Emily Petrlik, a senior forward on Howard High's girls basketball team, pointed at teammate Sharon Ford and delivered an anecdote that captured the Lions' style.
"We had a contest going -- who would hit the floor the most," Petrlik said. "I was tied with her (Ford) for a while, but she's way ahead of me now."
The Lions are a curious lot. They don't shoot well from the floor(33.5 percent) or the foul line (55 percent), yet they average a potent 56 points a game. The loss of Co-Player of the Year Kristi Greer to graduation last year left them without a leader and a proven high scorer, yet the Lions have become a team of scorers and leaders-by-committee. They've got their quickest, most athletic team in years, yetthey reject flashiness in favor of a down-and-dirty, dive-for-every-loose-ball approach.
And under fourth-year coach Craig O'Connell, the Lions have arrived as a force that doesn't figure to go away anytime soon. Friday night's surprising 61-37 blowout at Glenelg gave theLions a 14-2 record, kept them one game behind Mount Hebron in the county standings and solidified their No. 4 ranking in The Baltimore Sun's area Top 20 poll.
"I'm lucky. I've got great kids," said O'Connell. "I've had girls in the past who were uncoachable, but this group is great."
Coaches always lecture their players about performing as a team, but no basketball squad has practiced its coach's preachings better than the Lions.
Four players average between nine and 12 points a game. The five starters -- center Krista Fulton, forwardsMona Jackson and Petrlik, point guard Camille Powell and Ford -- average between 5.2 and 8.4 rebounds. Since county play began, no one has led the team in scoring in two straight games. Howard's offense doesn't contain a single play designed around a specific shooter.
"Wework more as a team this year than last," said Ford, who scored 14 points Friday. She averages 11 points a game and typifies the Lions' toughness by grabbing the majority of her 5.5 rebounds a game at the offensive end.
"The plays are designed for everybody," Ford said. "We all set picks and screens for each other. It's more fun that way."
When the Lions aren't confounding teams with their versatility onoffense, they're bothering them on defense with an assortment of man-to-man and zone alignments. They are giving up only 40.5 points a game.
"I had to fill in one night for Craig last year (O'Connell's father had died), and it was like I didn't even have to be there," said Howard athletic director Vince Parnell. "They recognized offenses and defenses immediately. That's how well-coached they are."
"He (O'Connell) is teaching them the right things. He's got them playing hard and their fundamentals are improving. And he's a good person," said Mount Hebron coach Dave Greenberg.
O'Connell has been moving theLions upward since he took over in 1988, the year after Howard had stumbled to a 2-20 record.
He guided Howard to a respectable 9-13 record in his first year, then pushed them to a 10-12 record and a playoff appearance the next year, despite losing Fulton for the season to a neck injury. Last year, with a healthy Fulton and superb play from Greer, the Lions emerged as a county power, finishing with a 10-4 league record and coming within a basket of going to the Class 3A tournament.
This year, the Lions have become a five-headed monster, starting with their four returning starters. Ford and Petrlik are steady around the basket. Fulton (10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds) has been a terror lately on the defensive boards, and her outside shot is as good as any in the league. Then there is Powell, perhaps the most underrated player in the county. She averages eight points, five rebounds, six assists and six steals.
"Camille is the straw that stirs the drink," said O'Connell. "She's the one who works hardest on defense. She's the one who makes our zone defense work."
The final piece to the Lions' puzzle is Jackson, the league's most exciting newcomer. After a shaky start, Jackson's confidence and performance are improving with each game. Jackson has come on to lead the team in scoring (11.9)and rebounding (8.4).
"She (Jackson) has already replaced Kristi's (Greer) rebounding, and she makes us a quicker team," O'Connell said. "She also brings a total attitude of a basketball player. It's like 'Tell me what to do, tell me how to do it, and watch me do it.' "
Which describes the way the rest of the Lions respond to O'Connell.
"He practices with us a lot, and he really pushes us," Powell said. "We're definitely a reflection of him and his coaching."