Inexperience is plaguing the boys basketball programs at the county's three private schools this winter, setting up a season with a promise of inferiority and goals of mediocrity.

"We're young and inexperienced, but so are most of the other teams," said Archbishop Spalding second-year coach Lee Dove. "St. Paul's and Park are head and shoulders above the rest of the (Maryland Scholastic Association) C Conference, but I think we'll be right there with everyone else."

For the Cavaliers to stay "right there" with the other teams, Dove will have to reach into his bag of tricks, considering he lost all five of his starters and seven of 12 players from last year's 14-17 squad.

Of those returning, only one, junior Pat Calabrese, saw any real action last season. Despite the poor hand he's been dealt, Dove believes his Cavs can give their rivals a run for their money.

"We're going to try and play an uptempo pace," said Dove, who replaced John Russell midway through last season. "We don't plan on looking like the Runnin' Rebels, but we're going to push the ball up the court and play pressure defense. I think we will be competitive and I know we're going to surprise some people."

At 6-foot-6, center Brian Wade will not be a surprise to Spalding opponents, but he will provide the Cavs with a much-needed force in the paint.

Although St. Mary's does not compete in the same conference as Spalding, it, regrettably, shares the same problems. The Saints, who compete in the MSA B Conference, were devastated by graduation. Even more frustrating is the fact that their roster boasts only two players 6 feet or taller.

"If you know of any team out there with a front line under six feet tall, let me know," said St. Mary's ninth-year coach Jim Sheehan, with a laugh. "If you do, we'll add them to our schedule tomorrow."

Sheehan is looking to senior guard and co-captain Rob Chomo to lead the inexperienced Saints, and hopes that one of his rookies will emerge as a proven scorer to take some of the defensive pressure off his star.

"We need someone else to put the ball through the cylinder to alleviate some of the pressure on Chomo," said Sheehan. "We have a lot of seniors, but although they're seniors they're inexperienced. Someone has to step forward and score some points."

To offset his team's size problem, Sheehan will try to get his Saints to simply beat the big men down the floor.

"With the depth (on the bench) and quickness we have we're going to try and play an uptempo game," he said. "We hope to push the ball down the court and get the high-percentage shots off before the big men arrive."

The most auspicious of the private school contingents is Severn, and its program is still a year away from vying for any conference title -- and just where Coach Jim Doyle wants it.

"Last year, we started building the program and we developed a three-year plan," Doyle said. "Right now, I think we'll be real competitive in the (MSA) C Conference but we're still one year away from where we want to be."

In Doyle's cheerful plans are guards Jake Mack and Brad Fowler, both of whom started as freshmen last year. Senior forward Brendan Haggerty gives the Admirals a boost in the frontcourt and should provide the young squad with the necessary senior leadership. The 6-foot-2 forward was the Admirals' sixth man last year and will do all he can in his final campaign.

Doyle appears to have laid a stern foundation at Severn, and if it solidifies as planned, opponents should take heed.

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