* Team to beat: Potomac.

* What makes them so good: First-year coach Dwayne Shell got the news last Thursday afternoon, probably around the same time the football team was getting ready to take the field for practice. Bobby Shannon, a second-team All-Met basketball player and recent football standout, will be eligible to play basketball for the Wolverines.

There had been some question whether Shannon, who repeated his freshman year at Oxon Hill, had completed his basketball eligibility. However, Prince George's Supervisor of Athletics Earl Hawkins said that Shannon will be able to play, giving the Maryland 2A defending champions a significant boost.

With Shannon still practicing with the school's football team during the postseason, Shell already was preparing just in case Shannon was unable to play this season. The Wolverines return only one other starter, PG Ricardo Pride, but Shell believes Pride is ready to be a leader on an otherwise young team.

"He was laid back and distributing the ball first and got everybody else involved" last season, Shell said. "Now I'm putting him in position where he is going to play point and create and play."

* The contenders: Friendly fell off somewhat last season after winning consecutive state titles but standout F Hillary Haley, who has signed with East Carolina, should lead the Patriots back toward the top. Friendly also returns 6-9 junior C Augustus Gilchrist and senior G Michael Wright and adds sophomore G James Stewart, who averaged 10.6 points last season for Dunbar. "We're looking to be very competitive," Coach Brian Walker said. "Last year we were young. This year we have a lot more players with varsity experience." . . .

Fairmont Heights was in the mix last season and though only one starter returns, Coach George Wake believes that 6-6 senior C Nasir Austin can help the Hornets overcome a lot of shortcomings. Other than Austin, Fairmont Heights will be relying on a mix of players who were reserves last season and others who move up from the junior varsity. . . . Gwynn Park usually is a contender for state championships, losing three times in the title game this decade. This season, though, the Yellow Jackets have some work to do to prove they belong among the county's elite. Senior G Corey Allmond is the team's only returning starter, though the Yellow Jackets could get a boost if senior G Marcus Ashton returns in mid-January from being academically ineligible, Coach Steve Matthews said. Senior F Maurice Stallion, who is 6-4, and 6-6 senior C Kelvin Jackson give the Yellow Jackets size in the frontcourt, but finding a go-to player "is still the big question right now," Matthews said.

"Obviously, we have that big-time player," Matthews added. "I'm not saying we're a bad team, but we're not going to overcome anybody with athletic ability."

* Best of the rest: After winning just one game last season, Central is a team that some league coaches believe will turn things around in a big way this season. The Falcons have had recent success, advancing to the state final in 2002 and 2003 and Coach Brian Taylor hopes that senior forward Darrell Funderburk and six others who started at some point last season can lead the way back to states. Sophomore Marquise Simmonds, a 6-6 sophomore, also is talented and Adante Davis, Charles Dowsy and Dezmond Morris likely will start in a three-guard rotation. . . .

DuVal also expects to be improved this season, led by senior guard Kevin Ford, its only returning starter. Coach Artie Walker said he expects freshman Gary King to start at forward, with three other seniors filling out the starting lineup.

Forestville returns a pair of frontcourt players, senior center Antonio Logan-El and junior forward Devonte Campbell. Otherwise the Knights will be young though talented, according to Coach Glennard Johnson. Sophomore guards Demetrius Smith, Joshua White and Ronald Harris all move up from the junior varsity. Senior guard Reco Siler also has played well in the preseason, Johnson said. . . .

Surrattsville first-year coach Brian King has the unenviable position of taking over a team without a returning starter. The Hornets have three returning seniors in PG Dominique Wilkins, F Gani Cole and C Pierre Mackie.

-- JOSH BARR

Bobby Shannon, a second-team All-Met guard for Potomac last season, can play this year. It was determined that he has not exhausted his eligibility.