They lost eight seniors, including all five starters, from last year's 22-2 state 2A championship team. Then, six of this year's players, two of them starters, got a late start in basketball because they were playing on Oakland Mills' state semifinalist football team.
In a team game requiring timing and cohesiveness, that is not the way to get the season off to a quick start. And the Scorpions, a .500 team after their first 12 games, proved it.
But 12 games does not a season make. With time on their side, Oakland Mills (12-6, 8-2 in Howard County) suddenly has ripped off six straight wins. It now leads Hammond and Wilde Lake by one game and Mount Hebron by two in league play.
For ninth-year coach Dave Appleby, the challenge has been "getting the kids to mesh. It's an assemblage of talent," he said, "but they don't understand each other as well, or have as much experience playing together," as last year's group.
That talent includes 6-foot-5 junior center Mark Terry (12.4 points, 11 rebounds), 6-4 junior forward Greg Washington (18 points, 10 rebounds) and 6-2 senior shooting guard Carruthers Gant (20 points). "We need 50 points from Gant, Washington and Terry," said Appleby. "From the other six we need 20 points total. I tell them if we get 70 points we'll probably win the game . . . We've been getting consistent play from our three big guns and good contributions from our bench. Most games, that's been enough."
The "other six" includes senior starters Travis Williams (five assists) at point guard and 6-2 swingman Joe Coughlan. Reserves Charles Daniels and Antoine Baker at wing guard, and forwards Kelly Sykes and Tony Richmond also contribute.
But just a few weeks ago, Williams said, "It looked like things were going to fall apart. A few of us [Williams, Washington, Coughlan and Richmond] got together and talked about it. Then we each talked to the others individually. That's what's helped us in the streak."
Appleby, who is a guidance counselor in two Howard County elementary schools, hadn't been aware of that off-court leadership. "I depend on those kids to talk to the other kids. I encourage it," he said.
The Scorpions have thus far battled their late start, inexperience, a series of nagging injuries and a round of the flu to learn to play together. But they're not yet a well-oiled basketball machine. "Sometimes we have mental lapses during the game," Williams said.
They'll need to maintain full concentration in this week's games to hold their league lead. Tomorrow they visit Mount Hebron (7:30 p.m.), and Thursday they travel to archrival Wilde Lake (7:30 p.m.). Oakland Mills lost at home to both schools earlier in the season.
Now, having learned to play together, the Scorpions are on top of a well-balanced league. "The balance is very fragile," said Appleby, speaking of his team as well.