JACKSONVILLE, FLA., JUNE 24 -- The National Junior Men's AAU Championships, a tournament that Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing and other pro stars have played in, is now the dream event for Executive III, the Washington area's representative.

Considered one of the favorites because of immense talent and depth, the team's title expectations were dampened even before it packed up for its 15-hour drive south.

Three key players, Duke-bound Grant Hill from South Lakes High, Providence-bound Dickey Simpkins from Friendly and Georgetown recruit Charles Harrison from Carroll, were taken off the roster because they were committed to the area squad that competed in the Boston Shootout over the weekend.

"It will be a little difficult without those players," said Executive III Coach Lou Wilson, who is leading the team into the tournament for the fifth straight year. "I felt that we were going to win the national championship with them, but we are still capable of winning it. We just have to come together more as a team and play defense well. We still have an ample amount of firepower."

Scoring, at least, won't be a problem, as McNamara's Donald Ross and Oakland Mills's Cobey Webb -- both undecided about which college to attend -- can quickly change the tempo of a game with their explosive open-court skills.

Menacing 6-foot-8 Mark McGlone from Bladensburg, off to Maryland next season, provides rebounding strength along with Annapolis's Ted Cottrell, 6-9 and bound for Massachussetts. His aggressive inside play was instrumental in the Panthers winning the Maryland state Class 4A championship in March.

Hill, Simpkins and Harrison would have increased Executive III's title chances, but the team hasn't lost any confidence as it prepares for today's first-round game at Florida Community College. Executive III faces a team from Nebraska as the double-elimination tournament commences.

"I think that we'll be all right," McGlone said. "It's a chance for other players to get more shot opportunities. I sacrificed a little bit of my game when they were on the team and now a lot will be depended on me."

Should things get tough against some of the nation's premier junior men's AAU teams, perhaps the honor of representing the home town may be motivation enough to carry Executive III.

"I've always believed that when you go away to represent your town, no matter the circumstances," McGlone said, "that you play your heart out and don't give up."