At this time last year, Osbourn Park's boys basketball team was still looking for its first victory of the season heading into the Kiwanis Holiday Classic. The Yellow Jackets would win only three games in Coach Eugene Baltimore's debut season.
In Monday's opening night of the round robin tournament, Osbourn Park won its fifth game of the young season, 71-56, over North Stafford.
"We were 0-5 or 0-6 when we came to play [in the tournament] last year," Baltimore said. "Now the guys are walking off the floor with their heads high."
Baltimore, 3-19 last season, is 5-2 after last night, a resurgence Baltimore attributes to experience and an infusion of talent.
"We had 10 of 13 players last season who had never played varsity basketball," Baltimore said. "Now we have some experience."
The Yellow Jackets also have gained some talented players.
Starting guard Ricky Johnson transferred from Potomac, and freshman guard Jahmar Claxton moved from Alexandria. Claxton, who was on the junior varsity two weeks ago, scored 21 points against the Wolverines.
"He may be a freshman, but he doesn't play like a freshman," Baltimore said.
Claxton, who had a JV high of 25 points earlier this season, was surprised with his offensive output Monday.
"I can't believe it," Claxton said, shaking his head. "After my first [varsity] game, I thought I might go back down to JV, but my teammates said that I belong."
Osbourn Park also benefited from the return of 6-foot-4 senior forward Micaiah Benson. Benson, who was academically ineligible until last Thursday, scored 14 points Monday, after just one practice with the team.
"Gar-Field has four starters over 6-4," Baltimore said. "We're going to need [Benson] if we hope to match up against those [Cardinal District] teams."
After Osbourn Park played its best game of the season Monday, Seton played its worst against Osbourn.
The Conquistadors, who beat Stonewall Jackson in the Kiwanis tournament last season and went on to a school-record 28 victories, struggled offensively all game against the Eagles' full-court pressure and half-court traps.
Seton (6-4) scored only two points in the first quarter, 13 in the first half and 22 after 24 minutes. Osbourn won, 72-39. The 39 points were a season low for Seton.
The Conquistadors miss three-year starter Matt Hilleary, the 6-6 All-Extra performer who is averaging nine points and seven rebounds a game as a starter for Division III Catholic University. Coach Dan VanderWoude is pleased with the play of 6-5 center Peter Hickson, but with Hilleary graduated, Seton is relying heavily on its guards for offense.
"There's a lot more pressure on our guards to score," VanderWoude said after Monday's game. "And tonight we just didn't show up. It's very frustrating."
Fortunately, the tournament provides each team three games in three days.
"After a game like this, the best way to forget about it is to get back in the gym right away," VanderWoude said.
CAPTION: Osbourn Park's Mike Littlefield shoots over Marshall's Jackson Dismukes. The Yellow Jackets have a 5-2 record after winning three games last season.