DeMatha has been king of the hill in Washington scholastic basketball for nearly a quarter of a century. And with the return of 6-foot-10 center Danny Ferry, perhaps the nation's top scholastic player, nothing's going to change this season.

Gone is 6-6 Carlton Valentine, a first-team all-Met who played Mr. Inside to complement Ferry's penchant for life outside the lane. No problem. Enter Jerrod Mustaf, a 6-8 freshman, who'll more than fill the bill when opponents try to rough up Ferry and an enforcer is needed to restore order. Add 6-7 Steve Hood, who can shoot and could develop into a solid rebounder, and suddenly the Stags' potential problems have the ring of continued success.

But there's trouble in the back court, or at least a potential Achilles' heel, if someone doesn't emerge from a group of 10 pretenders to the ball handler/outside shooter role left vacant when Quentin Jackson (North Carolina State) graduated. John Gwynn and Bobby Dee Everhart have the best potential, but the Stags' schedule is easily the nation's toughest and no place for on-the-job training. If they can't contribute quickly, DeMatha will face zones so tightly packed that even Ferry's talents will be sorely tested.

"We graduated six of our top eight players from last season and that's got to take a toll, at least in the early going," said DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten, whose team was ranked No. 1 nationally last year. "But with Danny back, you've really got something to build on. We've got some good young players, but they're going to be tested very early."

Should DeMatha falter, a veteran St. John's team will be waiting to pounce.

Moe Jordan (5-9), Dave Crittenden (6-1), Bob Jones (6-1), Mike Tate and Alvin Darby (both 6-5) will be Coach Joe Gallagher's "Iron Five." Luckily, tenacity and defense are the Cadets' hallmarks, not height.

Most of the other traditional Metro powers lack experienced players.

Carroll was 24-7 last season, but Coach Carroll Holmes doesn't have any illusions this year. Gone is 6-7 Derrick Lewis, the area's player of the year last season, but his younger brother Cedric Lewis, already 6-7 as a sophomore, should improve with every game. El Franklin Clark (6-5) will help carry the rebounding load. David Hooks and Kenneth Wills must provide enough scoring from the outside to give them room to operate, however.

John Thompson III, another of last year's all-Mets, attends Princeton now, so Gonzaga must rely on Mark Tillman, a guard who averaged 13 points last year. Perry Carter, another 6-7 sophomore, must hold his own in the pivot. Rodney Holmes and John Goetcheus will also start for the Eagles.

New Mackin Coach Butch McAdams has a rebuilding job on his hands. There's plenty of potential, but outside of three-year starter Ernest Bruno (6-4), there won't be much immediate help. Gordon Clarke is the top guard prospect and McAdams sees nearly limitless potential in Shawn Jackson, a 6-3 sophomore.

McNamara was an enigma last year, winning the prestigious Eastern States Christmas Invitational Tournament but then fading to a 14-16 record. Still one year away, the Mustangs should improve immensely this season. Senior Gary Lee returns at point gaurd and juniors Robert Summers (wing guard) and Derek Campbell (6-5) forward are also back, but the key to McNamara's development may be 6-6 sophomore Tony Lucas.

Even Good Counsel, which hasn't been much of a factor in Metro Conference basketball in recent years, has a chance. Guard Clay Dade (already committed to Wake Forest) and forward Chris Windlan are both proven scorers. If 6-8 Paul Billy can get 10 rebounds a game, even the Falcons could be competitive.

Tops among the major independents should be Flint Hill, which finished 23-3 last year. The three losses, however, were by a total of five points.

Back is four-year starter Gus Hill at guard, who averaged 18 points and nine rebounds as a junior. Al Clark, who played for Hayfield last year and who's going to East Carolina next year, will lend his powerful 6-6 frame to a front court that also returns Dennis Scott, a 6-6 sophomore, who averaged 10 rebounds last season.

Only two classes of boys remain and the name of the school has been changed from St. Anthony's to All Saints, but as long as Phllip Best and Michael Gamble play, the team will be one of the area's best.

In the Interstate Athletic Conference, defending champion St. Albans once again appears to be the team to beat. All-Met football tackle Roy Brown, Art Jackson and Paolo Arnell, all 6-4, lead the Bulldogs.

St. Stephen's, which finished second last year with a 17-5 mark, looks like the chief contender once again. Mike Pascal (6-5), who averaged 18 points last season, and Jim Molster (11 points per game) will provide the scoring for the Saints. Point guard Tyrone Jackson is one of the area's best passers.

The rest of the league will be playing for third place. Landon returns Neil Phillips, a 6-5 guard/forward/center, but no other proven players. Episcopal is short and inexperienced. Glenn Dickson and Waite Timberlake will carry the undermanned Maroon. Tad Anderson (6-5) is one of four returning starters at Bullis, but no one else is taller than 6-2. Guard Chad Thompson will have to carry a greater share of the scoring load. Brian Brewer is the lone returning starter at Georgetown Prep.