By Matt Palmer
Isn't it amazing how one player can make all the difference? In the 2004-05 boys basketball season, it was transfer Jamal John, the eventual Player of the Year, that made the Scorpions one of the top teams last fall.
Now, in perhaps an even bigger move, 6-foot-8 center Chris Moore has moved from Centennial to Howard, making the Lions a legitimate county favorite. After helping Centennial win the county title and earning a few Player of the Year votes last winter, Moore is wearing the dark blue of the Lions.
"They're probably the county favorite," Wilde Lake coach Phil Chenier said of Howard because of Moore's transfer. "He's long; he's multi-dimensional. He can do anything."
Indeed. Moore is tall like a center and moves like a guard. He has impressive post moves and rebounding skills and the ability to shoot from just about anywhere.
"Moore is a stud in this county," Hammond coach Ricky Lee said of the senior who averaged over 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game for Centennial.
"He'll do a little bit of everything," Howard coach Marvin Thorpe said. "I saw it coaching against him and I can see it even more now."
This year, for the first time, the county championship will be determined by a year-end game pitting the two teams with the highest county win percentage.
"As far as the county championship, it will be exciting for the kids to get the opportunity to compete on that stage and showcase their talents in a championship setting," Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said.
So who might play in this game? At 8-15 last season, Howard's going to have to prove it is worthy of being a contender for the contest, and Long Reach, Atholton and Oakland Mills are usually highly regarded teams.
Long Reach has been at or near the top of the county standings for nearly a decade and in his first full year at the reins, Al Moraz Jr., has some very exciting players.
The one name that jumps right out is Darryl Webb, last year's All-County selection. At 6-foot-4, Webb is one of the bigger players in the county and he backs up his size with an impressive inside-out game. He's going to make you work in the blocks and make you guard him outside. Last year, Webb was the county's leading rebounder with 11.5 boards a contest and he scored 14.6 a night as well.
"I know everybody is going to be keying on him," Moraz said.
Oakland Mills lost John's 17 points and 10 rebounds, but has four very impressive starters back, including forward Kevin Gibson, a second team All-County player who averaged just under six rebounds a game as a junior. The Scorpions could really create problems as they move to Class 2A.
Atholton graduated one of its better classes in recent years, but is still expected to contend based on some talented guards. Coach Jim Albert brings up a number of junior varsity players off an undefeated team to make for a promising season.
Wilde Lake could go as far as forward Blair Burnett takes them. The junior is coming off an impressive sophomore campaign that saw him grab six rebounds and score more than 11 points a game.
The county will be parity driven, with teams like River Hill, Centennial, Reservoir, Hammond and Glenelg all being capable of beating each other on a given night.
Glenelg Country School has been taking its lumps against Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference teams in hopes of being battle tested for C Conference play. This might be the year that the Dragons take their step forward.
Chapelgate, also in the C Conference, has many players back from a hard-luck team and are off to a 2-2 start.
The run down
Here's how teams look this season:
Atholton (12-8 county, 13-11 overall last year). Coach Jim Albert has a bunch of winners on his team. He has quite a few players from this fall's successful football team, including guard Matt Winger, power forward Aras Vaitkus and guard Dean Hart. Running the point likely will be Steve Lombardozzi, who Albert says "shoots so well" in addition to his passing skills.
The Raiders lost four starters in total, but with players like Chima Ebinama, Bachar Satchell and Adam Dobet from last year's constantly rotating team, experience won't be a problem.
Plus, five players from last year's undefeated JV - Tori Fawcett, Sam Permutt, Jon Castner, DeShon Scott-Hopwood and Lee Righter, along with Iziz Iscandari - should make this a deep team.
"I think we have the possibility to be pretty good," Albert said.
Centennial (18-2, 20-4). The county champs lost nearly everyone from last year's team. Scott Swinson is the only one returning from the top nine scorers. With Chris Moore moving to Howard and Drew Seker and Rick Anderson graduating, there is room for those who want to make a dent.
"We're asking JV kids to step up and play," coach Jim Hill said. "My hope is that we get better ever day."
Luke Beckmann will be the team's center and at 6-foot-5, might be a capable replacement for Moore. Corey Conyers, a senior forward, will step in and Alex Bechta, who came off the bench last winter, will be asked to do more scoring. Chris Rubright, a senior guard, will be counted on to help run the team's precise, purpose-driven offense.
Hill said he's not putting the expectations of last year on this inexperienced team. He looking, instead, for this particular unit to get better together.
Glenelg (7-13, 7-16). The Gladiators struggled last season to find consistency. They have a number of key returnees, most notably guard Danny McMahon, a three-year player with an outside shooter's touch.
"Danny is our scorer and people know it," coach Jeremy Snyder said.
McMahon should have some help in the scoring department from 6-5 power forward Ryan Smith, a big rebounder. Buddy Dennis, a junior point guard, scored 10 points a game half the season last year and should be a pretty solid handler. Kyle Cottrell, a senior and three-year team member, does a variety of things well. Brock Huber and Tyler Tart round out the guard rotation. There are three sophomores on the team, ready to contribute.
"My philosophy has always been that our defense creates our offense," Snyder said.
Hammond (7-13, 8-16). Guard Chancey Gilliam transferred to a prep school in the offseason and that was a big loss. Still, coach Ricky Lee calls his team "interesting" simply because there is so much unknown and potential as well.
"I've got a great group of guys," Lee said. "I had a lot of changes. It's not the team I thought I was going to have, but this group of kids is good."
Cattrell Hodges, one of last year's better players, returns. He is nursing an injury, but once healthy, he could be one of the better guards in the county. Hammond is guard laden with Tobias Eakins, B.J. Smoot, Lawrence Kiley and Isaiah Sanders all ready to log time.
"I'm very guard-oriented," Lee said. "We're going to do a lot of pressing and trapping."
Howard (8-12, 8-15). Howard has been near the middle of the pack the last couple of years. Now, if the players can mesh, the Lions could climb the ladder. Luckily, many Howard players are on AAU teams, including Chris Moore, forward Chris Hahn and shooting guard Matt Harvey. There's a rhythm the players have built that coach Marvin Thorpe likes.
"I'm praying that we live up to our potential," Thorpe said. "I don't even look at the rankings. It comes down to winning games."
Hahn has potential to be a real presence down low and could get a lot of rebounds and points working next to Moore. A nice in-between forward will be Tim Bowser, who Thorpe sees as a Dennis Rodman rebounding type. Harvey is a scorer and should get the ball thanks to athletic point guards Tyler Curley, Corey Cantine and Antonio Gilyard.
Long Reach (15-5, 17-6). Long Reach is going to be good. The Lightning return four starters, including Darryl Webb, Davon Wall (guard), Brent Stanford (point guard) and Jay Washington (forward). Wall is an athletic scorer who can create matchup problems for opposing teams. Stanford will provide stability in his second year at the point and could potentially provide more scoring as he continues to work on his jump shot. Washington is going to be a bruiser down low with Webb and Brian Taylor. Junior Michael Bowden is a JV call-up who played serious minutes with the team in the summer leagues.
Another big addition will be Keith Richardson, an electric athlete who is playing basketball for the first time at Long Reach.
"Our goal should be to be one or two in the county," coach Al Moraz Jr. said. "I keep telling the guys at the end of practice that there's a target on our backs."
Marriotts Ridge (NA). In its first year in existence, Marriotts Ridge will field a JV team. Coach Marcus Lewis, who coached the varsity team at Oakland Mills the previous two years, is pumped.
Lewis is excited about the possibilities of guard Kevin Seker, whose brother was an all-county player last year, and he likes Stephen Blucher at the forward position and sees great potential in the athleticism of guard Derek Coleman, who is a freshman. Trevon Williams, a freshman point guard, has also been impressive.
"Between Seker and Coleman, they will be turning some heads at Marriotts Ridge in the years to come," Lewis said.
Mt. Hebron (13-7, 15-9). The Vikings lost all-county guard Eric Wolven, who graduated, and a host of other players, but coach Mike Linsenmeyer is focused on getting the current athletic bunch of players ready. Leading the way will be John Caffes, a point guard, who "had some huge games for us last year," according to Linsenmeyer. Dennis Proctor, a 6-1 forward, should be a presence and will shift between playing guard and forward. Soccer player Zach Barnett lends a physical presence, but perhaps no one should be more physical than Aaron Maybin. The 6-4, 200-pound senior is headed to Penn State to play football.
Charles Swinson, a member of Mt. Hebron's county championship baseball team, will be a solid defender in the power forward slot.
"We have a lot of athletes, not a lot of basketball players," Linsenmeyer said. "You never know how we're going to gel."
Oakland Mills (14-6, 16-7). In addition to having Kevin Gibson in the paint, guard play will be important for the county-champion hopeful Scorpions. Guards Derek Murphy and Preston Paul will lead new coach Jon Browne's up-the-court system. Murphy will lead the breaks with his crisp passes, and Paul will help set up the fastbreaks with his defensive stops.
The up-and-comer really could be David Pearman. He's a versatile 6-3 forward who can bring the ball up, play the wing or go down low. He's got a nice touch from the outside and should make for a tough matchup.
Ian Frank, a 6-3 shooting guard, and Dan McQuay, a 6-1 senior, help make the Scorpions long, lean and a team to watch out for.
"I am looking forward to my first year as varsity coach," Browne said. "We have a great group of kids and a lot of varsity experience on the court."
Reservoir (2-18, 3-20). After scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds a contest last year, Andy Parker could really come into his own this season. The guard takes the ball strong to the hole and should make for Reservoir's most dynamic scorer in the school's four-year history.
Joining Parker will be 6-2 forward Chris McIntosh, who has a nice mid-range jump shot. Bill Reybold, a sophomore, will start right away and Kyle Servance, a transfer who played on varsity for High Point, will be asked to score at the guard spot. Dan Holley, a guard, rounds out the starting five.
The Gators had building-block wins against Wilde Lake and Hammond, their first two in-county wins ever, and will be looking for more this season.
"I think we will be improved. Most of these seniors have been with me for four years now," coach Troy Diehl said.
River Hill (3-17, 4-19). No one was happy with the record of last year's team, including coach Matt Graves. In his second year, Graves has set an agenda to right the course.
"We're preaching mental toughness and team togetherness," he said.
Lots of starters return, including point guard Tommy Brenton, guards Tyler Davila and Denis Sims, plus forwards Silas Finnegan and Stephen Kinigopolous. Now that the football season is over, Greg Nowak and Daniel Hostetler should help out as well. Both are capable athletes.
Graves said the team will run a Princeton-style offense and he said his players are being patient.
"It's not an offense you pick up in one day," he said. "It should be a fun team to watch."
Wilde Lake (11-9, 11-14). The Wildecats have one of the most promising players in Blair Burnett, a 6-4 forward, who also is incredibly intelligent. If he's not beating you physically, he can beat you mentally. Burnett should be a top rebounder in the county and coach Phil Chenier thinks he's capable of averaging a double-double.
"His confidence has increased," Chenier said.
Burnett will be playing down low with 6-6 Ian McNaney, who has shown promise early on. Otherwise, Wilde Lake will be a guard-oriented team, with Anthony Jones, Aaron Reeves, Peter Bergin and Miles Thorne all being capable of handling the ball and getting it to the forwards.
It will be interesting to see how the team meshes after losing bonafide scorer Brandon Young to graduation.
"I think our young talent is pretty good," Chenier said.
Chapelgate (6-12, 8-15). In his second year in charge, coach Frick Frierson has some confidence early on. A scorer has emerged on his team in Mt. Hebron transfer Thomas Skomba, who has averaged 24 points through four games. Frierson said, "He's great on transition."
Another transfer, Ryan Saville, came from national power Montrose Christian. He's only a sophomore, but has taken a leadership role. Adam Surguine, who has committed to Division III Lancaster Bible College, will be one of the top scorers again for the Yellowjackets. David Webster, Andrew Wilcox and Alex Kolb will play the forward positions. Sophomore Ji-Min Jeong is running the point guard position.
"I think we'll be competitive," Frierson said of his MIAA C Conference team.
Glenelg Country (8-10, 10-14). The Dragons return one of the best players in the conference in sophomore Evan Williams. The 6-3 guard showed he was capable of scoring just about anywhere on the floor last season as he set the school freshman record with 400 points.
But coach Charlie Stewart is trying to build around him and, in the process, increase the confidence of his team by playing better teams from the B Conference. So far, the Dragons are 1-5.
"I've been calling myself the Fang Mitchell of the MIAA," Stewart said in comparing his motivations to Coppin State's men's basketball coach.
The goal is to be better at the end of the season and senior center Austin Williams will be a key, along side Atholton transfer Matt Bright, who has looked sterling thus far. Adam Lovewell, Brad Crawford and Terence McAuliffe are all experienced seniors who will be leaders.
E-mail Matt Palmer at Matt Palmer@patuxent.com