Four months ago, the future looked so bright for Hammond High School's boys basketball program.
The Golden Bears, coming off of their first county championship, had just concluded a 15-7 season with a thrilling overtime defeat to Hereford in the Class 2A Region II title game.
With three varsity starters due to return next winter and more help coming from a solid junior varsity squad, Hammond had begun to dream about a state championship.
Those expectations have changed drastically, since three key players -- guards Mike Matthews and Kofi Kankam and forward James Fehrmann -- have transferred out of Hammond.
"When 60 percent of your projected starting lineup leaves, it tends to change your expectations," Hammond coach Jack Burke said. "Now, we have to retool the whole backcourt. It's going to kill our depth."
The biggest loss is Matthews, a 6-foot junior guard who averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds and was selected to the Baltimore Sun's All-Howard County second team last spring.
Matthews has transferred to St. John's at Prospect Hall, a college preparatory school in Frederick, where he will be coached by Stewart Vetter.
Combining quickness, great leaping ability and tenacity on the boards, Matthews was Hammond's steadiest performer last year. At St. John's, he will be one of about 160 students.
Vetter, who formerly coached at Flint Hill (Va.) -- where Orlando Magic guard Dennis Scott played -- has coveted Matthews for some time, according to Burke.
"Mike made a pretty big name for himself at some camps last summer. He's got a boxful of trophies and awards," Burke said.
"Realistically, it's a good move for a kid with his caliber of talent. There are no limits on travel, he can play a 40-game schedule instead of 20, and he'll be playing a month before we get started. I think he would have been the best guard in Howard County."
Fehrmann, who is moving to the Dundalk area and will attend Dundalk High School, leaves a gaping hole in the Bears' frontcourt.
A 6-6, 190-pound senior, Fehrmann led the team in rebounding (11.5) and was Hammond's third-leading scorer (10.5). The Bears also will miss his shot-blocking ability.
Kankam, a 5-11 junior, would have been Hammond's projected starting point guard, before his parents decided to send him to NTC Glenelg Country School. Kankam led the Bears' junior varsity by averaging 16 points, 11 assists and seven steals.
"He [Kankam] was too good to practice with the JV, so he practiced with us," Burke said.
"Watching him and Kelvin [Stevens, Hammond's graduated point guard] battle each other in practice every day was an awesome sight. Kofi is just as quick as Kelvin, but he's a better shooter. He's a very good student. On the court, he's smart and under control."
With the roster changes, Hammond has one returning starter, sophomore forward Irving Conwell.
On top of that, the Bears might have a new assistant coach next year.
Dana Beszczynski, who has assisted Burke for the past two years, has applied for a graduate assistant basketball coaching position at James Madison University. If Beszczynski doesn't get the JMU job, Burke expects him to return.
The transfers of Matthews, Fehrmann and Kankam will make it difficult for Hammond to duplicate its surprising run last season.
After losing their first four games, the Bears went on to win 15 of their last 18 games.
Along the way, they tied Centennial for the county championship, then made it to the regional finals, where they lost by a point to eventual 2A finalist Hereford in overtime.
"We were thinking that we would be better this year, but all of these kids have legitimate reasons for going. They're not abandoning ship or anything," Burke said.
"The well isn't dry. We still have some good athletes and some potential players coming up from the JV. Don't blow 'Taps' for us yet."