Is the race for county boys basketball supremacy over before it has even started?
Most rival coaches agree that defending 4A champion Annapolis ranks high above the rest of the field, despite the loss of guards Gene Slocum, Aderio Jones and Jeff Brown, forward Adrian Quille and standout center Ted Cottrell.
"I don't think anyone can beat Annapolis this year," lamented Old Mill coach Paul Bunting. "Glen Burnie is down. Broadneck may have a good team, but they don't have the players they had in the past. I know I don't."
And this from Severna Park coach Wayne Mook: "There isn't a coach in the county who doesn't know that the road to Cole Field House (site of the state playoffs) goes through Annapolis."
The 4A League has been realigned for North County -- the product of the merger between Andover and Brooklyn Park -- and Queen Anne's.
Five teams comprise the newly formed Friendship Division -- Arundel, Glen Burnie, Meade, North County and Old Mill. The Bay Division consists of Annapolis, Broadneck, Chesapeake, Queen Anne's and Severna Park. The first-place finishers of each division will not compete to determine an overall county champion.
Meanwhile, the 3A-2A League should feature another interesting battle between last year's co-champions -- Northeast and Southern -- and up-and-coming South River. All three made the playoffs last season.
The following is a look at the 12 county public school teams:
Finally, Annapolis coach John Brady shed the proverbial monkey from his back last year, winning his first state championship in 10 tries, 106-102, over High Point of Prince George's County.
The "Loyola Marymount" offense now in vogue at every level worked to absolute perfection for the Panthers, and more of the same is expected this season.
Annapolis, which has gone 217-33 over the past 10 years, houses an abundance of talented athletes and yet another trip to College Park could be in the offing.
Seniors Dennis Edwards, a 6-foot-5 forward who averaged 12 points a game last year, and 6-6 guard Delmore Howard headline the returnees. Junior forward Rob Wooster (6-5) completes the third link of a formidable triangle.
"With Dennis, Delmore and Rob, I think we have three of the top 10 players in the county," Brady said. "I think Dennis is among the top three players in the county."
Senior Jon Holden (6-9) appears the candidate most likely to inherit Ted Cottrell's center position, and the Panthers are deep at the guard position with the addition of sophomores Lozonnah James, Keith Watkins, Marvin Brown and Wendell Williams, who join returnees Gerard Hyman, Chad Clay and Kurt Wahlenstrom.
Brady hasn't lost his trademark sense of humor, claiming the Panthers will slow their attack to resemble Princeton University.
He won't lose many games, either.
Broadneck lost four of five starters, and six of its top eight players, from last year's 20-4 region finalist. The biggest loss, 6-6 center Matt Campbell, is irreplaceable.
Not that Coach Ken Kazmarek was trying to fill his shoes.
"Matt's virtually impossible to replace and we're not going into the season thinking we have to replace him," he said. "We'll build upon the strengths we have."
No single player can make up for the 26.1 points-per-game and 16.4 rebounds Campbell averaged last season, but Kazmarek likes the "committee" he fields for tonight's game at Glen Burnie.
"We have to be a team with a lot of kids contributing," he said. "We have five to eight kids who can contribute points. It will be a large team effort."
The greatest attribute is 5-11 senior point guard Johnny Williams, a superb ball handler and leader.
"I think Johnny will have a fantastic year," Kazmarek said, "but it's not fair for us to expect him to carry the load Matt did."
The veteran coach isn't demanding that highly publicized Boris Beck, a 7-2 German exchange student, do so, either. Kazmarek says Beck, who probably will come off the bench in the early going, is "improving every day," but the center still needs a great deal of work on basic skills.
"We shouldn't put too much pressure on Boris to be a factor early," Kazmarek said.
Instead, that duty falls to veterans like Williams, forwards Sean Tettemer (5-11) and Marlon Bailey (6-1) and guards Chris Ricks (5-8) and Mike Norton (5-10).
Six-foot newcomers Ken Lennox, a transfer from Texas, and Darnell Howard should provide immediate assistance to a team that also lost sharp-shooting forwards Adrian Spain and Casey Ryan to graduation.
Include Severna Park among the teams hoping to run-and-gun their way past Annapolis and into the state tournament.
"The bottom line is, the system we used for quite a while now wasn't getting us anywhere," said Mook, whose squad went 12-11 last year and lost to LaPlata in the region quarterfinals. "Our style of play hasn't been conducive to beating Annapolis. Teams that have had success against them in the past play an uptempo game -- shooting quickly, running like crazy, a lot of pressure defense."