It was the first week of varsity basketball practice in the history of the Key School, and Coach Ivan Leshinsky, surrounded by several attentive players, was talking strategy near midcourt of the school's gymnasium.

Coaching came rather easily for the 6-foot-7 Leshinsky.

He once was a standout forward at Long Island University.

As a10th-round draft pick by the Boston Celtics, turned down an offer toplay professionally in America and opted for a four-year professional stint in Israel and France.

But never, in all of his previous basketball experience -- including six years coaching in the Anne Arundel County Youth Leagues -- had Leshinsky encountered such an abnormaldeparture from what he was used to on the court.

"We're standing there 20 minutes into practice and this kid walks in -- a player who was late, in fact -- and wants to borrow somebody," said Leshinsky.

"He said he was working on a computer project, was locked into the computer program and couldn't exit. He wanted to borrow one of the guys to help get him out.

"If I decided to pull something like that in high school, my coach would have had a fit.

"But I knew this was a unique situation. There were bound to be a few things like that that I'd have to put up with."

A co-educational private school in Annapolis of about 451 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade, Key School is excited about its first varsity basketball program.

But old habits are hard to break.

For now, the majority of the Obezags team members are in transition from treating the program as an afterthought -- after homework, after school and after almost everyother scholastic activity they participate in.

Simply put, a few players, early on, had a difficult time fitting basketball into theirschedules, which in some cases already were replete with extracurricular activities.

"The kids like to play ball, but they don't have a lot of extra time to put into developing their skills," said Leshinsky, whose team, which includes his freshman son, Eric, has no seniors.

"Eventually, we hope to get to the level where basketball is played with equal emphasis and on a level with other varsity programs.

"But right now, the kids have broad interests and are focused on three or four other activities in a tough and demanding (curriculum)."

Take the 6-foot-1 Drew Uroskie, for example.

Uroskie is not only the team's leading scorer with a 12-points-per-game average, but a standout in soccer and lacrosse.

A junior forward and center on the basketball court, Uroskie is also the co-editor of the school newspaper and an excellent musician, having played the piano for seven years.

He also has an "A" average in his studies.

"The scheduling is really difficult," said Uroskie. "School ends at about 3:15 andthere's the lag time between practice, which begins at 5:30 and endsat 7:30.

"I try to get homework done between there, and we practice so late. The problem really is trying to coordinate it with study time."

The Obezags also share the gymnasium with middle schools and intramural programs.

Barely had the players acclimated themselves to one schedule when they had to juggle again after Christmas.

"The times for the practices were kind of shifted around between two different schedules," said Uroskie.

"We had one for pre-Christmas and one for the second half of the season."

Coach Leshinsky himselfhad a tough time scheduling the job. He directs a youth counseling and recreation program in Baltimore by day.

He can only conduct practices four times a week, using Wednesdays as a planning day for his other job.

Although the Obezags have fielded basketball teams in the past, they were of the club team variety. Leshinsky wants to make sure that last year -- when the Key School lost all five of the gamesit played -- was the Obezags' last season playing as a clubteam.

"Whatever experience they had was very limited," said Leshinsky.

"Most of them are either right-handed or left-handed and can only playto one side. The hardest thing to teach them was catching the ball.

"The next level was to apply those skills consistently in a game situation.

"They've definitely improved their skill level to play as a team. They dribble, pass and shoot better."

Uroskie, Eric Leshinsky (a 6-foot forward with a 10-points-per-game average) and freshman teammate Michael Speyser are the only players with experience from organized youth leagues.

The starters are Uroskie, Leshinsky andthree 5-9 junior guards in Adam Haile, Brandon Pletsch and Chris Menocal. Sophomore center John Bennett, who stands 6-5, is developing rapidly.

With a 1-4 record while competing as an independent this year, the Obezags already have made progress, having beaten Queen Anne's Country School, 49-36.

However, Leshinsky's charges are going tohave to work harder if they're going to get any more victories. The Queen Anne's program since has folded, and the Obezags were scheduledto play them a second time.

Among the other teams on the Obezags'15-game schedule are Calvert County's Calverton Country School, Easton's St. Peter and Paul, Glenelg Country School, Annapolis Area Christian and Queen Anne's High School junior varsity.

Like his teammates, Haile keeps himself busy.

He is an "A" student, a violin player and a co-editor of the school newspaper.

"We get a lot of homework at Key School, but it's slowly becoming more manageable," said Haile.

"As a team, we've gotten a bit more serious about basketball. There's more of a (emotionally) charged atmosphere in practice, and we're getting more optimistic."

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