Despite the graduation of its top three scorers, it's possible the Laurel High School boys basketball team will be better this season.
Gone are Frank Williams (19 points per game) and double-digit scorers Cailen Walker and Aubrey Golder, but the cupboard isn't bare.
The Spartans are coming off a 9-13 record and Class 4A first-round playoff loss to Northwestern.
"Class 4A in Prince George's County is one of the best public school conferences in Maryland," Laurel fifth-year boys basketball coach Torrence Oxendine said. "We should be in the middle of pack and above .500. The chemistry and camaraderie on this team is really high. The guys really love playing with each other and playing defense. And that chemistry will translate into more depth."
Junior Kirk Hawkins (5 feet 7) is the leader of the backcourt, establishing himself as a solid playmaker last season when he averaged 10 points and six assists per game.
"Last year, he was more of a distributor," Oxendine said. "Now, we need him to distribute and score more than the normal point guard. He will probably average 12 to 15 points."
Hawkins worked hard on his game in the offseason, and he could be the most improved Spartan.
"Because of his size and stature, he is probably one of the quickest guards in the state," Oxendine said. "He was out on the AAU circuit during the summer and played in the DMVelite. It was a scouting combine. He turned a lot of heads with his game management. Right now, he is probably a really good Division II (college) player if he continues to improve."
Senior guard Derrick Solee (5-8) also returns to the starting lineup. He is a good shooter and handles the ball well.
Senior shooting guard Tyreon Cooper (6-0), a transfer from North County High, should add some scoring punch and is also a standout defender.
"He has good instincts and has a nose for the ball," Oxendine said. "He is very aggressive offensively and defensively. That plays right into what we are trying to do."
Sophomore shooting guard Arthur Prince (5-10), junior small forward Eric Elue (6-1) and senior guard Ramelo Caldwell (6-0) are in the mix to start.
Prince didn't play last season, Elve moved up from junior varsity, and Caldwell contributed as a varsity reserve a year ago.
"We try to utilize our strengths since we have a lot of quick players." Oxendine said. "We press a lot and we press more often than we don't. We like to turn our defense into our offense. We should have more balanced scoring."
"He is probably one of the most coachable kids I've ever had and one of our smartest players," Oxendine said of Sowels, who has a 3.4 grade-point average. "He has a high motor and is always active around the basket. I anticipate him stepping into a bigger role than last year and averaging close to a double-double."
Senior point guard Michael Azah (5-9), a varsity reserve last year, and junior forward Ethan Lester (6-2), who was on the junior varsity, add depth.
"Usually, we go six or seven players deep," Oxendine said. "Now, we can eight players deep or maybe nine."
Laurel assistant coach Emory Hills likes the Spartans' chances.
"I think we will exceed expectations," he said. "We have more seniors on the team this year than we did last year. And this year, we are more defensive-oriented. We will let that generate the offense."