Being the first new coach at DeMatha in 46 years will be only part of the challenge for Mike Jones. The Stags are particularly young this year, with six sophomores making the roster.
"We're as young as we've ever been," Jones said. "But we're progressing well, so that by February we should be fine."
The Stags had one of their best seasons in a long time last winter, which turned out to be the last for Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten. DeMatha won 32 games, including 18 in a row to finish the season. The Stags won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, the City Title and the prestigious Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament.
Wootten retired Nov. 6, handing over the program to Jones after winning a national-record 1,274 games since 1956.
The team's youth means that three starting seniors will be thrust into important leadership roles. Senior forward Steve Danley, who is 6-feet-8, averaged nearly 10 points and more than 11 rebounds last season. Guard Germaine Green averaged 7.5 points, seven rebounds and four steals per game last season, and 6-foot Shaka Dickerson (3 ppg) will start after having a reserve role last season.
Sophomore Desmond Adebeji, who is 6-9, saw limited time as a freshman but will help Danley anchor the middle. The Stags' other starter is Justin Castleberry, who appeared in only one game last season.
An experienced Riverdale Baptist squad enters the season poised to improve on a solid 20-10 campaign in 2001-2002. Four of the Crusaders' top seven scorers are back from last year, including their top two in senior forwards Sheray Thomas and Orlando Wright.
Thomas, a towering presence down low at 6-8 and 225 pounds, has already signed with Kentucky after averaging team bests of 19 points and 13 points per game last year. Orlando Wright, bound to play for South Carolina State after this season, was the Crusaders' second-highest scorer at 13 points per game, and he added five rebounds and two assists per outing.
Seniors Dale DeBerry (6 ppg, 4 assists per game) and Jared Blake (6 ppg, 4 apg) will be the top outside players for the Crusaders. Junior Antoine Smith rounds out the starting five.
Bishop McNamara will be searching for a way to replace the high-scoring Charles Cook (16.5 ppg) and improve on a sixth-place finish in the WCAC last season.
Senior guard Kevin Talley scored more than 11 points per game last year and was named to the all-WCAC third team. Noah Nicholas, a 6-8, 235-pound center who averaged six points and four rebounds a game, will be a presence down low.
McNamara was 16-14 last year. The Mustangs, as well as Riverdale Baptist, will receive an early-season challenge later this week at the Lone Star Invitational in San Antonio, a national tournament featuring more than two dozen teams.
"If we're going to be successful," Coach Kevin Sutton said, "we're going to have to have a good collective effort."
Although four of National Christian's top scorers from last year's team are gone, the Eagles will once again feature a team with many talented players, this year led by front-court players Patrick Ewing Jr. and Anthony Ivory.
Ewing, the 6-8 son of the former Georgetown Unviersity and New York Knicks center, averaged 10 points and eight rebounds in 15 games at Marietta (Ga.) High last year, and is a highly sought-after national recruit. The 6-9 Ivory averaged eight points a game last year and was expected to be a force down low. But stress fractures in both his shins will likely sideline the junior until January at the earliest, Coach Trevor Brown said.
That means juniors Deron Washington (6-9, the son of Green Bay Packers defensive backs coach Lionel Washington) and Keith Darden (6-10) will have to pick up a lot of the slack down low.
Three of the top four scorers are gone from a Pallotti team that finished 6-20 last season. Curtis Donald is the top returning scorer for this year's team, which is playing its first season as a full member of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Donald averaged just under 10 points last year, and he will have to pick up some of the scoring slack after the loss of the graduated Kenny Barb (17 ppg) and Kevin O'Malley (13 ppg). Junior 6-5 forward Keith Tate is an athletic player; he is the Panthers' tallest player and averaged about six points per game last season.