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Five of the best local high school basketball players aren't wearingthe jerseys of county high school teams this season.

Instead, Catholic League schools are benefiting from their talents.

The schools they attend -- Calvert Hall, Towson Catholic and Mount St. Joseph -- all are members of the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference, considered to be the best league in the Baltimore area.

Two of the five players said they signed on specifically for the athletic program.

All five are participating this weekend in theCatholic League Basketball Tournament. The final is at 8:15 tonight at Loyola College.

County coaches lament the loss of good athletesto private schools, but understand the lure of more games, tougher competition and greater exposure.

"You can't blame anyone for wanting to better himself," Glenelg's Terry Coleman said. "We would never try to hold anyone back."

Jeremy Baker of Ellicott City was 13 andhad finished one summer playing in a league with Calvert Hall athletes. He concluded that Howard County basketball was not as strong as the Catholic League.

So he decided to transfer from Centennial Highand travel 25 miles each way to attend Calvert Hall.

"I'd like toplay basketball in college and I didn't think scouts would come to Howard County to see me play," he said. "I thought I needed tougher competition to bring my game a step higher."

So far the move is paying off for Baker, a 5-foot-9, 145-pound junior guard who averages 14 points and six assists per game. Colleges such as Florida State, PennState, Stanford and Towson State have approached him.

His quickness and three-point shooting ability have led to several 20-point games this season. He sank five three-pointers against Mount St. Joseph.

"I don't think I'd have done as well if I had stayed at Centennial," he said.

Richard Rhinehart, 16, averaged 16 points for Glenelg's junior varsity his sophomore year, but late last July decided not to return.

The 6-4, 170-pound junior shooting guard instead took his talents to Towson Catholic. He has averaged 14 points and six assists for a team ranked in the top 10 in the Baltimore area all season.

"I have a better chance of getting a college basketball scholarship at Towson Catholic because we play the best teams in the country," Rhinehart said. "At every game there's a couple of college scouts, and I've gotten a lot of mail from colleges, including Georgetown and St. John's."

Rhinehart scored 29 points in a big win over league runner-up Loyola. He scored 24 in a one-point loss to highly regarded Overlea of Baltimore County. And he scored 22 points, had eight rebounds and six assists against Catholic League foe St. Frances.

But the moment he remembers best followed a 14-point, eight-assist effort in an 11-point loss to national power DeMatha.

"The DeMatha coach (Morgan Wooten) came up to me afterward and congratulated me," Rhinehart said. Wooten is one of the most famous high school coaches in America.

Towson Catholic has played several teams ranked in the top 12nationally.

No Howard County school has played DeMatha in the past 20 years. No county school played a nationally ranked team this year or in recent years. In fact, county teams played only a few games against teams ranked in The Sun's Top 20 metro-area teams this season and didn't fare too well in those games. Sixth-ranked Loyola beat Oakland Mills, Mount Hebron and Wilde Lake, the county's top three teams.

Catholic League schools play many more games than the county schools are allowed to play, and Rhinehart likes that.

"And I'm playing almost the entire game. At Glenelg I wasn't doing that," he said.

Two Towson Catholic seniors are headed to Division I schools next season -- Tony Bishop (Southern Alabama) and Sidney Johnson (Boston University) -- and Rhinehart hopes to follow them after next season.

The Owls have a 19-11 record and are ranked No. 7 in Baltimore by The Sun. They were seeded second in this weekend's tournament.

Three St. Joe players also live in the county: Brian Dunn, Scott Dunn (norelation) and Jeff Servidio.

St. Joe is 9-20 but the record is deceiving because most of its losses were to top 10 teams, including two losses to No. 1-ranked Dunbar of Baltimore.

The unranked Gaels earned a reputation as "giant killers" by beating six teams ranked in the top 20.

Brian Dunn, a 6-1 senior forward averages 13 points. He had a 29-point game against Southwestern.

Scott Dunn, a 6-2, 155-pound senior guard, averages 10 points and hit a school-record seventhree-point shots against Northwestern in a 25-point effort.

He went to St. Joe because his brother, father and grandfather all went there.

"It's kind of neat to play teams like Dunbar, and I've been on the television news at least 10 times this year," he said.

Servidio, a 6-2, 175-pound senior, averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds andmade honorable mention on the All-Catholic League team.

"I went to St. Joe because I thought the education was better," he said. "It had nothing to do with sports. But the basketball competition is tougher. The Catholic school teams are ranked."

For most of the season no county team was ranked in the top 20. But in the past few weeks Oakland Mills has moved into that elite 20.

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