Senior shooting guard Francesco Porcarelli, left, and junior forward Jair Williams are two of the leaders on the Park boys basketball team. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / January 1, 2014)

No team in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference may want a piece of Park's basketball team late in the season.

Park has the talent to "win the whole thing," Bruins second-year coach Derrick Larkins said.

But the Bruins' progress has been slowed by some early-season challenges.

Larkins and assistant coach Will Wharton needed to break in four key players from an undefeated junior varsity team into their eight-man rotation, along with 6-foot-6 City transfer Jair Williams.

The coaching staff also had to deal with a concussion that sidelined last year's leading scorer, Francesco Porcarelli, a player Larkins calls "the glue that keeps the team together."

Issues aside, the feeling might be described as hopeful optimism for another successful season after the Bruins went 14-7 last year.

This year, they're off to a 5-2 start.

"I think on paper, we should be one of the better teams in the conference, but we have to come together," Wharton said. "There is a lot of potential for positive things to happen like Jair getting better and Fran getting healthy. Our starting point guard, Justin Holmes, was on the jayvee last year. He is getter better and confident. By the end of the year, we should be in the mix of things."

Larkins goal is simply to see improvement over the course of the season and he understands it will probably come.

"I am still confident in my group that we can be a force in the league, but we have a lot of work to do," the coach said. "We need to do some things to get to that next level. If we can hit our stride, we can go far. Our big men are playing really well and we have depth that we didn't have last year."

Larkins and his players are excited to have Porcarelli back when he returned in a 16-point victory over Key School in Brooklandville on Dec. 19 after missing two weeks.

It's clear Porcarelli, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, is the Bruins' premier player.

"He holds guys accountable," Larkins said. "With Francesco gone, we lacked the composure we needed. A lot of jayvee guys coming up want to make their mark and run. He knows when to speed it up and slow it down."

Porcarelli led the Bruins in scoring last year, averaging 15 points per game.

His offensive skills and leadership ability will give the Bruins a boost.

"He is pretty tough going to the hoop and a pretty good shooter," Larkins explained. "He is a very mature athlete. He understands competition and right way to do things. He is not caught up in points or assists. It's about winning basketball games with him."

Williams can be a difference in helping Park win games.

He scored 20 points or more three times, including 28 in a rout of Harford Christian on Jan. 4 in the Park School Boys Holiday Basketball Tournament.

The production of Williams and 6-foot-3 center Idris Mitchell (averaging 9 points, 7 rebounds) and presence of 6-foot-5 senior forward Jack Curley have made up for the departure of Amani Lawson (14, 7), who transferred.

Williams sat out last season after transferring to Park. He averaged 15 points and eight rebounds on the jayvee for City as a sophomore.

"He can play inside or outside," Larkins said. "He has hit one or two threes in each game. Very seldom do we get a 6-6 guy who can play on the wing."

Larkins also likes what he has seen from the four players elevated from the jayvee: Holmes, junior guard Jason Gelbaum, junior center Jelani Robinson and junior forward Justin Wyda.

Gelbaum scored 24 points, including five three pointers, against Key.

"He is one of our better shooters," Wharton said. "And he is getting better with the more time he gets."

Once the playoffs come around, the Bruins won't be lacking a spark.

"This team has the potential to make it to the championship," Porcarelli said. "We are more motivated this year because of our loss to key in the quarterfinals last year. We lost by 30 plus points. That was so embarrassing."