is always a good thing in basketball," the sophomore said with a grin.

But it's the 6-9 body of junior teammate Nic Doherty that might have taken Howard to another level during the 2013-14 season.

"When you have to practice against someone that tall, someone who is also the top shot blocker in the state, you definitely get better," said Howard, who averaged 17 points and a 3A-best 12.4 rebounds. "After that, I'd feel pretty confident when we'd play our games and the guy on me was only like 6-3 or something."

It showed. That confidence and production helped the senior-absent Lions win 21 straight games on their way to league and districts titles before finally bowing out to Holy Family 59-51 in the semifinals.

First, it started with simple one-on-one drills.

The key matchup: Howard, the team's best inside offensive player, vs. Doherty, the team's best interior defender.

The two bigs would smash and grind the boards.

"It was fun to watch," said Lions coach Mark Engesser.

Howard would turn Doherty around on one move and flatten him on another.

Doherty would regroup with a monster block, a stat he led 3A with 3.5 a game. And the two would do that every single practice.

"We'd go at it pretty good, I'd say he probably got the better of me more than not," said Doherty, who averaged 8.9 points and 6.2 rebounds. "Sam is a very good player. He's great in high school already. And he'll be a great college player, too."

Now it's a matter of which sport it'll be in.

Blessed with gifted hands, Howard's basketball career will have to compete with his potential football future as the sophomore has already received interest from such D-I football programs as Colorado State.

For now though, Howard, who is still steaming from his two-point performance in the semis, said he's leaning toward sticking with basketball for the long haul.

"I want to play basketball. It's just the sport I grew up with and the one I'm always putting first," said Howard, who had had 22 double-double performances in 27 games. "I'm focused on helping us win a state title in basketball next season."

The Lions return their whole roster for the 2014-15 season.