The game has changed. The days of players filling defined positions on the court has given way to interchangeable parts. Guards are playing more in the paint, big men are stepping outside and the top teams are the ones who can spread the floor and target the mismatches.
Howard County, in particular, will feature this trend in full force this winter. Coaches are putting as many as five guys on the floor who can handle the ball, shoot the three and finish in the paint.
"You watch college basketball and that's what the game is moving toward, guys that can do a little bit of everything," River Hill coach Matt Graves said. "Colleges are looking for versatility, so your big men are shooting more and your guards are playing inside more.
"For us, we've been operating that way for awhile with our offense. You're just seeing an entire generation going that way now."
As Glenelg coach Jansen McMillan points out, the more guys on the floor that are capable of hitting from the outside, the more space it opens up for drives and cuts to the basket.
"When everyone's a threat to hit the three, people have to stay home and that opens things up for us to get to the basket as the game goes on," said McMillan, who featured four players on his Gladiators' squad last year that hit 19 or more 3-pointers. "It kind of levels the playing field for teams, like us, that don't have a lot of size."
No public school player in the county hit more 3-pointers a season ago than Marriotts Ridge senior Robert Davis, who knocked down 54 shots from beyond the arc on his way to averaging 17.8 points per game.
The Mustangs' speedy point guard is one of just two returning first-team all-county players — the other being River Hill junior forward Charlie Thomas (17.0 points, 8.5 rebounds a game) — and will be looking to help Marriotts Ridge improve on its sixth-place finish in the county a year ago.
"He's a special kid and, from an individual standpoint, he's on pace to reach some milestones this year that very few Howard County boys have," said Marriotts Ridge coach Marcus Lewis, citing specifically the 1,000-point plateau that Davis needs less than 200 points to reach this winter.
Davis is far from the only sharpshooter back this season, though. In fact, of last year's top 15 3-point shooters, 10 return. Chapelgate's Matthew Frierson (59 made) and Terrell Willis (30), Reservoir's Kyle Reilly (42) and Aaron McDonald (21), along with Glenelg's Matt Hammert (34) and Dom Napolitano (23) provide their respective teams with multiple options from deep.
As far as the county championship race is concerned, the general consensus is that no one should run away with things like Oakland Mills did on its way to a perfect regular season last winter.
The Scorpions, who boast a returning group of four guys that averaged seven points or more a season ago, will certainly be right there in the mix once again. Also helping the Oakland Mills cause is the addition of sophomore Daniel Kiely, up from the JV, and junior Mamadou Ndiaye, a transfer in from Laurel.
River Hill was second in the county last year and has a special player in Thomas. The 6-foot-7 big man is the county's top returning rebounder, a versatile scorer and is already getting attention from Division I colleges. He will have plenty of help from returning guards Gary Sandler, Mike Heitzmann and forward Mike Titus.
Reservoir was the county's lone representative at the state tournament last year and, with Reilly (10.9 points per game) and McDonald (7.5) back in the fold, the Gators figure to be battling for the top spot once again.
But more than anything, with elite returning talent spread out at teams like Marriotts Ridge, Glenelg, Wilde Lake and Atholton, balance should once again be the name of the game.
"I hope to see a lot of parity this season … I would be shocked if any team could run the table," Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. "Should be some great basketball week to week."
Glenelg Country, which plays in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, will be fairly young but has a great senior leader in Chancellor Barnard. Barnard averaged 13 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last winter and has signed to play for Loyola University next winter.
Chapelgate has a strong returning core of four guys with experience in starting roles and that should put the team in position to make a run at the MIAA B Conference title.
With the season starting for the public schools on Dec. 5 and already underway for the private schools, check out our team-by-team breakdown in the photo gallery at the top of the page.