Four years ago, Quinton Gross was, by his own account, a troublemaker. He was an aggressive child who liked to fight almost as much as he liked playing basketball. Maybe even a little bit more.

All of that--except for his love of basketball--has changed. Gross, 16, was ordained as a Christian minister in October.

"The change in me, oh man, it's just been tremendous," said the Calvert junior, who joined the Cavaliers' basketball team five games into the season without any varsity experience at the Prince Frederick, Md., school. "I can't explain it."

The explanation is based in his newfound commitment to God. Though he played basketball for three years at Calvert Middle School--where as a 12-year-old he could wow his teammates and opponents with acrobatic dunks--Gross took off the past two years to study the Bible.

"It really happened out of the blue," Gross said of his spiritual awakening. "I went to Lusby [in southern Calvert County] with my cousins and we were playing basketball outside when someone yelled it was time for us to come in for service. I thought we were ready to eat, that's what I thought service was. But they were having church in the basement.

"I went in and heard the things they were talking about and realized that I wasn't doing any of those things and it changed me. I was listening to God's word and I realized I needed to learn it."

So Gross, who once faced assault charges as a minor (they were later dropped), stopped picking fights and started reading the Bible, for at least one hour per day after school. He also joined a variety of Bible study classes--he now leads several such classes after basketball practice--and spent considerable time trying to show other youths the way he was living before was wrong.

"Before I was the kind of person you just didn't cross," said Gross, whose main place of worship is the Church of God in Lusby. "But I'm different now. For instance, last year there was this boy at the career center who I guess was trying to show off or something and he cursed at me. There's a time when I never would have let that happen, I would have hurt him. But this time I just started talking to him about God. He looked at me and said, 'I don't even know who you are anymore' and I said, 'I'm glad that you don't.' "

Gross said he takes particular pride in talking with troubled boys, many of whom reside in group homes, because he can relate to them in a way others can not. He does not preach on a set schedule, but instead takes the opportunity to spread the word of God on a daily basis.

"Many people believe that you have to go through a seminary or other things in order to preach but it's just a gift that the Lord gives you," Gross said. "When a door is opened and the Lord gives me an opportunity to speak his word, I just take it."

Sharon Gross, Quinton's mother, said that more has changed in her son's life than his perspective. He studies harder at school, she said, and has improved from a 'C' to an 'A' student. One of six children in the Gross family, he also leads his siblings--four of whom still reside in the house--in Bible study at home.

"He has always been a very serious-minded person," said Sharon Gross, who shares her son's commitment to God. "He would never cross boundaries as to other people's rights or property but he would not allow other people to cross him either . . . and that's what led to fights and to trouble. But then he came to know the Lord and has just dedicated his life to Christ."

Gross's new ways have earned him the nickname "Preacher" by his teammates and classmates, and perhaps it is his new personality that made it so easy for the members of Calvert's basketball team to welcome him in after the season had already begun. Gross went to watch the Cavaliers in their 67-60 loss to Patuxent on Dec. 10 and said he told someone he was sorry he hadn't tried out for the team this year.

The following day he was approached by Calvert Coach Bill Stewart, who, after asking the team for its opinion, asked Gross to join them. In his first game the Cavaliers lost to Bowie, 59-50, Dec. 22. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard earned his first start in Calvert's 48-47 win over Northern four games later.

"I talked with the team and they were all glad to have him," said Stewart, whose team is 7-6 overall and tied for second in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference at 5-2. "We had all heard stories about him from middle school, some of our guys had played with him and some against him, and they had wanted him to come out for two years. He's a raw talent right now."

Gross, who has started the past five games, has quickly latched on to junior point guard Sam Pumphrey, one of the players Gross played against in middle school. Pumphrey said the two are learning from each other.

"I help him with basketball and he helps me with my spiritual life," said Pumphrey, who sometimes joins Gross before games in a separate prayer after the team has recited the Lord's prayer together. "It's half and half; a trade-off."

"He's new to the team, but I think the young men on the team kind of look up to him personality-wise," Sharon Gross said. "Playing is time consuming, but he told me he had this time now and that he needed to be with the guys and be an example. . . . Some of his teammates joke that nobody can touch Quinton because he's got a shield around him . . . that it's a spiritual thing."

Though Gross is averaging less than five points per game, he has shown flashes of explosiveness. He scored a season-high 17 points in a 68-64 win over St. Mary's Ryken on Jan. 5 and has scored in double figures two other times.

"He really, really has a lot of talent," Pumphrey said. "He's so good defensively because he is so quick. And he can jump. He will dunk on you quickly--and badly--if he's got the opportunity."

Gross said the best thing about joining the team has been the patience shown to him by his teammates and coaches.

"Sometimes I do things and think they should be angry with me but they just say, 'It's okay, we know you haven't played in a while,' " Gross said. "They have all shown me patience. What I want to do for them in return goes beyond basketball. The biggest thing I really want to be is an example for Christ to the guys on the team and let them know that if He can change me, He can change anybody."

CAPTION: Once a troublemaker, now an ordained minister, guard Quinton Gross said, "I was listening to God's word and I realized I needed to learn it."