To dwell on Potomac's recently departed players without giving the returners their due could be shortsighted, as the Panthers proved in their 54-43 win over Gar-Field in the Metro South summer league basketball championship Saturday at Stonewall Jackson.
Sure, Jason Flagler and Bryan Butler -- the two leading scorers in school history -- are gone. And David Carlson, who averaged 10.9 points last winter when the Panthers went 29-1 and reached the Virginia AAA state championship, is headed to Flint Hill after exhausting his four years of public school eligibility.
Those exits leave Eric Hayes and Anthony Mills and a host of heretofore role players to carry the load. But a quick spin through the county indicates that, although Potomac loses as much or more talent than any team in the area, it just might return more than anybody.
Let's take roll: Virginia AAA state semifinalist Hylton must replace its top six scorers, assuming guard Justin Jarrett transfers back to T.C. Williams as expected. Woodbridge will return no player who averaged more than 5.7 points per game. Gar-Field and Forest Park each lost four of their top five scorers. For Osbourn Park, it's five of the top six. For Osbourn, it's the top five scorers. For Stonewall Jackson, it's two of the top three off a 1-22 team. Battlefield and Freedom will be first-year programs this winter.
So against that backdrop, Potomac looks more like a local favorite than a team scrounging to replace its stars. The Panthers went 12-0 in the Metro South and on Saturday against Gar-Field got 13 points from Hayes, 11 from Mills and eight apiece from increasingly key components Jacob Scruggs and Taurean Patterson.
Potomac, with seven state tournament berths in the past 10 years, has retooled time and again, and the 2004-05 season looks like no exception, even with Flagler (whom St. Joseph's offered a scholarship) off at Hargrave Military Academy and Butler at a prep school to be determined.
"I feel better now, after playing a bunch of games," said longtime Panthers summer league coach Chip Lozinak. "It's one thing to look on paper to see what you've got, but when you start competing and see what you have in competition. . . . There will be a learning curve, for sure, but I think we're going to be okay."
Potomac Coach Kendall Hayes said, "I think at times we have a tendency to forget some of the things that previously have been learned, and that kind of bugs me from time to time, but all in all it's a good group.
Gar-Field spurted to a 15-8 lead in the championship, with Ellery James scoring two baskets during that stretch and assisting Ishmail Sesay on two others. At that point, the Indians called a timeout they might have soon regretted -- Potomac went on a 7-0 run to tie the game. Gar-Field settled for a 28-27 halftime lead.
The Panthers returned to the floor with far more spunk; five players scored before Gar-Field managed its first field goal of the second half, with 9 minutes 35 seconds left in the 20-minute period. At that point, the Panthers led by six, and they maintained a similar cushion the rest of the game. Gar-Field scored just 15 second-half points and sorely missed a couple of interior players who were not on hand.
Potomac this summer is also playing in the Sleepy Thompson League at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes in Alexandria but probably will not be able to compete in the playoffs there because so many players will be out of town at AAU tournaments.
James led Gar-Field with 11 points. Calvin Booth added 10, and Sesay and Will Jones chipped in eight apiece. The Indians were cohesive despite their inexperience and the graduation of Chris Vann, who averaged 23 points per game last season.
"You can see a big jump from six weeks ago to now," Booth said, singling out the play of James and Sesay as particularly encouraging.
The Indians went 9-2 in the Metro South, with both losses to Potomac.
"You look at our team, and we're not the tallest, [and] we're definitely not the strongest," Gar-Field summer league coach Ray Chambers said. "We got smart kids, real aggressive, and they play well together. I'm real surprised that we got this far."
Metro South All-Star Game
The Metro South All-Star Game, which followed the league championship, pitted Prince William all-stars (from Gar-Field, Hylton, Osbourn Park, Potomac and Stonewall Jackson) against all-stars from the non-Prince William teams (Heritage, Mount Vernon, North Stafford and West Springfield).
With one exception, that is. Potomac's Patterson played for the Northern Virginia squad. He scored six points. Prince William won the game, 103-94.
"I thought I was going to play for [the local] team, but this was all right," Patterson said. "I had a lot of fun playing against them."
James and Hayes led Prince William with 15 points apiece. Mills and Scruggs (four three-pointers) scored 14 each. Osbourn Park's Chris Fleming added 12 and Potomac's Deralle Pearsall 11.
The 6-foot-8 Fleming said he has received interest from several Division I schools, including Mount St. Mary's, Furman and Central Connecticut State. Fleming said he would like to commit before the start of the 2004-05 season.