They returned only two starters from last year's 16-8 regional finalist team. Then they lost one of them, leading scorer Louis Smith and his better than 20 points per game, to injury in the first quarter of their sixth game. And, said coach Art Gamzon, their tallest starter, center Marlon Barbour, is "a short 6-foot-3."
Yet, the results are not as grim as the prognosis may sound. In fact, they could hardly be better. Ninth-ranked Catonsville is unbeaten (9-0, 7-0 in Baltimore County 3A-4A play) and is outscoring opponents by an average of 88-58.
"You're probably not going to see me calling in and nominating an Athlete of the Week," Gamzon said. "Because our strength is our balance, though we've got a couple kids who are real good. One-on-one, we have no one to handle an Albert Smith, but we beat Dulaney."
Though the powerful Smith shredded the Comets for 47 points, mostly on layups, they beat the Lions 90-74 Jan. 4.
That game meant a lot to senior tri-captain Steve Joyce, a 5-10 guard/forward. "That was the sweetest victory we've had," he said. "Usually for the first three quarters we really put it to teams, but they played us real tough. We had to dig down deep. It showed some growth and that we were a pretty mature team. We didn't have anybody go out of control. We continued to run our offense and box out and play good defense."
But to the other returning starter, 6-2 point guard Dave Clark (13 points, six assists), the Randallstown game, a 100-64 win, was a benchmark despite the loss of Smith with a small crack in his right leg. "That was our first big game of the season," said Clark, a senior tri-captain. "When we played so well it gave us confidence in ourselves."
Rob Rich, a 6-0 junior, has replaced Smith in the lineup with no dropoff in scoring.
Barbour actually started for the Comets as a sophomore, but played for Fallston last year. Now averaging 12 points, "He's our warrior inside, our banger," Gamzon said. Sophomore James Lewis, a 6-1 power forward, provides a defensive presence inside and his rebounding and outlet passes help trigger the Comets' fastbreak.
Another newcomer, 6-2 junior forward Teron Owens, played JV at DeMatha last year. Gamzon said he's an outstanding passer, and averages 13 points and six assists.
Seniors Scott Mealey (6-1) and tri-captain Ron Hippler add strength inside while Joyce and junior guard Travis Terrell see time in the backcourt.
"We like to get points off our defense. We like the transition game," Gamzon said. "But at the same time, we have confidence in our three-point shooters. We're using the three-point shot more this year than we ever have."
Gamzon's reward this year has been, "just seeing the kids play together as a team and the compliments the kids have gotten over the fact that we're not a one- or two-man team. If you're open, you're going to get the ball. The overall team passing has been a joy to watch."
And the kids are aware of it, too. "It seems like we've been playing together a long time, even though we just started playing together," Joyce said.
When "Sweet Lou" Smith returns at the end of January, the Comets will have even more depth and balance. "We play an uptempo game, so we need to have that kind of depth," Gamzon said. "I have a lot of confidence in those kids."