The arrival of towering German center Boris Beck at Broadneck this season predictably raised eyebrows in Anne Arundel County, where athletic transfers long have been a sore point.
Perhaps just as predictable, however, is that Beck -- a Fullbright exchange student and no basketball import -- has not been a major factor for the Bruins.
Beck, at 7 feet 2 the tallest county player ever, has found the transition to American basketball difficult.
"The adjustment for Boris has been in understanding just how intense the game is in the U.S.," said Bruins coach Ken Kazmarek. "He's used to something other than the highly competitive nature of our schools.
"Boris has trouble with simple fundamentals, things he could get away with in a less-intense situation. Here, people push him around."
But that's OK with Beck, who says he's here to learn and that basketball is not even his top priority.
"The first thing for me is not to play basketball, but to learn English," said the 17-year-old native of Hamburg. "In Germany, I was so bad [in English] I had the last grade, like an 'E'."
In four months, Beck's English has improved more dramatically than his basketball, which began under extreme pressure in the opener at Glen Burnie.
Before a crowd that began mockingly chanting "Boris . . . Boris . . . " 20 minutes before game time, Beck made his debut with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the first quarter. Jeff Gross immediately stripped him of the ball when he brought it down to waist level.
Beck missed two layups -- one on an alley-oop feed from Johnny Williams -- before scoring on a driving jam over Kyle Hackett, who gave up 17 inches in the confrontation.
Beck finished with three points, one rebound, a blocked shot and two turnovers in six minutes.
"I think I [played] a good game," he said. "I did two or three things wrong, but that's OK. In the beginning, I was nervous. But the more I played, the nervousness went down.
"At the end, I didn't feel anything but happy because we won."
As for the crowd, "It was very new for me, but let the kids scream. It's not a matter for me to worry about," Beck said, grinning. "I can only smile about it."
Beck has played sparingly, and is the first to admit that he needs a lot of work. "I need to play more aggressive and to become in better shape," he said. "In Germany, nobody can stop me when I go to the basket. Here, lots of people can because they're taller and lots quicker."
"In Germany, we play the slowdown game. Here, it is harder and much faster, with all the fast breaks and the three-pointers."
Beck has been playing only since March 1989, when his school water polo coach, Dirk Moeckelmann, encouraged him to try basketball.
"I had only seen it on TV," he said. "I don't buy a basketball. I go in the gym and look at what they make, and I try to do the same things."
That caught the eye of German club coach Dieter Niedlich, who had learned of the Fullbright exchange program while attending a Bob Knight camp in Indiana.
Beck applied to the program last summer, and was settled in with Peter and Maureen McDaniel, parents of former Bruins player Pete McDaniel.
Their only problem was in finding a bed large enough for Beck.
"The little kids go crazy when they see him, and they follow him around everywhere," Maureen McDaniel said. "But Boris is very easygoing, and has become a member of our family. We all love him."
Beck is popular at Broadneck and has done well in school in all but one course. ("My English is not good enough to understand it.")
"People are all very nice to me, and I've made lots of friends," said Beck.
He could be eligible to play at Broadneck again next season, but that and the possibility of college in the United States remain future considerations.
"I have four months here, and I'm homesick. I miss my family and my friends, my girlfriend," said Beck, whose mother, Chrestel, will arrive Friday for a two-week visit.
"I must think about it. I must talk with my family about it," he said.
Meanwhile, the work continues.
"Right now, Boris is not a major force for us," Kazmarek said, "but he is slowly, but surely, getting better.
"He's an intelligent kid, one who works hard and really wants to learn. He's good to have around, and this is really a positive experience for us all."
Boys top 20
1. Dunbar (5-1) 300
2. Southern-Balt (2-2) 285
3. Annapolis (4-0) 268
4. Walbrook (3-0) 253
5. Lake Clifton (2-1) 238
6. Cardinal Gibbons (4-2) 227
7. St. Frances (1-2) 219
8. Catonsville (4-0) 194
9. Woodlawn (3-1) 170
10. Broadneck (3-1) 160
11. Edmondson (0-0) 135
12. Poly (3-1) 133
13. Loyola (4-1) 118
14. Oakland Mills (1-2) 102
15. Northeast (3-1) 92
16. Meade (4-1) 65
17. Joppatowne (2-0) 64
18. Southern-AA (2-1) 39
19. Overlea (2-0) 37
20. Randallstown (2-2) 24
Other teams receiving votes, with records and points in parentheses: St. Paul's (7-1, 13), Eastern Vo-Tech (2-1, 5), Parkville (3-1, 4), Hammond (0-1, 3), Carver (0-1, 2), Dulaney (1-2, 2), Wilde Lake (1-3, 1).
How the poll is conducted: The members of The Sun's board of consulting coaches for the 1990-91 season are: Dave Appleby, Oakland Mills; John Barbour, Northeast; Reggie Brooks, Randallstown; Jim Carnes, South Carroll; Rick Collins, St. Paul's; Randy Dase, Towson; Tim Holley, Gilman; Ken Kazmarek, Broadneck; Bucky Kimmett, Poly; Charlie Moore, Lake Clifton; Ray Mullis, Gibbons; John Nash, Douglass; Rod Norris, Woodlawn; Jerry Savage, Loyola; Alex Spooner, Havre de Grace.