With only two players on his squad with any real varsity experience,Old Mill boys basketball coach Paul Bunting opted to take the wait-and-see approach to his team's 1990-1991 campaign.
"I'm definitely concerned (about our inexperience), but being concerned doesn't do a whole lot of good," Bunting said, just prior to the start of the season. "We've got to suck it up and go."
Thus far, Old Mill has done precisely that, and in sucking it up,the Patriots have gone further than anyone ever expected them to go -- Bunting included.
"This year has been a real surprise, but it just goes to show what a team can do if it works hard," said Bunting. "The whole team is merging extremely well.
"We didn't have a lot of size or experience coming in so there were a lot of question marks.But, the kids up from the JV have responded very well and those who were on the varsity last year and didn't see a lot of playing time are getting the job done."
With 13 games under their belts, the Patriots have climbed their way to the top of the county's 4A Friendship Division with a 4-0 mark. The Patriots boast a 10-3 record overall and are 8-0 against county 4A opponents.
Their most impressive victory came on Jan. 15, when they surprised Annapolis, 68-62, for the first time in Old Mill's 16-year history.
"I think Old Mill is establishing themselves as a front-runner for one of the two top playoff seeds," said Broadneck coach Ken Kazmarek, whose Bruins will attempt toend the Pats' six-game winning streak at 7 tonight at Old Mill. "They don't have the experience that they had last year, but they haven'tmissed a beat. I think they proved that by beating Annapolis."
Bunting said he and his troops were happy to beat Annapolis but he downplayed the accomplishment, adding that a lot of non-believers are outthere who refuse to utter his team's name in the same breath with Annapolis, Broadneck and Meade.
"Beating Annapolis was an achievement, but our goal, like every year, is to make the playoffs," Bunting said. "I think we gained quite a bit of confidence by beating Annapolis but we still have a way to go yet.
"We're still trying to gain respect in the county. There's still quite a few people out there thatthink it (the win over Annapolis) was a fluke. We just have to keep going out each day and proving ourselves."
What the Patriots lack in size and experience they make up for in balance. Bunting said he'sconfident that his young squad can match up with the Bruins and believes his team's scoring symmetry should work to its advantage tonight.
"I think we'll match up well with them with the exception of Boris Beck and nobody in the county can match up with him," Bunting saidof the 7-foot-2 Beck. "We preach that no one guy on our team is going to dominate. There's not one guy on the team that we consider to bea 'go to' player. Everyone is asked to do the same thing and that istake the shot if they have it."
Senior swingman and team captain Damion Sewell, the sixth man on last year's 17-7 squad that lost to Broadneck in the region semifinal, leads the Pats' well-balanced offense by averaging 12.8 points per game. Two other Patriots averaging indouble figures are junior guard Ravon Austin (11.6) and senior guard Nijui Truesdale (10.9).
Old Mill's 6-foot-3 center Shawn Craig has joined senior forward Will Crowder in the paint, and both have provided the Patriots with the necessary rebounding efforts.
"He plays a lot of kids and they all seem to be very versatile," said Kazmarek, whose team enters the game 11-2 overall and second behind Annapolis in the Bay Division with a 6-1 mark. "Those are the worst teams to try and defend because every one of their players can score at any time. They've proven that they can't be keyed on."
One new concern Bunting has had to endure during this week of preparation has been thehealth of his team. Bunting said several of his players had been under the weather the past few days, but he believes they are on the road to recovery.
"I think we had a little problem with guys drinkingfrom the same water bottle," said Bunting, a six-year coach who never has been one to make excuses. "We'll be ready.