Calvert

Coach: Rick Lagana, sixth season.

Last year's record: 13-11 overall, 9-7 SMAC.

Returning starters: G David Fields, Sr.; F Mike Pernell, Jr.; G Seth Travers, Sr.; G Eric Young, Sr.

Outlook: Thanks in part to a growth spurt, Young improved more than any player in the area last year, led the SMAC in scoring at 19.7 points per game and accepted a leadership role on the team. He spent much of the offseason bulking up his 6-foot frame and working toward becoming a more complete point guard, the position he would play in college. The 6-4 Pernell improved greatly in the second half of the season and scored in double figures the final three games. He needs to be more of a presence in the low post, and if he can do that, it would make Young even more effective on the perimeter. The four returning starters averaged 42 points per game and shot 73 percent from the free throw line last season.

Chopticon

Coach: Terry Mumau, first season.

Last year's record: 11-11, 8-8.

Returning starters: G Anthony Fenwick, Jr.; F Brandon Short, Sr.

Outlook: Mumau, a former assistant, takes over for Rich O'Donnell, who coached the Braves the past 27 seasons and took them to the 2003 3A final, Southern Maryland's only state final appearance in the past 15 seasons. Fenwick will move from shooting guard to the point, and he'll be looking for Short, Chopticon's second-leading scorer last year (11.3 points per game). Sliding into Fenwick's old spot will be sophomore Jason Villa, who stood out on the junior varsity last season. The Braves are going to force teams to beat them from the outside with a pair of 6-5 big men -- senior Brett Russell and junior Ivan Cerkez. One constant remains from the teams that advanced to region finals in 2002 and '03: the Braves' strong play late in the season. The past two seasons, they have gone a combined 11-5 in February after going 9-18 in December and January.

Great Mills

Coach: Frank Peck, second season.

Last year's record: 9-15, 7-9.

Returning starters: G Cody Kohn, Jr.; F Matt Leddy, Sr.; F Jimmy Moore, Sr.; G Will Smith, Jr.

Outlook: Smith, who averaged 12 points per game, will miss the first month of the season after he had his appendix removed. Luckily, the Hornets are one of the SMAC's most experienced teams, so they shouldn't stagger without one of their top scorers. Great Mills knows it can score; its four returning starters averaged 44 points per game last season and combined to hit 74 three-pointers. Plus, senior C.J. Young, a four-year varsity player, can step into Smith's spot for the time being. The question is, can the Hornets stop anyone? They allowed a conference-worst 63 points per game last season. Moore, Great Mills's tallest player at 6-3, will be critical to its interior defense and rebounding. The Hornets simply lack size.

Huntingtown

Coach: Rick Weber, second season.

Last year's record: 13-11, 10-6.

Returning starters: F Ian Schwalenberg, Sr.; F Mark Smith, Jr.

Outlook: The Hurricanes came on late, winning six of seven before losing to McDonough in the 3A South semifinals. Keep an eye on the 6-3 Smith, who played primarily in the low post last season and led the Hurricanes in scoring at 14.3 points per game. Realizing his potential to play college ball lies on the perimeter, Smith spent the offseason working on his ballhandling and jump shooting, and that's where he'll play this season. Schwalenberg doubled his scoring over the final eight games last year and will pair with fellow senior Richard Absher, who missed last season with a knee injury, to pick up Smith's spot down low. Despite standing only 5-8, senior guard Bryan Shearer is a fearless defender and a strong shooter (27 three-pointers last season).

La Plata

Coach: Pete Maienknecht, third season.

Last year's record: 1-20, 1-15.

Returning starters: F Turner Coggins, Jr.; G Bryan Davis, Jr.; F Mike Ogren, Sr.

Outlook: When Maienknecht took over two years ago, the Warriors had no offseason workout program. After his first season, only five players showed up. This past offseason, despite coming off a 1-20 season, 32 players were routine participants. "How do you kill that culture of losing?" said Maienknecht, whose program has averaged just four victories over the past 12 seasons. "That's the biggest challenge facing my coaching staff." Coggins is the only player who plays another sport, so this is a roster focused on basketball. And when someone slips, Ogren, a starter every game since being promoted from junior varsity midway through his sophomore season, will keep him in line.

Lackey

Coach: Tony Mast, first season.

Last year's record: 16-7, 11-5.

Returning starters: C Tayvon Jackson, Sr.

Outlook: Jackson was the SMAC's lone player to commit during the November early-signing period, when he signed with Mount St. Mary's. At 6-8, Jackson is the conference's tallest player and will attract plenty of attention from opponents. After a summer of strong conditioning and AAU competition, Jackson should look a lot more fluid and assertive on the court. His effectiveness, though, will hinge largely on senior guards Marcus Page and Demetrius Wallace being able to get him the ball. Both players were part of Lackey's steady nine-man rotation last year, when the Chargers won more than seven games for the first time since 1997-98.

Leonardtown

Coach: Jake Heibel, first season.

Last year's record: 7-16, 5-11.

Returning starter: G Jackie Pixley, Sr.

Outlook: After one season with Leonardtown's girls' team, Heibel said he moved over to the boys' program primarily because his stepson will be a freshman on the junior varsity team. After leading the Great Mills boys to the 2000 SMAC title, their first in 28 years, and tripling the victory total for Leonardtown's girls in his first season there, Heibel has proved he can turn a program around. He'll be leading a Raiders program that has not won more than nine games since going 23-2 and advancing to the Maryland 3A South final in 1997-98. Pixley (7 points per game) is the only returning player with considerable experience. Drew Plath, a 6-7 sophomore center, should get the time he needs to develop.

McDonough

Coach: Dave Rooney, seventh season.

Last year's record: 21-4, 16-0, SMAC champion, lost in Maryland 3A South final.

Returning starters: G Preston Faulk, Sr.; F Joe Respress, Sr.

Outlook: McDonough has won 18 consecutive SMAC games, is coming off its two winningest seasons in school history (20-6 in 2004, 21-4 in 2005) and returns its top scorer in Faulk, the conference's best outside shooter (66 three-pointers last season). Still, for the Rams to stay atop the conference, they will need role players -- a mix of veterans and newcomers -- to prevent Faulk from having to carry the team. Wiry 6-3 senior Joe Respress is McDonough's tallest player, but he has a wingspan of someone three or four inches taller, which makes him a strong shot-blocking threat. His younger brother Kevin, a sophomore guard, joined the varsity late last season and will share the other back-court slot with senior B.J. Jamieson, who was an aggressive defender off the bench last season.

Northern

Coach: Clarence Tennell, second season.

Last year's record: 3-20, 1-15.

Returning starters: G Brian Curtis, Sr.; G Shawn Greenfield, Sr.; C Chris Miller, Sr.

Outlook: Seven players return from a team that struggled after being completely decimated by graduation and the opening of Huntingtown before last season. "You can take all the motivational quotes you want," Tennell said, "but you can't tell a kid what it's like to lose 20 games." At 6-7 and with a soft shooting touch, Miller (11.1 points per game) is a special player in the conference. Although his height makes him a natural for the low post, the Patriots have some depth that will allow him to roam the perimeter. Three juniors -- Cortez Dorsey, Chris Franklin and Tavaris Smith -- are all 6-3 or taller.

Patuxent

Coach: Steve Crounse, first season.

Last year's record: 14-9, 8-8.

Returning starter: G Andre Butler, Sr.

Outlook: The Panthers' success depends on how much help Butler gets from his teammates. If a few role players excel, the Panthers will be strong. Patuxent won 13 of its first 15 last season, and Butler averaged 19.5 points. His scoring dropped by five points per game the rest of the way, and the Panthers won only once more. Expect Patuxent to establish its jump shooting early and force opponents to play man to man. The Panthers will look to senior Corey Hutchison, a top reserve last season, and junior Anthony Forbes, who showed a terrific outside shot in flashes last season, to take some of the heat off Butler. After leaving the court in favor of swimming last winter, 6-6 senior Erik Olsen is back to give the Panthers a much-needed inside presence.

Thomas Stone

Coach: Dale Lamberth, sixth season.

Last year's record: 20-5, 13-3, lost in the 4A East final.

Returning starter: F Patrick Swearinger, Sr.

Outlook: After three straight 20-victory seasons, the Cougars -- the only SMAC team to accomplish the feat -- will have almost an entirely new rotation of players. Junior forward John Flowers transferred to St. Mary's Ryken. Only two seniors will play significant minutes -- guard Ron Colbert and Swearinger. The newcomers, though, are intriguing. Julian Armstrong, a 6-7 junior, comes over from Riverdale Baptist and will move from the perimeter into the low post. He and Bradley Harris, a 6-5 forward who transferred last spring from Bishop McNamara, will make it tough to drive the lane on the Cougars. Colbert and junior Aubin Reeves will handle the point guard duties, and their play might be the barometer for the Cougars' success.

Westlake

Coach: John Mappas, first season.

Last year's record: 10-14, 7-9.

Returning starters: None.

Outlook: It's the sixth SMAC coaching stop for the 59-year-old Mappas, in addition to stints at the College of Southern Maryland and Chesapeake College. The Wolverines have won 23 games combined over the past three seasons. They averaged more than 17 victories over the previous five seasons. Seniors Alex Halliday and Tye Gray are the only returning players who saw substantial playing time last season. A pair of Thomas Stone transfers -- senior Mike Hinton and junior C.J. Bowman -- will be a part of the rotation. Seniors Rico Grimes and Shevaur Gooden have looked strong in scrimmages.

Calverton

Coach: Franklin Chaney, sixth season.

Last year's record: 12-10 overall, 6-6 MISAL.

Returning starters: G Taylor DeBord, Sr.; F Hunter Roof, Sr.; G Noah Weaver, Soph., G Charlie Winegardner, Soph.

Outlook: All but one player -- center James Kittler -- returns from Calverton's first winning team in at least eight years. The Cougars have benefited from familiarity, winning four of their first five. With good ballhandling skills and quickness in the open court, the 6-3 DeBord presents matchup problems for other guards. Roof has had double-doubles in each of the Cougars' first five games and with senior David Spalding -- a lacrosse standout who did not play basketball last season -- gives Calverton enough strength inside, even though neither is taller than 6-3. Weaver and Winegardner saw significant minutes as freshmen last season.

St. Mary's Ryken

Coach: Danny Sancomb, second season.

Last year's record: 1-20 overall, 0-14 WCAC.

Returning starters: None.

Outlook: With a major influx of talent, the Knights' goal is to finally start becoming a force on the Washington basketball scene. At the very least, the Knights should not only win their first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game, but they should also begin to stay competitive against the conference's top teams. Keep an eye on a pair of Serbian seniors -- 6-2 point guard Nebo Zlatic and 6-6 forward Srdjan Boskovic -- who are part of a strong starting five. John Flowers, an All-Extra junior transfer from Thomas Stone, will become eligible, per WCAC rules, at the start of the second semester, which begins Jan. 12.

Southern Maryland

Christian

Coach: Van Whitfield, second season.

Last year's record: Played a junior varsity schedule.

Returning starters: None.

Outlook: After a year away from varsity, the Mustangs are going to try to launch another high-profile program with a carefully crafted label. "The school gave me a mandate," Whitfield said. "They said, 'We would love to have a team, but it's got to be local players and no out-of-town players.' " Whitfield said last year's entire team left the school. The back court of senior Jerimiah Bowman and junior Kendall Durant transferred from Carroll, while junior Trae Jacobs and sophomore Travis Chainay came from St. Mary's Ryken.

-- ALAN GOLDENBACH

Chopticon's Anthony Fenwick, guarding Leonardtown's Jackie Pixley in a game last season, will move from shooting guard to the point this season. Pixley is the only returning Raiders player with considerable experience. McDonough senior guard Preston Faulk, who led the team in scoring, was the SMAC's best long-distance shooter last season, hitting 66 three-pointers for the 21-4 Rams.