St. Albans basketball Coach John Dowd is trying to change the style of play in the Interstate Athletic Conference. The six other teams can play zone, slow the ball down and hit the open man -- the Bulldogs want to run.

"I hoped we could develop a transition game," said Dodd. "We had none last year. I like to play pressure defense."

So far, the Bulldogs are having a ball. Although they lost last week to Sidwell Friends and Episcopal, the Bulldogs (9-4, 4-2 in the league entering this week) have played far beyond Dodd's preseason expectations.

"If someone had put a gun to my head and said you have to predict a finish, I'd have said something like 13-10," Dodd said. "Talent-wise, I've had teams that have had more athletic ability. It's been a pleasure to coach them because they have so much enthusiasm."

The turnaround stems from the change to full-court pressure defense and a fast-break approach. "We've been getting those . . . runs where you get points quickly and put teams away," Dodd said.

Dodd depends heavily on six players -- guards Brian Carkhuff, LaRon Batchelor and Ian McDonald, forwards Guy Harkless and Hamish Hume, and center Arthur Jackson.

About Carkhuff, Dowd said: "Since Christmas, he's matured into a good ballhandler and given us good leadership."

Dodd credits his team's improved guard play to assistant coach Carl Cosimano. "It's his first year with the guards. He's had a fresh positive effect. He's been a big plus."

Batchelor, Hume and McDonald take charge on defense. "The most important thing is to get things started," McDonald said. "We need someone to get their hand in and slap the ball away to create things on defense. I think I've been doing a good job of that."

"Everyone knows I'm not a big scorer," Hume said. "My main function is to play good defense. We get a lot of transition baskets. We're very good at what we do."

Harkless, said Dodd, "is very good on the fast break."

Harkless said, "I'm starting to come along as an outside shooter. In the IAC, they try to pack it in zones."

Then there's Jackson, a 6-foot-6 senior in his third varsity year. Jackson, the team captain, made second team All-IAC last year and is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.

"I've improved a lot on my game by going to the camps like Five Star and playing against guys like J.R. Reid (the Virginia Beach, Va., player considered one of the nation's top high school player)," Jackson said. "If I feel that I can beat my man, the guards are getting me the ball."