George Panageotou walked into a difficult situation when he took the Perry Hall coaching job in the offseason. He became the program's fifth coach in as many seasons at his alma mater, following Brady Franey, Monique Bassett, Daryl Wade and Erik Evanosky.
But Panageotou, a former Gator player, says he's committed to the program for the long term, and he worked hard to prove it.
"You have to work hard for the seniors to trust you — especially at the beginning of the year," said Panageoutou, who coached the Perry Hall junior varsity last year to a 14-3 record. "They couldn't trust anybody because they were always having a different coach."
Panageoutou said he has won over the seniors, citing the Gators' day-in, day-out intensity level.
He couldn't be more pleased with the effort of seniors Chandler Aversa, Greham Frey, Darnell Harrison, Tyler White and Dylan Riggie.
"You see it in practice, and how the team reacts and how they play together," Panageoutou said. "It's amazing how we step up to the level of competition. The better the team we play, the better we play. Our best games were not wins."
A good example was a five-point loss Jan. 18 to five-time defending county champion Milford Mill, winners of 89 consecutive county games. The Gators held a three-point lead at halftime
Perry Hall also lost to 20-2 Dulaney by five points Dec. 13 in double overtime in Timonium. The Gators received standout performances from sophomore shooting guard Derrick Green (25 points) and sophomore small forward Chris Osuji (24 points, 9 rebounds) in the setback.
"They really do rise to the occasions," Panageoutou said "The focus is there. The intensity, the teamwork. They amped it up another notch, especially on defense."
Their best win was a 57-52 victory over host Woodlawn on Jan. 16 behind Green (14 points, 3 assists) and Osuji (13 points, 7 rebounds).
"I would say that is the win of the season," Panageoutou said. "Woodlawn is a tough place to play. Historically, Perry Hall has had fits with Woodlawn and really hasn't gotten the wins against them."
Panageoutou considers the team's 13-11 record a success after the Gators went 10-12 last year. But the coach is more concerned with year-to-year consistency than a win-loss record.
"We are trying to bring stability to the coaching staff with the flux the program has gone through," said Panageotou, noting his staff includes longtime Perry Hall girls basketball coach Linda Caccavalla and Lawrence Pettis. "That's what we are trying to build this year. Really talking about stability. I have played at Perry Hall, I went there and coached the girls team there (as a varsity assistant)."
Looking ahead to next season, the Gators will have their two leading scorers to build around, Green and Osuji.
Green, who was promoted from last year's JV, averaged 17 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals per game while Osuji averaged 9.7 points and four rebounds.
Panageotou is especially impressed with the 6-foot-1 Green.
"He has the potential to play Division I," the coach said. "He has all the physical tools. He can handle the ball with both hands. He is a really good shooter and can attack the rim. He has more dunks than anybody on the team."
Caccavalla is impressed with Panageotou.
"He is the glue that has kept the program together this year," she said. "The seniors have had five different coaches, which is four different systems."