Big game opens tough 4A race

SIDELINES

December 10, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

Here it is only Dec. 10, and it's big-game time already. Can you believe it?

Annapolis (1-0) at Glen Burnie (0-0) in boys basketball at 7 tonight could be called the Class 4A East Region early-bird final.

On paper, the Panthers and Gophers appear to be the top two 4A teams in the county. Arundel and Old Mill are close behind while North County is a sleeper, and defending region champion Meade has a way to go.

Graduation hit Meade hard and its top player, Tyrone "Sticks" Jones, is hobbling around with a thigh bruise.

Chesapeake and Severna Park have miles to go and don't figure to be among the six playoff teams come March, but they might not be alone.

Another of the preseason Anne Arundel County favorites could get left out of the playoffs for the new East Region, which includes Queen Anne's of the Eastern Shore and two Calvert County schools, Northern and Calvert High.

Calvert, with two returning seniors -- Jonathan Weems in the backcourt and Vashawn Gross up front -- is a threat to take one of the six spots. The Cavaliers won the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference with a 16-1 record and finished 21-2 overall last season.

Weems (6 feet) averaged five steals a game and the 6-5 Gross averaged eight boards for last year's SMAC champion.

Calvert opened this week with a 68-66 victory at Oxon Hill in Prince George's County with Gross scoring 18 points.

So, with a quality team such as Calvert added to the region, one less Anne Arundel team might qualify in March. No non-Anne Arundel team has ever won the 4A (AA before that) region in which Anne Arundel teams play, but Calvert could change that.

Calvert definitely is a threat to be one of the six playoff teams, and that is why every game in the county 4A league will be vital. The top two teams gain first-round byes and, more important, home-court advantage.

That's why tonight's game is so important to Annapolis, a 100-88 winner over Patterson in its season and home opener Monday, and Glen Burnie.

The two teams won't meet again until Feb. 11, and by then the jockeying for position will be fierce. The idea is to win the games against the contenders.

Most county coaches consider Annapolis with its seven returnees and rich tradition as the team to beat, but Glen Burnie's eight returnees blend height, speed and quickness. The Gophers have the makings of a contender, and this first meeting with the Panthers is on their court.

Last season, the Gophers posted only their third win in school history over the Panthers but it was their first at home. Glen Burnie knocked off Annapolis in 1982 and '83, but those wins came in the Panthers' gym.

Annapolis avenged the loss a couple weeks later at home.

It's safe to say that tonight's meeting should be a five- to six-point game, or maybe even closer. It should be a classic despite the early date.

Annapolis could be missing three starters in top rebounder Larry Brown, a 6-3 senior forward, Lewis "Moon" Day and Juan "J. J." Johnson, both senior guards. Brown has a sprained ankle and Day has been experiencing chest pains and did not play in the Panthers' opener as a precaution. Johnson will be out for disciplinary reasons.

"Larry is a question mark, but might play," said Annapolis coach John Brady, whose team will be at a disadvantage on the boards without Brown jumping against the Gophers' 6-6 Scott Ledbetter and 6-5 Marquis Farmer.

Johnson shares the point with junior Teshawn Cooper to give the Panthers depth at a key position. Brady is able to keep the two fresh in the Panthers' frantic pace. Glen Burnie counters with William Brown, and he can wear out an opponent.

Also tonight, what should be a much-improved North County opens at Severna Park (0-1), a 59-37 loser to Northern of Calvert County on Tuesday. Knights coach Brad Wilson is excited because of nine returnees, including his leading scorer Teon Carter (20.6-point average).

"We need to get off to a good start for a change," said Wilson, who has had three straight losing teams and never won a season opener.

"We've always had a few players who also play football get a late start in basketball because the football team made the playoffs."

Wilson, who is the Knights' defensive coordinator in football, wasn't glad that the Knights were eliminated in the first game of the playoffs, but it's helped out his basketball team.

"It's been a little bit of a problem with the football players when we would start off 0-4 and never recover, but this year we are further along than we have ever been at this point," said Wilson.

The Knights are farther along because this is easily the most seasoned basketball team they have had. Look for North County to be this year's 4A dark horse.

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