Patrick Swearinger thought he was at the wrong school when he arrived for Thomas Stone's first basketball practice last month.
Who were those guys joining him in yellow and blue jerseys?
"There's a lot of new faces around here," said Swearinger, who is not only the Cougars' lone returning starter from last season, but also the only returnee who played extensively. "Right now, it's just about getting down and playing together because none of us know what we can do."
They've gotten a good idea the past two nights, with back-to-back victories to open the season, including a 59-48 triumph last night over Southern Maryland Athletic Conference rival McDonough in a home nonconference game. That followed a nine-point victory at Fairmont Heights on Tuesday.
Thomas Stone (2-0) is the only SMAC team to win at least 20 games each of the past three seasons, but each time the Cougars had a couple of key returnees and knew their capabilities.
But this season, joining Swearinger (13 points) are a half-dozen call-ups from junior varsity and several transfers, including 6-foot-8 junior Julian Armstrong from Riverdale Baptist.
"We don't have many holdovers," Thomas Stone Coach Dale Lamberth said. "Obviously, we're trying to find an identity, but I think they know the things they like doing."
Chief among them appears to be shooting from the outside, a weak spot in recent seasons for Thomas Stone, a two-time Maryland 4A East finalist. Junior point guard Aubin Reeves, who was a February call-up from junior varsity last season, hit three first-half jumpers en route to a 14-point night.
"It's tough getting everyone on the same page," Reeves said. "We're just trying to find out what we do best."
Thomas Stone scored 13 of the game's first 17 points and never trailed, defeating McDonough (0-1) for the first time in four meetings. The defending SMAC champion Rams still maintain an 18-game conference winning streak dating to February 2003. But for them to extend that, they will have to find role players to complement senior guard Preston Faulk, the conference's best outside shooter (17.4 points per game, 66 three-pointers last season).
"He understands he can't do it himself, but he needs other players to step up," McDonough Coach Dave Rooney said. "And they're learning that. Before, we were standing around watching him."
Thomas Stone took a 36-27 halftime lead and broke the game open in the third quarter, as the Cougars went to the offensive glass. Three minutes into the second half, two Rams collided going for a rebound and Thomas Stone senior Ronald Colbert snuck in to get the loose ball, stick in a layup and draw a foul.
Colbert completed the three-point play, and a tip-in by Armstrong (10 points) gave the Cougars their biggest lead to that point, 43-30, and they were never threatened again.