Howard senior Tim McNulty was wrapping up practice several weeks ago when it hit him: The Lions were scheduled to play a preseason game the next morning and didn't have any kind of routine set up.

"I don't even remember our warmups for before the game," said McNulty, who averaged 8.3 points per game last season. "I don't remember exactly what we did. I would like to be ready to go. Just get out there so everyone knows what they are doing. I hate looking bad before the game because it leads to bad things."

The reason Howard had no pregame routine was because it has no basketball tradition -- at least recently. When Marvin Thorpe, 35, succeeded Greg Smith as the Lions' basketball coach Nov. 15, he became Howard's fourth head coach in four years and the school's sixth coach in seven years.

"It's tough to build any program when you have inconsistency with the coaches, but as far as I am concerned it's the best situation we have because we have guys in the building now," Athletic Director Vince Parnell said. "You just kind of deal with it. You don't want it. You don't like it, but that's the way it is sometimes."

After one season as Howard's coach, Smith resigned at the end of the school year, and Thorpe, the Lions' junior varsity coach last season, was hired in November. Smith had created a firestorm of controversy at the start of the 2000 season when he appealed the hiring of Derrick Dunlap, saying that county guidelines stipulate that county school system employees get priority for coaching jobs.

Smith's appeal was upheld by the Board of Education, but he agreed to allow Dunlap to coach the team for the 2000-01 season when some players refused to play for Smith. Art St. Martin coached Howard for two years after Coach Craig O'Connell died in August of 1998.

Though there have been six coaches in seven years at Howard, talent has been plentiful as of late. Before Dunlap took over in 2000, the Lions hadn't had a winning season since 1988-89. Smith guided them to a 12-11 record last season, the team's second straight winning season.

"I didn't come in and say we have a whole new plan in," Thorpe said. "I think those kind of changes may or may not have a good affect on a kid."

If anything, Howard's seniors are used to it -- and are frustrated with it. Most of them said they were ready for some consistency from the head coaching position.

"You've got to change the way you play with different formulas, playing under different circumstances," senior guard Craig Fowler said. "They all have different ways of coaching. Every single one of our coaches had different ways of coaching. One had an easier way of coaching. One was a hard-nosed coach. That's how it's been for the last four years."

Thorpe would likely fit somewhere in the middle. His practices are regimented, but he allows his players to suggest plays and to voice their opinions in practice. The one opinion that seems to dominate is that Howard's coaching carousel has to stop.

"Winning programs come from tradition," senior guard Cody Hahn said. "We don't have much tradition with a new coach every year because each coach brings a new style. This coach looks like he is going to stay here for a while, so hopefully we can start it up now."

Girls Howard Coach Gregory Johnson might not like what he hears from standout guard Tierra Cobbs.

Johnson said he will be counting on Cobbs -- who averaged 8.4 points last season and is the Lions' only returning starter -- to shoulder a large scoring load for the Lions this season. Cobbs has other ideas.

"I think anybody can shoot, but I like passing," Cobbs said. "I like no-look passes and other stuff like that. I love shooting but I want to do something different than what everyone else does."

How Cobbs balances her love of shooting and desire for assists will significantly affect the success of the Lions' season. Cobbs, the only starter back from last season's 4-19 team, could spend time at point guard, shooting guard and small forward.

"She is fast, kind of flashy, and she has a really good basketball IQ," Johnson said. "She understands the layout on the floor, and she is a good leader."

Cobbs's 16-and-under AAU team, Freeplay, won a state title last summer, and her teammate on that team, 5-foot-10 Nialeh Ochai, will likely start at power forward for the Lions. Sophomore Rachel Eads, who is 6 feet, will start at center.

The Lions won't be utilizing last year's half-court style of offense. With speedy point guard Lisa Libertini, senior guard-forward Christina Anis and freshman guard Miki Johnson, Johnson said he expects his team to play more of a transition game this season.

Howard Boys

Coach: Marvin Thorpe (first season).

Last season: 12-11 overall, 10-8 county.

Last season in playoffs: Lost to Middletown in 2A West Region quarterfinals.

Average points scored last season: 67.6.

Average points allowed last season: 65.4.

Last state semifinal appearance: 1971.

Last state title: None.

Returning starters/letter-winners: 3/4

Key losses: G DeLorean Hamilton, G Steve Coursey, F Paul Thompson.

Key returners: G-F Tim McNulty, Sr., 6-1; G Cody Hah, Sr., 6-2.

Howard Girls

Coach: Gregory Johnson (second season).

Last season: 4-19 overall, 4-14 county.

Last season in playoff: Lost to Hammond in 2A West Region first round.

Average points scored last season: 48.0.

Average points allowed last season: 63.0.

Last state semifinal appearance: 1996.

Last state title: 1994.

Returning starters/letter-winners: 1/7

Key losses: C Kim Pyne.

Key returners: G Tierra Cobbs, Sr., 5-7.

Boys' Schedule

Dec. 16 at Glenelg, 5

Dec. 18 vs. Mount Hebron, 5

Dec. 19 at South Carroll

Dec. 26-27 at Howard Tournament, TBA

Jan. 4. at Atholton, noon

Jan. 8 vs. Long Reach, 5

Jan. 10 at Oakland Mills, 7

Jan. 15 vs. Centennial, 5

Jan. 17 vs. Hammond, 7

Jan. 24 at Wilde Lake, 7

Jan. 29 vs. River Hill, 5

Feb. 5 vs. Glenelg, 5

Feb. 7 at Mount Hebron

Feb. 13 vs. Atholton, 7

Feb. 18 vs. Long Reach, 5

Feb. 20 vs. Oakland Mills, 5

Feb. 24 vs. Centennial, 5

Feb. 26 at Hammond, 5

Girls' Schedule

Dec. 16 vs. Glenelg, 5

Dec. 18 at Mount Hebron, 5

Dec. 19 at South Carroll, 5:30

Dec. 26-27 at Howard Tournament, TBA

Jan. 4 vs. Atholton, 3:30

Jan. 8 at Long Reach, 5

Jan. 10 vs. Oakland Mills, 7

Jan. 13 at Hammond, 5

Jan. 15 at Centennial, 5

Feb. 13 at Atholton, 7

Feb. 18 vs. Long Reach, 5

Feb. 20 at Oakland Mills, 5

Feb. 24 vs. Centennial, 5

Feb. 26 vs. Hammond, 5

Tim McNulty, left, hopes Coach Marvin Thorpe sticks around. Tierra Cobbs, right, is the girls' only returning starter.