:TC Not known for being brief, Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore was simple and direct when asked about the outlook for his 1994-95 squad.
"Let's just get it done," he said. "Don't talk a whole lot, just get it done."
As the boys basketball season swings into full gear this week, all the talk -- and eyes -- will be on the Lakers, ranked nationally by USA Today (No. 14) and Street & Smith's (No. 10), and No. 1 in The Baltimore Sun's preseason Top 20.
With four returning starters, including Shawnta "Nut" Rogers, the area's top senior college prospect, and the addition of first-team All-Metro performer Guy Butler, who transferred from Woodlawn, trip to College Park for the state 4A Final Four in March is expected.
"It's all on us," said Rogers, a two-time first-team All-Metro selection. "It's what we make of it. We feel that we definitely belong there."
On paper, the Lakers, which were ranked No. 3 at the beginning of last season, appeared to belong with local rivals Dunbar and Southern-Balto. While the Bulldogs (Class 4A) and Poets (2A) won a state championship, Lake Clifton finished 16-7, losing in the regional semifinals for the second straight year.
"Look at Southern, their first six players were seniors and we had a lot of juniors," Moore said. "To compare with us and say that we underachieved isn't a fair label. Dunbar had [Norman] Nolan and [Rodney] Elliott. Those team had seniors; we were sophomores becoming juniors."
Now, those juniors are seniors. Along with Butler and Rogers, who is being recruited by Clemson, Dayton, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Xavier, Lake Clifton has experienced upperclassmen in forward Reggie Frazier, a second-team All-Metro selection last season, and guards Jimmy Moore and Ronald Byrd.
"They have the experience and talent," said Southern-Balto. coach Meredith Smith, whose team defeated Lake Clifton four times last season. "They will be an extremely formidable opponent this year."
Though Lake Clifton will have tough competition in the city 4A League and nationally when it plays at the Charm City Classic at Loyola College in late January, Moore's biggest challenge may be developing and maintaining a winning chemistry.
"We've got to want it," said Rogers. "At times, we played down to our competition and we can't do that. For us to be a better team, we've got to make sacrifices."
The city 4A League will be again the area's toughest with Lake Clifton, Walbrook, Southwestern and Southern, which finished No. 2 in the nation last season.
No. 2 Dunbar (25-3 last season), which finished No. 5 nationally, losing three games by a total of six points, again will be the overwhelming favorite in the 2A-3A League and to win a third state championship. The Poets and the Lakers could renew their longtime East Baltimore feud in January at the Charm City Classic.
Fortunately for Dunbar, the success of its state championship football team has taken some attention off injuries that have slowed them down. The biggest one, Robert Foster, who missed all of last season because of heart problems, broke his right foot and will be out at least until January.
"We have visited the hospital quite a few times," Dunbar coach Paul Smith jokingly said. "It's going to be a while before we get everybody on the same page."
While Butler's moving to Lake Clifton was the key transfer in the area, Alphonso Jones, who helped Douglass to the state 3A championship game last season, moved to St. Frances. He joins an already talent-laden club that includes Mark Karcher, the area's top freshman last season.
Calvert Hall will challenge St. Frances for supremacy in the Catholic League. Mark Amatucci, who led the school to national prominence in the early 1980s, has the Cardinals in three major tournaments this season, including the Charm City Classic. Cardinal Gibbons, Mount St. Joseph, Loyola and Towson Catholic should follow.
Those clubs, along with Calvert Hall, will be battling for the
Maryland Interscholastic Association A Conference title. McDonogh and Severn, who were the top two finishers in the MSA B Conference last season, join the MIAA A Conference and will be major factors.
With McDonogh, Severn and Gilman moving up to the A Conference, the MIAA B Conference race is wide open. Friends, St. Paul's, Boys' Latin each have a legitimate shot at winning the conference title.
In Baltimore County, Randallstown and Milford Mill are the favorites to win their leagues.
The Rams retain all five starters from last year's Class 3A semifinalist squad, including Daron Ward and quality depth, and should dethrone Woodlawn, the perennial Baltimore County 3A-4A League champion which lost Butler and returns only Keion Carpenter, one of the area's top point guards.
In the 1A-2A Baltimore County League, the defending Class 1A state champion Millers have a sizable edge behind their powerful frontcourt duo of Blanchard Hurd and Keon Selman. Hurd, a 6-7 forward who has signed with Loyola College, averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds last season.
Overlea should challenge Milford Mill with the county's premier shooter, Troy Williams, who averaged 25 points a game as a sophomore.