Last season, Dulaney's Albert Smith was a 6-foot-2 scoring machine who baffled defenders with his quick moves to the basket.
But during the summer, Smith underwent surgery to remove a rib, forcing the two-sport star to miss the Lions' football season. Some doubted his ability to regain his basketball form after the long period of inactivity.
Now Smith is back. He still can blow by defenders to the basket, he's worked to improve his jump shot, and he's grown two inches.
After recovering from the June operation, the junior small forward leads the area with a 34.0 scoring average for the Lions (1-2), and again is showing why he is considered one of the top prospects in the area.
"I feel great," said Smith, 16. "Words can't describe the feeling of finally playing again. I really wanted to play football, but what kept me going was knowing that I'd be ready to play basketball."
After noticing a recurring numbness in his right arm last spring, basketball was the last thing on Smith's mind.
Sometimes, the limb would swell like a balloon. After several medical examinations, doctors determined that his first rib and collarbone were pinching together, the result of fast-growing bones, constricting the flow of blood to the surrounding areas. The only solution, doctors said, was surgery.
"The doctors told me it wasn't anything to worry about," said Smith. The surgery was successful, but he lost 20 pounds immediately afterward. Until recently, he also was extremely susceptible to colds -- the result of side effects from a blood-thinning drug.
Smith started the long road back by running with the football team. At the urgings of his mother, Dorothy, he attended every Dulaney football game and cheered on his teammates. The star running back said it was anguish to watch from the sidelines.
"Every once in a while I'd just have to walk away," said the former 1,000-yard rusher.
Smith said this was a particularly difficult time for him, and the support he received from friends helped keep his spirits up. He also credited his mother with keeping his mind off football by sending him on errands.
When he wasn't with his friends or going grocery shopping, however, Smith was on the neighborhood basketball court working on his jumper.
"It used to be that a defender could stay back because he knew I couldn't hit from the outside," said Smith. "I worked a lot on jumping to get my legs strong. I'm not quite at three-point range, but I'm better than I used to be."
Said Dulaney assistant coach Tony Donia: "He's definitely better than last year. I still wouldn't call him a really good shooter, but for a guy who shot flat-footed as a freshman, he's improved a lot.
"He does so many things so well that teams can't [defend against] it."
Randallstown coach Reggie Brooks can attest to that. In the season opener, Smith scored 41 points in leading Dulaney to an upset win over the Rams.
"He's probably the most dominating player in the county," said Brooks. "We would put somebody quick on him, and he'd shoot over top. We'd put somebody tall on him, and he'd beat him to the basket. To [stop] him, you need somebody who's quick and tall."
Smith said teammates get him free near the basket with baseline screens, up screens and pick-and-rolls. When guards get the ball, they either can shoot or go to Smith.
Once he has the ball, there seems to be no stopping him. He scores most of his points by taking the feed and blowing by his defender for the layup.
When he misses, the 205-pound athlete crashes the boards. Smith said he sets rebounding goals before each game.
His aggressive style of play has attracted the attention of several big-name schools. Smith said he wants to wait until after basketball season to think about choosing a college.
Come spring, Smith said he plans to try out for lacrosse. He also expects to play football again next fall. As for basketball season, he has lofty goals.
"We have a more experienced team this year," said Smith. "My goals are to have a winning record, be one of the top seeds in the playoffs and hopefully go all the way."