Laurel coach Torrence Oxendine has gone through quite a few lineup changes since taking over the program in 2010, and he has plenty of new faces, this season, too.
Missing a half-dozen of his top eight players from last year, Oxendine will try to find the right mix to produce a competitive team.
He likes the direction the Spartans are headed after they kicked off the season with a 71-69 victory over Bladensburg on Dec. 5.
Two transfers, 6-foot-2 shooting guard Aaron Brown (Meade High) and 6-foot-7 forward/center Tai Marshall (Takoma Academy) may be the tonic needed to make Oxendine's job easier.
"Losing (five starters) always hurts, but the newcomers have bought into the program," Oxendine said. "They have stepped up tremendously."
Oxendine, who also doubles as the school's athletic director, might use the word 'rebuilding' often if not for the presence of Brown and Marshall.
Oxendine likes the physical aspect the pair brings to the court.
"They are aggressive guys offensively and defensively," the coach said. "I will be excited to see exactly how that transitions to game situations."
Oxendine knows both players will post statistics that help the Spartans win games, but he is particularly impressed by their leadership skills.
It didn't take long for both players to fit right in and show a lot of confidence.
"They are two quality kids," Oxendine said. "That transitions into the locker room. They always make sure the guys are doing what they need to do.
"They just fell into the system we have, and they are part of the family."
Marshall anchors the frontline after starting at Tacoma last season. He totaled 17 points and 10 rebounds against Bladensburg.
"Tai is 6-7, 6-8," Oxendine said. "So that helps in the paint and with our defense. Tai's biggest asset is his demeanor on the court. He is a no-nonsense player."
Marshall will be supported along the frontline by 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Mamadou Ndiaye, who turned in a solid season coming off the bench last year.
The Laurel coaching staff is seeing improvement from Ndiaye as his role grows each year.
"He has the potential to be a very good player by the time he is a senior," Laurel assistant coach Michael Hines said.
Oxendine said Ndiaye's offseason work will show up on the court this winter.
"Mamadou grew a couple of inches, and he has brought a little more energy than he did last year," he noted. "He had a good summer playing AAU basketball for Nike Team Takeover. I think his team finished top five in the nation."
Senior forwards Marvin Vainquier (6-foot-2) and Jordan Reed (6-foot-2) and junior forward Devonte Cook (6-foot) offer more production inside.
Oxendine said the trio are simply underrated players.
"They are undersized, but they are very athletic," Oxendine said. "They rebound very well and like to take charges. These guys will shock people. People look at them and say, 'These guys probably can't do this.'"
Brown headlines the backcourt after starting two seasons at Meade. Brown had 21 points, five assists and five rebounds versus Bladensburg.
"Aaron Brown is very athletic," Oxendine said. "Brown's biggest asset is his drive and determination."
Senior guards Denzel Dolet and Cailen Walker and junior guard Frank Williams are other players to watch. Senior guards David Burgess and Xavier McFadden, and junior guard/forward Paul Golder provide depth.
Despite the talent on the roster, Oxendine and Hines know it could take the Spartans time to jell with all the new faces.
"I think by mid-season to the end, we will have it together," Hines said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun