HOWARD COUNTY, MD — There’s no shortage of talent across Howard County boys basketball entering the 2018-19 campaign.
Co-Players of the Year Jaden Martin (River Hill) and Ryan Davis (Glenelg) have graduated and since began their college basketball careers, but four of the five first-team All-County honorees return for their senior seasons.
There’s reigning county scoring champion Daeshawn Eaton from Oakland Mills, sharpshooter Brandon Prox from Mt. Hebron, two-way big man Josh Odunowo of Reservoir and former Player of the Year Trea Keys of Wilde Lake. Two second-team selections, Justin Oates (Atholton) and Brandon Held (Marriotts Ridge), are also back.
Plus, there’s an influx of local transfers; the most Matt Graves has seen since he began coaching at River Hill 14 years ago. They’re spread out all around the county, too. Atholton and River Hill have three, while Glenelg Country, Hammond, Long Reach, Mt. Hebron and Marriotts Ridge all have one. Each newcomer has a chance to make significant contributions.
With these transfers, in addition to a host of proven playmakers and promising junior varsity call-ups, Howard County boys basketball should be even more competitive during the regular season and more dangerous come state playoffs.
“I think there’s a handful of teams that can bring it every night: Reservoir, Oakland Mills, Atholton, Mt. Hebron and Centennial,” Graves said. “I’m not pushing away the Hammonds, the Long Reaches or any of those, but I believe those first five I named have a good pedigree of winning, they have coaches that have been around for a while — except for Mt. Hebron — but they have their system down with their players in tact of what to do.”
“Win at home and steal some games on the road,” Graves added. “And if you can do that, and you can make a run towards that end of January, February, anything can happen.”
River Hill has followed that formula the past two seasons and reaped the benefits, surging to the top of the county during the 2016-17 campaign and winning its second-straight county title and their first regional championship since 2007 last winter.
Graves believes this year’s team can achieve that kind of success, too, though it’ll attempt to do so with an almost entirely new roster.
The Hawks lost four starters and their top six scorers from that 21-5 squad, but they welcome brothers Ryan and Nick Marshall, who came over from Mount Saint Joseph in Baltimore.
Graves said Ryan, a 6-foot-4 senior, could be a “matchup nightmare for most teams.” Nick, meanwhile, is an “energizer bunny,” according to the veteran coach. Both players bring athleticism, versatility, and an enjoyment level that Graves said has been contagious.
Running the point will be Graves’ son, Jackson, and protecting the rim will be 6-foot-6 senior OJ Okojie, the lone starter back from last season. Expect Ming Yu, who was ineligible last season, Pallotti transfer Dennis Kirland and JV call-up Jordan James to contribute regularly as well.
“I truly believe that our defense can create our offense, which is always nice because we’ve never really had those players that are long and athletic and can get rebounds and get out and run,” Graves said. “This team might have a little bit of a different look to it than years past.”
Oakland Mills shared the county title with River Hill last season and should once again be strong. Eaton, a smooth and shifty guard who averaged 17.1 points per game last season, leads a Scorpions’ squad that returns fellow starters Jaelen Gaymon and Kevon Simpson and has nine seniors overall. Senior captain Frederick Eiland II will also have an expanded role.
Oakland Mills’ weakness will be it’s lack of size, as coach Jon Browne said this is perhaps the smallest team he’s ever had. The Scorpions’ lone returning frontcourt players are Adam Fairbanks and Justin Parks, and neither of them appeared in more than 12 games last season. Six-foot-five sophomore Dooley Riggs — the brother of first-team All-County forward Aislynn Riggs — is a welcome addition, but he’s not yet a ready-made big man, Browne said.
The Scorpions do have depth, and Browne plans to use it to pressure teams with a full-court press and tight man-to-man defense, hoping to cause turnovers when the ball goes into the post. They should also have ample bench scoring with junior DJ Hopkins, who was called up at the end of last year, and sophomores Barry Evans and Truth Norton.
Browne plans to use his team’s increased depth to pressure opponents with a full-court press and tight man-to-man defense, hoping to cause turnovers when the ball goes into the post. They should also have ample bench scoring with junior DJ Hopkins, who was called up at the end of last year, and sophomores Barry Evans and Truth Norton.
“It’s wide open,” Browne said Nov. 28 about the county race. “And I would like to think that we’re in the mix, but only time will tell. Right now, we’re just not ready yet, but we still got another week. It’s a long season. To win another county title would be great, but are we even in that conversation right now? I don’t know.”
Finishing third in the county last season was Reservoir, which brings back eight players and has a quartet of sophomores coach Mike Coughlan is already excited about it.
But when thinking about the Gators, it all starts with Odunowo, a 6-foot-4 senior that morphed into a dunking and blocking machine last season en route to earning first-team All-County honors. Expect him to be an even bigger offensive threat this year, as Coughlan said Odunowo spent all offeseason working on his shot.
Another scoring option will be guard Ryan Saunderson. Finally healthy, the 6-foot-2 junior will provide the Gators with an versatile playmaker who can make outside shots as well as get to the rim.
Then there’s senior point guard KyJuan McCallum, who has been a leader throughout the offseason for Reservoir, which beat Paint Branch and Largo to win a fall league championship in Prince George's County.
Even more promising, Coughlan said, was that the Gators did so with a lot of their younger players, many of whom they’ll rely on throughout the winter. Look for sophomores Aria Ameli, Kaleb Glasper, Jason Ha and Victor McKoy to make immediate impacts.
“The intensity in practice has been good,” Coughlan said. “Just the consistency of understanding that everyone has to come play every game, especially in Howard County where everyone is so close.
Atholton finished near the middle of the county last season but could be among the most-talented squads this winter. The Raiders return all five of their starters — including the senior guard trio of Oates, Maxwell Murray and Casey Parkins — and added three upperclassmen transfers: senior guard AJ Jackson (Mount Saint Joseph), senior forward Tyrique Gaither (Woodlawn) and junior guard Jordan Oates (Glenelg Country).
The Raiders’ lack of size was their biggest weakness last season, but that will not be the case this year with the 6-foot-5 Jackson and the 6-foot-4 Gaither. Even Jordan Oates is 6-foot-2, and he’ll likely play on the perimeter. Coach Jared Albert called Oates a “lights-out” shooter.
“It’s not like they’re just big men,” Albert said of the transfers. “They all can put the ball on the floor, they all can shoot it, they all have versatility, which is great. So, when we have those guys on the court, we’re not doing anything different than we did last year. It’s just that we have more size. … They’re huge pieces to the puzzle.”
Sticking in the 3A classification, Centennial reached the region championship last season but lost seven seniors, meaning it’ll rely on senior captains Ryan Hollwedel and Stafford Smith to headline what coach Chad Hollwedel expects to be a fast-paced and versatile unit.
All 12 of his players are upperclassmen (six seniors and six juniors), and they all have been a part of winning teams. The Eagles’ varsity squad won 10 of their final 11 games last season, while the JV group finished first in the county. Combining the returners from both teams, Hollwedel believes he’ll have eight or nine players he can confidently rotate in.
Mt. Hebron, which went 9-3 in their final 12 games last season, return all of their contributors outside of second-leading scorer Alex Nazaire. Prox is back after hitting 79 threes last winter — the most by a Howard County public school player in the last decade — as are guards Evan Ichrist and Ryan Kinloch and forwards Justin Cargiulo and Stevie Jackson.
Then there’s Chapelgate transfer Odell Dickerson, who seems to belong in his own category. The 6-foot-4 senior is a “dynamic two-way player who can do everything well,” according to first-year coach Jared Ettinger. Dickerson should also provide the Vikings with positional diversity and the potential for explosive plays on both ends of the floor.
“We hope to be amongst the league leaders in pace and use our speed and length to our advantage,” said Ettinger, who was promoted from JV coach to replace Michael Linsenmeyer. “I have high expectations for this team, and if players buy into our holistic, philosophic and strategic approach, we should have a very good season.”
Elsewhere around the county, Marriotts Ridge lost its starting point guard but returns almost everyone else, including second-team All-County performer Brandon Held. The Mustangs also add Robinson Davis, who did not play last season because of an injury, and Chapelgate transfer Cam Heard.
Wilde Lake has Keys back as the floor general and seniors Marc Marshall and Will Zimmerman on the wings, while the backcourts for Hammond and Long Reach also should be solid, with the Golden Bears bringing back Micah Henry and adding Dulaney transfer Jaylen Wiggins and the Lightning returning Elijah Modeste, Carey Olivis and Darelle Raymond. Glenelg and Howard, meanwhile, have a multitude of new players eager to showcase their potential.
As for the private school teams, Glenelg Country competes in the MIAA A Conference and is already off to a 3-0 start. The Dragons have been been reliant on brothers Chase and Cole Paar, DeMatha transfer Jordan Brathwaite and Igor Yoka-Bratasz, who moved to the United States from Poland. Meanwhile, Chapelgate (0-0, 2-5) plays in the MIAA B Conference.
The first official play date for public schools will be Thursday, while the county slate kicks off Friday with five league games.
Here’s a snapshot look at what to expect from the 14 local boys basketball programs as the 2018-19 season gets underway:
2017-18 record: 8-8 county, 11-13 overall
Coach: Jared Albert
Top players: Seniors Javon Daniel (G), Tyrique Gaither (F), A.J. Jackson (G), Maxwell Murray (G), Justin Oates (G/F) and Casey Parkins (G); junior Jordan Oates (G).
2017-18 record: 10-6, 16-9
Coach: Chad Hollwedel
Top players: Seniors Ryan Hollwedel (G) and Stafford Smith (G).
2017-18 record: 9-7, 13-11
Coach: Jansen McMillan
Top players: Seniors Carson Dick (G), Hunter Koele (G) and Dan Soltis (G).
2017-18 record: 4-12, 6-17
Coach: Michael Salapata
Top players: Seniors Richard Asa (F), Micah Henry (G), Martin Miller (F), Kyree Purcell (F) and Jaylen Wiggins (G); sophomore Cameron Miller (G).
2017-18 record: 2-14, 3-20
Coach: Seth M. Willingham
Top players: Seniors Aidan O’Connor (F) and Gabe Williams (G); juniors Darrion Harris (G) and Justin Hendricks (G); sophomores Kyle Colber (G) and Christian Rodgers (F).
2017-18 record: 5-11, 7-16
Coach: Andrew Lazzor
Top players: Seniors Ramone Martin (F) and Elijah Modeste (G); juniors Carey Olivis (G) and Darelle Raymond (G).
2017-18 record: 4-12, 9-15
Coach: Tim Brady
Top players: Seniors Cole Brown (F), Robinson Davis (G), Cam Heard (G), Brandon Held (G), Ryan Lee (F), Amari Little (G) and Cooper Stepke (G); junior Cam Brown (F).
2017-18 record: 9-7, 13-11
Coach: Jared Ettinger
Top players: Seniors Terrell Coleman (G), Odell Dickerson (G/F), Ryan Kinloch (G) and Brandon Prox (G); juniors William Bates (F) and Justin Cargiulo (F); sophomores Evan Ichrist (G) and Stevie Jackson (F).
2017-18 record: 13-3, 18-6 (co-county champion)
Coach: Jon Browne
Top players: Seniors Daeshawn Eaton (G), Frederick Eiland II (G), Jaelen Gaymon (G), and Kevon Simpson (G/F); junior DJ Hopkins (G); sophomores Barry Evans (G/F), Truth Norton (G) and Dooley Riggs (F).
2017-18 record: 11-5, 14-9
Coach: Michael Coughlan
Top players: Seniors KyJuan McCallum (G), Josh Odunowo (F) and Josh Bradford (G); junior Ryan Saunderson (G/F); sophomores Aria Ameli (G), Kaleb Glasper (G), Jason Ha (G) and Victor McKoy (F).
2017-18 record: 13-3, 21-5 (co-county, region champion)
Coach: Matt Graves
Top players: Seniors Ryan Marshall (F), OJ Okojie (F) and Ming Yu (G); juniors Jackson Graves (G) and Jordan James (G/F); sophomore Nick Marshall (G).
2017-18 record: 8-8, 9-13
Coach: Deon Wingfield
Top players: Seniors Trea Keys (G), Marc Marshall (G) and Will Zimmerman (F).
2017-18 record: 4-12 MIAA C Conference, 14-17
Coach: Frick Frierson
Top players: Seniors Alan Chambers (F), Marvin Cofield (G) and Andrew Phillips (G); freshman Jax Felder (G).
2017-18 record: 3-15 MIAA A Conference, 6-20
Coach: Garrett O'Donnell
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Top players: Senior Chase Paar (F); juniors Jordan Brathwaite (G/F), Noah Charles (G) and Igor Yoka-Bratasz (G); sophomore Cole Paar (F).