Old Mill senior forward Anthony Dailey is 6-foot-2 and realistic. If he plays basketball in college, he expects to be a guard.
At the University of Maryland, forwards Tahj Holden and Travis Garrison are 6-10 and 6-8, respectively. Guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas are listed at 6-3, about the average height of Anne Arundel County's tallest post players.
Most Anne Arundel County public schools, like so many high school leagues, lack a true "big man," a center who stretches at least 6-8, pulls down rebounds and is the focal point of his team's offense and defense.
While such players dominate the college game, the lack of height this season in Anne Arundel County has acted as an equalizer, quickening the game pace and making the small forward position more critical.
"In Anne Arundel County, I can count on my one hand the players who are 6-8 or above," Annapolis Coach John Brady said. "I like coaching versatile players. I wouldn't want a 6-10, 300-pound player that was a plodder. I like quickness."
The last time Broadneck Coach Ken Kazmarek remembers a true center in Anne Arundel County was when he had 7-foot center Boris Beck, a foreign exchange student from Germany in the 1991-92 season. The norm is more like the Bruins' 6-4, 160-pound forward Alex Denny.
"I'm really skinny as well as being undersized," Denny said. Because of that, he said, "you just have to concentrate on your fundamentals and outplay anyone who is bigger than you. A lot of rebounding is technique. It's frustrating to get beat by a more athletic player. . . . It's just concentration."
At Arundel, sophomore forward James O'Rourke said life would be a lot easier if the Wildcats had a 7-footer to help out. "Our team is kind of weak with rebounds, so someone big down there would help a lot," said O'Rourke, one of the tallest players on the team at 6-2.
Instead, he said, "we try to work hard and box out and do the best we can with what we have. I've never really had to play as big other years as I have this year because I'm only a sophomore and there are so many juniors and seniors who are bigger and more experienced."
The equal size matchups have contributed to the unusual parity in the county this season: Broadneck surprised Southern, Chesapeake defeated Severna Park and, most recently, South River defeated Arundel on a three-point buzzer beater. Without a dominant force controlling the inside game, smaller players are working harder. The fight under the basket is often more intense, with teams playing up-tempo, driving to the basket and drawing fouls.
Small, athletic guards are often the teams' leading scorers. Glen Burnie 5-8 junior guard Mitch Guest, Chesapeake 5-10 sophomore guard Kerwin Porter and Old Mill sophomore guard Alex Bucholz each lead their teams, and most of the coaches prefer it that way.
Even the bigger players in the county, like 6-6 Severna Park junior center Jim Ledsome and Glen Burnie 6-7, 330-pound center Brandon Albert, look to get the ball to their smaller teammates.
For the first time in 17 years, Glen Burnie Coach Mike Rudd has a dominant inside presense in Albert. Although his contribution is clear, it forced Rudd and the Gophers to change their usual fast-paced style.
"That's the way we like to play -- we're up and down the floor; we like to press," Rudd said. "If you have a large person, they have a hard time keeping up with that pace. Brandon struggles with it. The key to having an unbelievably successful team is a true point guard and a center. I've never had that. They're few and far between."
Even 6-6 senior forward Josh Johnson, who led Annapolis to a 69-59 win against Old Mill on Friday, would be a small forward in college. Still, players such as Johnson and Southern 6-6 senior center Adrian Gross give their teams an advantage. While they may not have the height colleges are looking for, they play like post players, facing the basket and leading the county in rebounds.
"You have to work harder than the next man," said Dailey, who went one-on-one with Johnson on Friday. "If it's a bigger man, you have to keep a body on him and keep him away from the basket. It's hard, don't get me wrong. Josh went up on me and I kept my hands straight up but he drew the contact. When you're bigger, you can do that."
Smaller teams such as Old Mill often lean on perimeter shooting with the hopes of opening up inside opportunities. As a team, the Patriots shot seven three-pointers against Annapolis but couldn't stop Johnson from scoring his usual 18 points.
"We don't have that go-to guy in the middle to get the ball in his hands," Old Mill Coach Greg Smith said. "You have to work so much harder in there. They bust their butts to try and compensate for their size. That's why I think we'll be competitive -- at least our kids are athletic and they can mix it up with some of the kids who are a little bigger than them."