Always a trend setter, Annapolis coach John Brady, who brought the run-and-stun offense to the county a few years ago, has changed to a "more democratic approach" this season in hopes of returning to the team's more accustomed pedestal.
Last season, for the first time in 15 years, a Brady-coached Panthers team did not make it at least to the region final and for only the fourth time in his tenure, Brady's Panthers (20-3) did not win the Class 4A, Region IV title.
Eventual Region IV champion Old Mill upset the top-seeded county champions, 71-66, in the semifinals and went on to Cole Field House for the state playoffs.
"As a result of that and Clinton winning the election, I've decided to be more democratic, more liberal than the conservative Republican approach I've had in the past," said Brady, whose Panthers always have come back with a vengeance after losing in the regional.
"In keeping with the times, our fast break will be more liberal, which means we will step up the mph on our 84 feet for 32 minutes offense. And for the first time we are wearing royal blue uniforms. Maroon was much too conservative."
While Brady, whose career record is 318-54, loves to joke, he also will tell you this year's team is "very deep and as quick a team as the '79 [20-3] and the '86 [23-2] teams."
Annapolis returns four seniors in 6-foot-6 center B. J. Gross, forwards Lozonnah James (6-1) and Wendell Williams (6-3) and guard Chad Hartman (6-2).
Also, four juniors are back from what was Brady's youngest team. Forward Larry Brown (6-3), center Joe Pergerson (6-4) and backcourt players Kelsey Watkins (6-1) and Rico Lee (6-2) are the veteran juniors.
Brady is excited about three sophomores and two juniors up from a Ken Gonz-coached junior varsity that was 17-3 last year. Point guard Teshawn Cooper (5-8), whom the coach says "will play a lot," center Ronnie Johnson (6-4) and guard Alhamisi Simms are the promoted sophomores.
The two juniors are Rodney Watts (6-6), who gives Brady four centers (others are Gross, Pergerson and Johnson), and guard Lewis Day (6-3).
"We usually come back pretty strong if we lost in the regional the year before, and I hope history repeats itself," Brady said. Arundel has not had a winning season since 1979, when Bill Zucco, now the school's football coach, was the basketball coach.
But fourth-year coach Gerald Moore is optimistic that this year's team might end the string of 13 losing seasons.
The future is bright with graduates from a junior varsity that was 17-3 and won the county Bay Division last year under Chet Lipton.
"We've haven't had a winning season since I've been here, but on paper we look pretty good," said Moore, who is 21-43 as the Wildcats head coach and was assistant to Lee Rogers for five years before succeeding him in 1989.
Rogers moved over to the girls team and has pulled off dramatic turnaround in that program with two straight 15-win playoff seasons. Moore hopes to do likewise.
"I really think we can make it this year and be in the playoffs," Moore said. "It's a matter of everybody meshing together, and I mean the coaches and players, everybody."
Moore hopes to mesh a diverse group into a winner. He has two outstanding starters among his four returning players as well as two promising transfers and two newcomers who should contribute.
Rich Abrams, a 6-5 senior who averaged 15.8 points and as many rebounds as second-team All-County, is back at forward.
Junior Jeff Hedrick (6-0), one of the top athletes in the county (an All-Metro defensive back in football and starting shortstop on the baseball team) returns at point guard.
Seniors Kevin Brown (5-11 guard) and Mike Fairbanks (6-3 forward) return and will see more minutes this winter.
Sean Soyers (6-5 junior forward) is a transfer from nationally acclaimed DeMatha where he played on the Stags' JV. Moore said, "Sean is really going to help us. He can run the floor and
shoot the jumper.
Willie Leeks (5-10 junior guard) played on a California finalist team last year before moving to the Gambrills area and is "steady and fast," Moore said.
Kris Niemi, a 6-7 senior center, has moved up from junior varsity and newcomer Kevin Higgins (6-3 guard), whom Moore calls "super soph," will see a lot of time.
"We have good athletes and a good attitude," Moore added. "We hope to sneak up on some people this year."
While many coaches let the inexperience blues get them down, Broadneck coach Ken Kazmarek, who has only five returning players (two of them sophomores), takes a more positive perspective.
"The good thing about inexperience is that it's not permanent," said Kazmarek, who begins his ninth season as Bruins coach. "We are pretty inexperienced, but I think after we get a few tough games under our belts, we can be in the hunt."
Broadneck (14-10) was eliminated in the first round of the Class 4A, Region IV playoffs last season by eventual champion Old Mill, 58-56. It was the Bruins' eighth straight postseason appearance.
Two outstanding All-County seniors in Jeff Vincent (first team, 16.1 points) and Matt Weimer (third team, 13.6) graduated.
As a result, Kazmarek will be counting on his three returning seniors: 6-3 forward Bill Kupina, and 5-11 guards Eric Silk and Jason Hull to pick up the slack.
Sophomore guards Jason Smith (6-1) and Jaylonnie Booth (5-8) are also back. Last year Smith, the point guard, became the first player in Broadneck history to start as a freshman.
Another sophomore guard is Eric Elston, who is out for the first time.
Kazmarek also is encouraged with a crop of juniors from a junior varsity team that went 14-8: forwards Sean Ryan (6-5), Dan Lynch (6-2), Drew Williams (6-1) and Eric Hoppa (6-1).
Newcomers to the Bruins' program are senior forward Michael Goch (6-3) and senior guard Jerome Johnson (5-10). Goch is a German exchange student expected to contribute, although not quite as much as 7-footer Boris Beck did in the 1990-91 season.
"We're not big overall, but quickness is very important in basketball and I think we have that," said Kazmarek.
After back-to-back nine-win seasons, Chesapeake coach Tom Kraning thinks it's time for his program to rise to the "next plateau."
The Cougars won't be taking along any of last year's starters, however.
Those five seniors graduated, leaving Kraning's team with a different look this winter.
The good news? "It's not like we're replacing a 7-footer, or a guy who scored 30 points a game," Kraning said.
Instead, he'll need someone to step in for point guard Mark Hall, "our most valuable player," Kraning said.
"The way we run our motion offense, it's predicated on ball-handling."
Kraning will hand over the ball to 5-8 senior Zach Barbour, one of the reserves last year who saw a decent amount of playing time.
"He's worked very hard," Kraning said. "It's a difficult transition, but he's a smart kid. He makes good decisions out there. We'll be OK."
Other probable starters include 6-0 seniors Jerry Scheff and Joe Jennings, and 6-2 senior Ken Findley -- all returning from last season.
Findley has the greatest potential for scoring, though he isn't likely to become the 30-points-a-game wonder that Kraning alluded to.
The fifth starter probably will be 6-5 junior Brady Beziat, a newcomer to the varsity. He'll be pushed by 6-4 senior Rob Berg.
Kraning also has senior Chris LeCron (6-0) and juniors Aubrey Goff (6-1) and Jeremy Pelligrini (6-0).
Is all of this enough for Chesapeake to "move on" after winning eight, nine and nine games the past three years?
"The overall talent of this group is a little higher than last year's team, and they've got really good minds," Kraning said.
"Our goal is to try to get into the playoffs. These guys play well together; they're very unselfish. There aren't any heroes here, which is good and bad. Somebody has to step up and take control. I just hope we can jell the way I think we can."
Roch Eric Kubatko
Rumors around the county that Glen Burnie is going to be a factor in Class 4A, Region IV this season are apparently true.
"We have the most talent we've ever had here," said 25-year coach Terry Bogle, whose team was 12-11 last season, including a first-round playoff loss to Severna Park.
Second-team All-County forward Vernon Osborne, a 6-2 senior, headlines a group of five top returning players, four of them seniors. Osborne averaged 17.4 points for the Gophers last season and is one of the best players in the metro area.
The other returning seniors are forwards Jamal Forbes (6-6) and Jimmy Gloede (6-0) and center Bill Dykhuis (6-7).
Also back is junior point guard William Brown (5-10), who was called up from junior varsity at midseason last year. Brown, Osborne, Forbes, Dykhuis and Shawn Mahaney (a 6-2 junior guard who transferred in from DuVall in Prince George's County) will make up the starting unit.
For the first time in years, Bogle has a lot of depth, which makes the Gophers contenders.
Bill Kinsey, a 6-5 senior center who moved into the area this fall, is a pleasant surprise, and Bogle feels that he has seven other fine newcomers on his 14-man squad.
The Gophers have five juniors to use off the bench in guards Jeff Dickerson (6-0) and Courtney Elderidge (5-10), forwards Kenny Pitts (6-2) and Andre Bryant (6-2) and center Scott Ledbetter (6-5).
Bogle said if his team "picks up the tempo on defense," they should be able to keep up with anybody in the county this season.
Dealt a hand that lacks height and experience, veteran Meade coach Butch Young is ready to do what he does best -- teach fundamentals.
"There's going to be a lot of teaching going on between Dec. 15 and 29," Young said. "We're really small overall, but we handle the ball well, and I expect our shot selection to be good. We're going to have to rely on quickness."
Young, who is in his 28th season as a head coach in the county (the past 16 at Meade), lost 6-8 second-team All-County center ++ Brian Parker and third-team All-County guard Butch Somerville to graduation. Between them, they averaged 26 points and led the Mustangs to a 16-8 record.
Four of the Meade losses were to Class 4A, Region IV champion Old Mill, including an 81-73 double-overtime thriller in the region final.
Guard Derek Barrett (5-10) is the only returning player among four seniors who got a lot of playing time last season. Barrett scored 15 points in the region final.
The other returning seniors are guards Tommy Stevens (5-9) and Danny Sancomb (6-0) and forward Andre McNeil (6-4).
Junior Hasson Hamilton (a 6-4 forward) was also on last year's team.
"We only have one player up from the JV and everybody else is new to the program because of military transfers, and three kids who transferred to other schools [for disciplinary reasons]," said Young, who is second among county coaches only to Southern's Tom Albright in wins.
"We will emphasize position defense and might even have to use a five-guard offense. We will shoot well."
When Brad Wilson started out as North County coach two years ago, his roster was filled with underclassmen.
"They had to grow up playing varsity competition," he said.
The Knights' most severe growing pains occurred last season, when they lost all 22 games. Wilson didn't expect a state championship banner to hang in the gymnasium, but he wasn't quite prepared for what transpired.
At least, it can't get any worse this season. And with five seniors and eight juniors on the team, Wilson doesn't expect a repeat performance, either.
The backcourt especially is deep. Junior Teon Carter (6-1) led the Knights in scoring last year at 16.5 points, and senior Rob Kelly (6-2) averaged 11.0. Senior Frank Brown (5-9) appeared in four games after transferring from Southwestern, and junior Matt Lentz (6-1) "will be a good player," Wilson said.
Two newcomers are battling for the starting job at point guard -- junior Corey Jenkins (5-6) and sophomore Lou Brown (5-10). Both will be asked to push the ball up the floor.
Run, Wilson says, don't walk.
"Corey is quicker, and Lou can handle the ball a little better and has more court awareness," said Wilson, whose only senior last year was guard/forward Troy Ross.
Senior Damon Martin (5-9) and juniors Justin Rice (6-0) and Kevin Mitchell (6-2) add depth to the backcourt.
Seniors Eric Howard (6-3) and Chris Coleman (6-2) and juniors Jarryn Avery (6-5), Damon Henriques (6-2) and Eric Matuszewski (6-5) will see time at forward.
"These kids played basketball all summer. They went to camp, they played summer league. I think that's going to help," Wilson said.
/# "We have nowhere to go but up."
Roch Eric Kubatko
As Paul Bunting leaned against a wall outside the Meade gymnasium moments after his Old Mill team had clinched its first region championship, he smiled and said, "This season is going to be tough to match."
He wasn't kidding. And he's not smiling now.
The Patriots lost eight players, including six who started at some point during the year. His leading returning scorer averaged around five points. Two of his best, and biggest, inside players -- "beefy space eaters," he calls them -- are out until at least mid-January with injuries.
Is this any way to return to the state playoffs?
"I'd be a fool to say we can go as far as last year," said Bunting, whose team went 16-10 and lost to Paint Branch, 64-50, in the state Class 4A semifinals.
If Bunting has anything in his favor, it's that he isn't used to coaching a team loaded with superstars, so this year won't be a radical change.
Last year's squad wasn't expected to accomplish much, either, and it won three straight region playoff games on the road.
But that group had some proven scorers, such as second-team All-County guard Erik Sheppard, third-team forward Austin Johnson and guard Ravon Austin. This year, senior forward Troy Green (6-3) is the closest thing Old Mill has to fitting into that category.
Old Mill scored less than 50 points in each of three scrimmages, and Bunting said, "Hopefully, someone will emerge."
Perhaps that player will be senior guard Steve Smith (5-9), who averaged around four points last year. But he's known more for his ball-handling and defensive skills.
Senior forward Justin Greshko (6-1), junior guard Andrew Lewis (6-0) and junior forward Mike Bussey (6-3) are other possibilities.
Bussey, however, will need to concentrate on hitting the boards, because senior Izzy Deschaine (6-2) and junior Matt Tilley (6-4) are out with a knee and thumb injury, respectively. Tilley was on the junior varsity last year.
"Our goal is still to make the playoffs and go as far as we can," Bunting said. "Once you get into the playoffs, it's a three-game season and anything can happen. You just hope to get the breaks, to get lucky."
Roch Eric Kubatko
Give Wayne Mook credit for being an optimist.
The veteran Severna Park coach lost most of his team's height to graduation, but rather than fret over its stature, he rejoices over its quickness. It's a coach's way of saying the glass is half full.
"We won't be able to rebound as well as we did last year, but our team speed has increased," he said.
Even having four starters leave from a team that won 16 games before falling to Meade in the region semifinals isn't cause for panic. Instead, Mook finds relief in still having 240-pound junior Ron Green in the middle.
"We look for him to be an All-County player for us this year," Mook said of Green, who averaged 8.0 points and 11.0 rebounds last year.
"I always refer to him as a Wes Unseld-type. He's just so strong. There aren't too many kids who can rebound with this kid."
Even Mook has to acknowledge that, while rebounding isn't a prime concern, scoring has become one with the graduation of center Rich Riffle and guard Scott Brown. The duo combined to average 35 points.
Can anyone fill their shoes?
One possibility is sophomore guard/forward Bakari Ward (5 feet 10), who averaged around 30 points on the junior varsity last year. "He's super-quick, and just a powerful player," Mook said.
The backcourt received a further boost with the additions of three transfers. Senior Tony Curro (5-8), from Indiana, should start at point guard. Juniors Brian Morehead (6-0) and Eric Kunkel (5-10) came over from Indiana and Washington state, respectively.
Sophomores Mike Daugard (5-10) and Dave McClure (6-0) and junior Danon Sampson (5-6) are up from junior varsity. Sampson will battle Curro for a starting spot. All three players "give us more quickness on the floor," Mook said.
Senior Tim Bowerman (6-2) will try to inject some life into the offense at shooting guard, and junior David Orso (6-0) provides further depth at the point. He played sparingly last year and is recovering from a stress fracture in his back.
Inside, the Falcons hope that seniors Alan Baker (5-10) and Max Kuker (6-2) and junior Chad Moran (6-1) can assist Green on the boards.
"Last year, we tried to power the ball inside, and if you took that away, we had the outside shooters," Mook said. "This bunch is going to have to get a lot of points off their defense, and in special situations, like in-bounds plays, in order to be
Roch Eric Kubatko