Annapolis basketball during the 14-year tenure of coach John Brady has been the top sports entertainment value in Anne Arundel County.
The Panthers have been consistently talented, exciting and successful. And humor has helped alleviate the pressure to win every time out. (Brady once fired a water machine-gun at Ken Kazmarek when Broadneck's coach strayed from his coaching box.)
The combination of athletics and three-ring circus could be entering its final act, however.
A successful defense of the Class state 4A championship this week in College Park would give Brady (298-47) his 300th win, a level he would have reached more quickly than any other coach in state public school annals. If that happens, many say, the former Mount St. Joseph center will step down.
"One more [championship] and that's it," Brady said after last year's 106-102 title-game victory over High Point. Now, he hedges a little.
"I really don't know. I'd probably think about it, then make an announcement during the Final Four or the NBA finals, some appropriate time," Brady said, grinning.
"I've been coaching for 21 years [seven as assistant to the late Dick Hart at Andover]. At times I get frustrated and tired, but I've never had the guts to stop," he said. "If I quit, then missed it, I would try again -- but not necessarily as a head coach."
If this proves to be Brady's last year, his swan song will have been one of the better coaching efforts in a career that includes 13 county and 11 regional titles.
The Panthers returned only one starter, senior forward Delmore Howard, and had to replace point guard Eugene Slocum, shooting guard Jeff Brown and All-Metro center Ted Cottrell, a dominant middle man at 6 feet 10.
"This was not really a challenge for me. But the team had a terrific challenge, and they came through," Brady said. "The second toughest thing in sports is to win a championship. The toughest thing is to come back and do it again."
The second-ranked Panthers (21-3) are close to another title despite "the toughest schedule since I've been here," Brady said. "Just in the county, we had to beat three good teams. One of them, with a 7-foot center [Broadneck's 7-2 Boris Beck], we had to beat three times. It was done with people who had been role players and, in some cases, underachievers."
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the uninitiated was senior Gerard Hyman's ability to step in for Slocum. Hyman (8.3 points and 4.2 assists a game) excelled at the point of the up-tempo offense.
"He's played a lot of minutes and a lot of hard minutes. He's gotten the job done because you don't get this far without a point guard," Brady said. "If I were guaranteed a point guard like him every year, I'd sign a contract for life."
The Panthers also have enjoyed consistency from Howard (17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds), who has recovered from injuries sustained in an auto accident last year, and junior guard Rob Wooster (15.0, 8.5).
"The major difference this year was in not having a dominant big man. But there are different ways to bake a cake," Brady said. "It just took us a while to realize that everybody had to get in there and rebound."