There are plenty of changes on Baltimore County's basketball scene, and one of the biggest is McDonogh's moving up from B Conference to A Conference in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Matt MacMullan's Eagles overwhelmed last year's B Conference opponents, going 24-5 en route to a No. 6 ranking in the area and the league title.
So McDonogh has moved up to the A Conference, where it will face Calvert Hall, Loyola and Towson Catholic. The Eagles demonstrated an ability to play with some of the area's best teams last winter, losing by just five points to the Owls.
McDonogh won't have All-Metro selection David Lunn, who is at the University of Delaware, but it has talented athletes on a team whose average height is about 6 feet 4.
Two key contributors are small forward Joe Benson (6-5), who quarterbacked the football team to a 10-0 record, and shooting guard Ryan Meehan (6-6), who caught Benson's season-ending touchdown pass. Like power forward Nate Eads (6-8), they are seniors.
Eads averaged nine points and five rebounds, and Benson averaged five points and six rebounds. McDonogh also returns its No. 2 scorer, Jazwyn Cowan, a 6-8 center who averaged 13 points and five rebounds. Louis Hut (6-0) will run the point.
As if the Eagles needed help, Mike Popoko, a sophomore who averaged 18 points at Overlea last season, chose the Eagles over Calvert Hall. He'll add depth.
MacMullan also will benefit from the presence of players up from a junior varsity team that won its conference crown last winter. "There will definitely be some of them coming up as subs," MacMullan said.
Towson Catholic coach Mike Daniel and Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci are working with youthful, albeit talented, squads.
Daniel, whose Owls were Catholic League runners-up during the regular season, laments the graduation of All-Metro guard Keith Jenifer, who averaged 19.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals, and second-team All-City/County center Jason Osbourne, a 6-8 wide body who averaged 14 points and was a big rebounder.
"We lost 20 points and 14 points, and the rebounding takes a hit also," Daniel said. "Rebounding, scoring, it'll all have to be by committee - a total group effort."
Daniel, whose team finished 29-11 overall and was Catholic League runner-up to Archbishop Spalding, is banking on the leadership of his lone senior, 6-6 power forward Ian Griffin.
In addition, Towson Catholic has junior guard Darnell Hopkins (13 points a game), 6-7 swingman Carmello Anthony, 6-8 sophomore center Byron Joynes and 6-7 sophomore Matt Stephenson. Junior Michael Harrison, a 5-8 point guard, will work his way into the backcourt.
Also citing relative youth is Amatucci, whose Cardinals return only three starters, one of whom is a senior, from last year's 19-12 squad.
"We're a young team, and I have my pacifiers ready," Amatucci said jokingly. "It's a green team when you look at the rest of the league. We lack experience, and we'll have to get toughness ingrained in our game."
Senior Randall Graves, a defensive specialist who averaged seven points, will be the floor leader. He'll have to improve his scoring.
Calvert Hall junior Pierre Jones (6-5) averaged in double figures, and junior center Dwayne Birden (6-5) averaged eight points.
Amatucci also will call upon talent up from a JV that won the regular-season title and was runner-up in the tournament.
"We have a tough schedule early, but we should be all right," Amatucci said.
Loyola coach Jerry Savage, whose 32-year record is 575-393, is coming off an 8-23 season, but he's optimistic because the Dons return four of their top six players, including the top two scorers.
Junior Chris Clunie (6-3) is the Dons' most durable player returning; he started every game last year, averaging 12 points. Junior Marcus Frisby, who missed five games, averaged 11.8 points.
Matt Murphy (6-4), who is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is expected back soon. He'll add experience, as will 6-2 junior swingman Matt Levine.
"They were the four guys who saw quite a bit of playing time," said Savage, who will also start 6-1 sophomore Essien Ford, up from the JV.
"I think we were very young last year, with only two seniors who started," Savage said. "It was a tough year, and one that I think the kids really want to improve on."
McDonogh's departure from the B Conference could benefit St. Paul's, which went 15-7 in the league last year - good for fourth - and is coached by Jack MacMullan, who like his brother at McDonogh, has a nice group of athletes.
Senior Tyler Tracy was a four-year starting forward on the Crusaders' B Conference champion soccer squad this past fall. Grant Halford, a senior guard, anchored the football team to a runner-up finish in the B Conference as a defensive back. Walter Hill was a top receiver on the same football team.
Sam Farmer and Will Boggler are experienced players returning to a St. Paul's team that makes up for its average height of 6-0 with hustle and defense.
Sophomore Holden Plack, a 6-5 reserve, is the Crusaders' tallest player, followed by Ray Brown, a 6-4 sophomore.
Boys' Latin also competes in the B Conference but has only two seniors back from a team that was 7-17 in league play.
Lakers coach Trey Gelston has set a .500 record as a realistic goal. He'll rely on guards Dave Rumber, Matt Field, Alex Filamor and Ryan Eby and forwards Pat Mahoney and Jake Walsh.
Park School, which plays in the C Conference, is coached by Josh Wolf and returns top scorer Isaac White, a 6-foot forward-guard.
Among county public schools in Division I, Randallstown, last winter's 3A state runner-up with a 23-4 record, looks to be the class of the conference despite missing two players to ineligibility.
Along the way, however, the Rams should be challenged by Dulaney, Milford Mill, and possibly even Dundalk or Towson.
Randallstown, which won a state title in 1995, will be led by second-team All-City/County Antoine Jordan, a 6-3 player who averaged 16 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"He'll be playing a dynamic role on this team," Rams coach Kim Rivers said. "But I don't think that's going to be a problem, because he's one of the top five players in Baltimore."
Jordan will run the show, along with 6-5 swingman Tony McMillian, who averaged 10 points and three rebounds, and 6-6 Aaron Hutchinson, who scored 14 points and averaged nearly 18 rebounds.
"Anton will take us as far as we can go, but Levi Stukes, who is a sophomore, is going to have to step up," Rivers said.
Dulaney, coached by Rod Norris, has all but one player back from a 17-6 squad. The Lions' success, however, depends greatly on how quickly second-team All-City/County forward-center Nathan Hopkins (6-7) rebounds from knee surgery to repair damage suffered during the summer.
A four-year veteran, Hopkins averaged 16 points and 13 rebounds. Five-foot-8 point guard Colins Stevens, another four-year veteran, averaged 11 points and five assists.
Julius Crossland (6-2) was the Lions' second-leading scorer, averaging 15 points, and junior Dan Ross, a 6-6 swingman, averaged 10 points.
"We need help up front, and we're expecting to develop a quality fifth starter," Norris said. "If that happens, we'll be all right."
Coach Craig Amos returns to his alma mater, Milford Mill, after leading Pikesville's program to two consecutive berths in the 1A state title game.
Amos, 30, who led Milford Mill to a state title as an All-Metro small forward in 1988, called leaving the Panthers' program "a huge and difficult decision."
"It was really hard with the relationships I had at Pikesville and what we had achieved there," said Amos, who later starred at St. Joseph University, graduating in 1992 as the program's all-time leading scorer, as he had been for the Millers.
"It came down to going home, the opportunity of a lifetime, coaching where you went to high school, walking those same halls," Amos said. "I had long conversations with my mother, Vera, my father, Edwin, and my wife, Tracy, and all three of them said that I should go home.'So here I am, from the purple and white to the green and white," Amos said. "Milford has a special place for my heart, and the first day I walked in, that verified that it was the right decision for me."
Amos will rely on center Damien Ward, a 6-4 senior who averaged 10 points and six rebounds. Senior forward Travis Sanchez, who is 6-3, "was a role player last year, but he'll have to step up and use his versatility."
Junior small forward Daron Arnold, who is 6-1, is up from a JV team that lost the county title game.
"Daron is very athletic and plays hard all over the place, the type of kid that is everywhere," Amos said. "I love coaching. It's always fun. But the challenge is going to be putting in the new system with all the new faces. But I expect a lot of good things, because they're hungry and they want to learn."
Dundalk returns four starters among eight players who are back from a 15-8 squad that posted wins over Eastern Tech, Milford Mill and Dulaney last winter. Tony Bailey (6-4), a third-year starting center, is joined by Antoine Toatley (6-3), David Moore (6-3), Valdez Preston (6-2) and Ricky Easterling (6-2).
"We want to improve after making it to the regional semifinals," coach Kevin Peiser said.
"The kids think we can go a little farther."
Towson is coming off its best season since 1989, going 14-8 with a nine-game winning streak. Nine players return, including four of five starters.
Six-foot-2 Scott McGowan (14 points) and 6-1 defensive specialist Ryan Valeri (eight points) lead the way. Bryant Dull (5-11) averaged 10 points and is a three-point specialist. The Generals also return their top rebounder, 6-5 Oliver Peterson.
Loch Raven (6-16) returns one starter and has four seniors but should do "a lot better than last year," according to second-year coach Chris Bruno.
"Last year was our first in a very strong division, and we came in last place," Bruno said. "We can only go in one direction."
The returning starter, 6-foot Shane Williams, averaged three assists and eight points and is the floor leader. Kourtney Fulton, a 6-foot guard, is the co-captain with Williams. Josh Baer, another 6-foot guard, and Glen Scott, a 6-2 guard-forward, make for a defensive, quick team.
"I'm overwhelmed with the whole situation, but it's a pleasant surprise. It's hard to explain what we'll do. It's a completely different team, a whole new group of kids," Bruno said.
"We've got a couple of transfers, but it's hard to tell how they'll do," Bruno said. "It looks like the kids are totally devoting themselves to learning the game's fundamentals."
Parkville (6-16), led by Brian Lewis, and Western (11-12), with 6-2 Justin Williams, each return one starter.
The battle in the county public schools' Division II will be intense, with Catonsville, Eastern Tech, Perry Hall, Pikesville and Woodlawn in the mix. Woodlawn, coached by Bobby Richardson, won only 11 games but should be much improved. The division's other four teams won at least 14 games each.
Paul Smith, who led Dunbar to four state titles before becoming an assistant women's coach at Towson State, takes over at Pikesville, which defeated Randallstown for the overall county title last winter.
The Panthers will be led by second-team All-Metro forward Clement Sorgho, a 6-4 player who averaged 19 points, nine rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Guard Andrew Braver also returns from last year's runner-up and is a threat on three-point shots.
Eastern Tech, 17-7 last year and regional runner-up to Randallstown, will mix a core that includes three returning starters and several players up from a 16-4 JV squad.
Point guard Ricky Benson was last year's top scorer, and he'll be joined by 6-4 senior Valentino Otey and guard Paul O'Donnell.
"Our JV guys will definitely have to step up because they'll play a lot," coach Todd Wade said. "But overall, I think we should be better this year."
Last year, Wade threw a wrench into the season of a Perry Hall team that was 12-0 before losing to his Mavericks; the Gators finished 14-9, the slide hastened by a key injury and three overtime losses.
The Gators, coached by Evan Evanosky, Wade's former assistant, are capable of improvement.
Jason Burris (6-1), Jaron Taylor (6-3), Bobby Monroe (5-8) and Brad Trentzsch (6-0) all return. They are largely interchangeable players who will rely on hustle and quickness.
"Four or five guys last year averaged 11 points, and we scored 75 points as a team," Evanosky said. "This year, we have more quickness. Hopefully, that means that we'll win more."
Catonsville (15-9) has only a couple of key players returning, but they are very good ones: 6-1 Mike Haynie, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds, and Scott Clipp, who averaged 11.5 points. Coach Jim Rhoads thinks those two, Justin Davis and several players up from a 20-1 JV squad can be the nucleus for a very successful team.
Woodlawn returns three starters: 6-6 Jeff Garnett (12 points, seven rebounds), 6-5 Kevin Benn (15 points, 10 rebounds) and 6-3 guard Tony McDonald (11 points, five rebounds and five assists).
Small forward Marcus Sanders, 6-4, and sixth man Ebarko Carr, a guard up from the JV, have Richardson thinking big.
He has scheduled a difficult opponent in Gwynn Park, the Class 2A state runner-up last winter to Aberdeen, for the Warriors' Dec. 15-16 Tip-Off Classic. Walbrook and Douglass of Prince George's County also will be in the Tip-Off.
Franklin, coached by Mike Thomas, is coming off a 3-17 season. The Indians have three senior leaders: 6-3 forward Tavon Davis and 5-11 guards Ricky Washington and Tim Battle.
Center Phil Ranker (6-4) and forward Blair Young (6-3), both juniors, will need to raise their games a bit, but will get assistance from Owings Mills transfer Dennard Abraham.
In the six-team Mixed Division, Chesapeake, with four starters back from last year's 16-6 squad, is the favorite.
Owings Mills, coming off a 20-2 season, and Kenwood (14-10 last year) should be good. Longer shots include Overlea (11-8) and Sparrows Point, which was winless last winter.
Chesapeake returns four starters from a team that reached the 1A regional quarterfinals: senior center Arthur White, senior swingman David Robinson (6-3) and senior guards Regggie Harris and Rodney Gay.
"This year's team will improve on last year's record," said coach Matthew Mackey, whose team was eliminated by Pikesville.
Kenwood, coached by Cal Rumblay, has 6-3 forward Eric Shipman, 6-3 center Julius Carey and sophomore guard James Brown, who averaged six points and five assists.
"We're more athletic, and we have better shooters," Rumblay said.
Overlea returns only one starter, forward Domonick Logan, and will miss center Mike Popoko, who took his 18-point average to McDonogh.
Sparrows Point will be coached by Will Marshall, 25, a 1994 graduate of the Edgemere school who averaged 20.2 points there as a small forward, then became the all-time leading scorer at Western Maryland.
"My freshman year [at Sparrows Point], we lost every game, kind of like this team I'm coaching now, then my sophomore year, we won three, and my junior year, we went 17-3," Marshall said. "As a senior, we made it to the regional finals and lost to Milford Mill. They had a really good team with Blanchard Hurd. We lost, but we really turned it around, and that's what I'm hoping to do now."
Shooting guard Nathan Holmes and point guard Max Brown, both sophomores, figure heavily into Marshall's plans. Forward Bryant Boyd, a 6-1 senior, and Matt Cutsail, a 6-0 sophomore forward, "are extremely hard workers and very aggressive players," Marshall said.
"They ask me to tell them stories about the teams I was on, and I think they really believe we'll be winners," Marshall said. "I think they'll grow with me as a coach."
Carver A&T; returns its top three scorers in Zack Miller, 6-3 Gerard Burley and Reggie Lloyd, and good size with 6-5 Julian Roundtree and 6-4 Belke Crouthafer. "With our top three scorers, and some size, I'm pretty optimistic," said coach Mike Maholick.
Players to watch
Antoine Jordan (Randallstown, F, 6-3) State 3A finalist could ride Air Jordan to first state title since '95.
Clement Sorgho (Pikesville, F, 6-4) Could lead defending county champion to third straight 1A state final.