Extreme uncertainty blankets the boys league basketball race as the season begins tonight.
Will highly talented, four-time defending county champion Oakland Mills overcome the discord that has dragged itdown to a 4-4 preseason record?
Can a team like Hammond, which has finished second in the league six straight years, snap back from a disastrous 2-6 preleague schedule to again be a top team?
Will attempts to mold teams from a mixture of talented lettermen, junior varsity grads and transfers by WildeLake, Howard and Atholton -- all of whom emerged with losing recordsin the non-league games -- ever succeed?
Or will this be the season that good team chemistry overcomes superior athletic ability, and squads such as Centennial, Mount Hebron and Glenelg emerge as bona fide challengers?
The questions seem endless, the answers non-existent.
* On paper, Oakland Mills's talent looks untouchable.
Marc Terry, the Scorpions' 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior center is a man among boys -- the best player in the league. He can dominate a game and will average in double figures in scoring and rebounding. No team in the league appears to have a player who can stop him. But his dependability has been questionable due to academic and disciplinary difficulties that have cost him some playing time.
Gregg Washington, a 6-4senior forward, also will average double figures in scoring and rebounding and is probably the second-best player in the league.
And senior guard John Hilliard, a transfer, probably ranks third in the league with his unmatched perimeter-shooting ability.
He scored 29 points in one half against Thomas Johnson. But Hilliard, playing for his third school in as many years, reflects uncertainty about his team's chances as the league gets under way.
"We're not playing as a team," he said.
Another talented transfer, senior guard Mike Phillips, echoes negative sentiments. "The team needs to play better defense," he said.
The coach and several players point to discord among teammates and say it is negatively affecting their performance.
Can Oakland Mills' talent overcome its lack of team chemistry?
* Hammond, a team rebuilding from within, has talented athletes, but its seventh straight playoff berth looks a million miles away at this point.
The team won its first game against South Carroll, then droppedinto a black hole. It even lost to Liberty, a team four other countyteams have mangled.
The Bears will either roar or hibernate on the efforts of Kris Jefferson, Andrew Tettah and James Grant.
* The story of Wilde Lake's disappointing 2-4 season is injuries.
Senior6-5 center Ira Crawley, who was expected to be the Wildecats' answerto Oakland Mills' Marc Terry, is probably out for the season with anankle fractured during the football season.
Mike Aballo, who was expected to play a lot at guard, also is likely out for the year withan injury suffered during a soccer tournament.
Transfer Andre Martin, who figures to start at point guard, has seen limited action because he's been visiting colleges and hunting down a football scholarship.
And while forward-guard George Bradford has put up some big offensive numbers, he can't carry the load alone.
* Howard started fast with two wins but has since stumbled to four straight losses.
Lions coach Rich Jenkins suffered a double tragedy between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as both his mother and father died. His unfortunate absence for three games set back Howard's development.
But the talented Lions are much better than their 2-4 record and will be toughto beat once they get a few more games under their belts.
* Atholton, 2-6, is another team battling some poor team chemistry, as well as injuries and illnesses.
The key injury was to forward-guard Brian Smith, who has missed most of the season with a badly sprained ankle.
Transfer 6-2 guard David Morris has added offensive punch. TheRaiders have some size with 6-3 Shane Flynn, 6-4 Marvin Plunkett and6-4 Tom Gough.
The Raiders have made the playoffs 10 of the last 11 years but right now look like a long shot.
* Centennial may emerge as a contender based on its 6-2 record so far.
Charlie Stewart, averaging 15.7 points, and Damian Biggs, averaging 14.9 points, arethe names to watch.
Brian Reid, a 6-3, 210-pounder, may be able to slow down Terry a bit.
"We're playing well," Coach Jim Hill saidafter his team scored 94 points while crushing Liberty last week.
"Our last league game is with Oakland Mills, and we're hoping it will still mean something."
* Another team with excellent chemistry is Mount Hebron.
With no returning starters, the Vikings had expected a dismal season.
But they are 5-3, and first-year coach Scott Robinson is looking like a candidate for Coach of the Year.
* Glenelg is another team with good chemistry.
The Gladiators are a team weaned on victory at the junior-varsity level that is now producing on varsity.
Its 5-3 record includes two straight hard-to-swallow defeats -- by one point to Liberty and two points to Pallotti.
Glenelg can run, shoot and pass and certainly won't experience another 0-14 league season like last year.