This is John Brady's 15th year as head coach of the Annapolis Panthers' boys hoop team, and it's been a glorious run. He has over 300 wins without a losing season, one state championship in 1989-1990, 11 region titles and 13 county titles, and no less than a Region IV final finish.
But never has Brady had a more interesting team than this year's.
To most, the team's 6-1 start looks like another vintage Brady team, but is it? Is this team good enough to give Brady his 12th trip to the final four at College Park by winning the region title?
We may find out this week when the Panthers travel to upstart Chesapeake (6-2) tonight, entertain arch-rival Broadneck (5-3) Wednesday and visit perennial playoff team Old Mill (7-1) Friday.
It will be a grueling week that Brady hopes his inconsistent Panthers will get throughunscathed.
"It's either going to be the run and stun, or I could get my head shaved, get a cigar, and we could do a little Princeton act," said Brady after his team notched win No. 6 Friday night by 83-60 over Arundel (3-6).
The colorful coach is not sure if his guys can abide by their slogan of "84 feet for 32 minutes" and run with thethree teams they face next week. If they can't, Brady will have to consider going to the annoying, "limit possessions" slowdown game run by University ofPrinceton coach Pete Carril.
Brady, who has the reputation of putting people on from time to time, is genuinely worriedthis week.
He knows his team is not as dominant as it has been inthe past, that there may be more balance among the 4A teams than ever before with the emergence of Chesapeake as a winner and Severna Park (8-0) as a bona fide contender for the first time since 1980-1981.
In that '80-'81 season, Severna Park, coached by Denny Saylor (nowthe coach at Pallotti in Laurel), upset Annapolis in overtime in theregion final and went to Cole Field House for the state playoffs.
Current Falcons' coach Wayne Mook took over the following season andhas never been able to duplicate Saylor's feat. This year, Mook may have his best team ever, arguably better than the '84-'85 team that went 19-5 only to have Annapolis better it at 22-3 (including a loss in the state semis).
And, a couple of losses this week, which are conceivable, would put Annapolis' Panthers in an unfamiliar position -- chasing the leader rather than being chased.
The first of the three big games -- 7 p.m. tonight at Chesapeake in Lake Shore -- could set the tempo for the Panthers. The Cougars have their best team in school history, although it sure didn't look like it Friday night in an embarrassing, 58-38 home loss to Broadneck.
"The way we played tonight, we couldn't beat a 12-and-Under Rec League team," Chesapeake coach Tom Kraning told the 24-Hour Sportsline (647-2499) Friday night.
"I got relatively disgusted with my starters in the third period. It was just one of those nights. We just gave it away, killed ourselves with my starters, hitting only four of 13 from the free-throw line in the first half.
"Everything was going the way we wanted, butwe went to the foul line, and we missed and we missed, and we missedand we missed."
Obviously, the Cougars could be real bad and diveinto the tank tonight, or they could take Friday's loss out on Annapolis. Kraning and his troops should come out to prove they can play with the "big boys."
And the "big boys" in Anne Arundel County are Annapolis, Broadneck, Meade (5-3) and Old Mill. Those four teams are annually in the playoff hunt with Annapolis usually winning.
Bradywas excited about how fast his team came together in preseason. Theyplayed exceptionally well in scrimmages, he said. Going into the season and home opener vs. Baltimore's Carver, Brady was very confident.
Annapolis won over Carver (4-1), a team ranked No. 12 by The Sun last week, by 90-82, but Brady wasn't happy. His team led Carver by more than 20 points in the second half, but let the Bears back into the game.
Brady's dismay continued in the second win, 75-74, over Baltimore's Mount St. Joseph. Despite capturing his 300th career victory, Brady was miffed at his team's lack of discipline and failure to carry out his instructions.
Edmondson of Baltimore was the Panther's third victory, 100-77, and to date was the Panthers' best game. They manhandled an excellent team loaded with talent, ranked No. 14 by The Sun and 4-2 through last week.
Junior center B. J. Gross, who is 6-foot-6, asserted himself with 16 points and 15 boards.
It looked like the Panthers were going to get hot, winning the first game oftheir Cap City Classic during the Christmas Holidays by 93-46 over Baltimore Polytechnic (2-5). But they proceeded to get whacked by Cardozo of Washington, 86-70, in the championship game.
After the break and week off, the Panthers resumed their schedule Jan. 8 at North County with a lackluster, 63-45 victory over the winless Knights (0-10) and the Arundel win on Friday.
While the Panthers won both big, they still didn't appease Brady. At North County, his team exploded for 27 points in the first period, and acted as if the game was over after only eight minutes.
The Panthers tallied only eight points inthe second period for a 35-25 halftime lead and scored only 28 points the entire second half to 20 by the Knights. It was like two different games, the first period and the other three, which is not what Brady is looking for.
It seemed to carry over against Arundel, as Annapolis led by just 18-17 at the end of the first period.
"It wasn't one of those ones where we were way up, and they whittled it down to 20," said Brady of his team's 23-point triumph over the Wildcats.
"We basically were up 12 to 15 points most of the second half and made a little bit of a run at the end (24-14 final period). It wasn'tany bench-clearing time."
Marvin Brown paced the Panthers with 22points and Lozonnah Jones chipped in with 16 points. Rob Wooster, last year's Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year as a junior whenhe averaged 14.1 points a game, tallied only 11 points against Arundel.
While his 18.5-points-a-game scoring average has him ranked inthe county's top three behind Albert Lee of South River (20.6) and Panther teammate Brown (19.4), Wooster has not been the consistent overall player he was a year ago.
The calm, cool and collected Wooster -- who led the Panthers to a 21-4 record and into the state playoffs last year -- has at times this season appeared unsure of himself and lacking confidence.
Certainly, this would be the week for Wooster to pull his game together, shaking the early season ups and downs. I can't imagine Annapolis winning all three games without Wooster playing well.
We should know by Friday night if this is a typical Annapolis team or the one that Brady feared it would be at the end of last season.