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On the basketball court, Gregory Metrinko, Calvert Hall's 5-foot-8 point guard, has a nasty habit of hitting the bigger guys below the belt.

Employing his quickness in a tactical style he calls "playing the little-man's game," the diminutive junior from Glen Burnie, with 2.5 steals per game, has created so many turnovers against taller foes that it's bordering on criminal.

He's usually the first to get dirty -- after diving head first atthe slightest hint of seeing a loose ball.

"He's so scrappy, he just goes all out in every game," said forward Brian Matz, Metrinko's 6-1, 165-pound teammate.

"He's a great team player, and since he'sbeen on the varsity since his sophomore year, he's starting to step up and lead us like he should."

Metrinko had his best game last weekend, scoring a game-high 19 points as the Cardinals (12-9, 6-5), ranked No. 14 in The Baltimore Sun poll, notched a 69-52 victory over visiting Archbishop Curley.

"He's a real savvy ballplayer, and he plays very intelligently," said Rick Landers, the assistant to head coach Joe Baker. "He's actually a throw-back, a traditional point guardwho just runs the team well and just works real hard at improving his game.

"He puts in a lot of time trying to get better," said Baker. "He's one of those guys who's going to be the last one out of the gym after practice."

In last Friday's 68-54 loss to No. 13 Towson Catholic, Metrinko scored just three points but had nine assists and three steals.

Although he entered those contests averaging only eight points per outing, he also was dishing out six assists.

"I guess I try to be a Muggsy Bogues-type player," said the 16-year-old Metrinko, fashioning himself after the 5-4 point guard for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.

Metrinko, who has a 27-inch vertical leap, says he's trying to work on his jumping ability. "I hope to get up higher bythis summer," he says. But in the meantime, he'll continue to compensate with his court generalship.

"I try to be a smart player, staying low and being quicker than the bigger guys, even though they might out-jump me," said the 150-pound Metrinko, who maintains a "B" average at Calvert Hall.

"We run the fast break a lot, and I've got toknow how and who to get the ball to when there's an open shot to be taken. I'm always trying to improve my ball-handling, passing and vision on the court, and especially my three-pointers, because that's the shot of the '90s."

When the pressure is on, Matz said Metrinko, who shoots 78 percent from the free-throw line, is the one person whostays in control.

"He's got great touch, and he's an excellent ballhandler," said Matz, whose team went just 8-20 a year ago. "This year, he's had to take over, and he's definitely turned his game up a notch since last year."

Metrinko never has shied away from tough competition.

After spending his first four years (from ages 8 to 12)in the Greater Glen Burnie and Anne Arundel County leagues, Metrinko, then 13, went to Baltimore to play for the highly competitive Madison Buccaneers.

There, he competed with and against players like Donta Bright and Keith Booth, currently stars of the nation's top-ranked Dunbar squad.

"I was doing real well in the county leagues, but I wanted it to get a little tougher. Some of the guys I played with in Baltimore were already 6-4 and 6-5," said Metrinko, who stood just 5-5. "But I never got discouraged, when I had a bad game because I always wanted to improve and get better."

Metrinko, who said he chose Calvert Hall "for its good academics," geared up for this winter byplaying summer league basketball in five different conferences, including the Baltimore County Unlimited Men's League, the Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League, and for P. J.'s Pub in the Annapolis Men's Summer League at Truxton Park.

"I played in a game every night except Sundays. On some nights, I played in two games. A lot of times,I went against men who were a lot older, bigger and stronger than me," said Metrinko, who this summer also attended the prestigious Five-Star basketball camp for the second consecutive season.

"Summer league ball is a lot tougher than high school, because these guys have the height, weight and experience on you. They can make you feel realsmall, but that's where you use the little things to get by. You've gotta play smart."

And if he continues to keep his grades up for college and to improve on his overall game, Metrinko should stand taller when it comes to pursing a post-high school basketball career.

"I've had a few guys see me at camps during the summer," said Metrinko. "Hopefully, I can play basketball at a small college somewhere."

And for Metrinko, that could be the start of something big.

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