Taking a turn for the better? Boys basketball Only one county team -- Liberty -- posted a winning record last season, but coaches see signs that better players and better teams are on the way

Local Sports: Basketball Previews

December 03, 1996|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

High school sports often go in cycles, and for Carroll County public school boys basketball teams, the cycle has been down )) the past few years.

The county teams have struggled a lot during that time. No teams have been able to step out and dominate in the county or in their conferences.

In fact, Liberty was the lone county team to post a .500 record last year -- and the Lions were just 12-11 in the school's first winning season since 1983. County teams had a combined 41-68 record last season.

But county coaches hope things are improving. Teams that had been far under .500 for awhile have been getting better. Players keep taking more time during the off-season to play in leagues and practice while junior varsity and feeder programs continue to strengthen.

4 Is Carroll County boys basketball on the way up?

"I think it's improving," said Westminster coach Dave Byers. "I think our kids, from Nov. 15 to March 1, work as hard and do as much as any kids in the state."

And the hard work can lead to improvement. Key and Liberty are good examples of that, especially looking at what happened last year.

The Eagles have slowly improved over the past few years and now are around the .500 mark, a point they seemed far away from a few years ago.

Liberty is in a similar situation. The Lions now have a number of good players and should be one of the county's top teams, as they have seven returning players this season.

Westminster also looks to be on the rise. Byers had a team loaded with inexperienced underclassmen that took its lumps early last season. But as time went on, the Owls played well and captured the county championship.

Those players now have more experience and will give some teams trouble. North Carroll and South Carroll also look to be better this season. Both teams have lots of questions but the talent is there.

Schedules also will cause the teams some problems. First, the Central Maryland Conference teams (Liberty, North and South Carroll, Westminster) get the pleasure of playing Thomas Johnson, Frederick and Linganore twice.

Francis Scott Key must face a number of difficult schools in the Monocacy Valley Athletic Conference. But the county schools are so close in ability that they'll also give each other problems.

"I think the [other four] are going to be so balanced that they're going to knock each other off," said Francis Scott Key coach Jeff Cook.

But the teams have not done well in recent years. The last four-star Carroll County team was the South Carroll squad that made the state finals in 1989 and finished 24-2. The Cavaliers nearly repeated the feat the next year, making the region finals before losing.

And since that time, the balance of power seems to have shifted. South Carroll and Westminster have gone down a bit in recent years while two schools that were near the bottom are coming up.

Liberty made it above .500, and Francis Scott Key just missed. The Eagles' season-ending playoff loss made gave them an 11-12 record last season. These were the two schools at the bottom of the county earlier this decade.

Byers and some of the other county coaches think that what happens after the season could be what's hurting the teams. Other places, like Frederick County and Baltimore City, have players working hard in off-season practices in leagues.

Cook said Frederick County teams can play 40-60 games during the summer while Carroll County schools don't do nearly as much. But that can't yet be done in Carroll County.

"We just don't have as many leagues as they do," said Cook.

"I think the kids have got to put more of an emphasis on doing it all year round," said Liberty coach Scott Kohr. "I'd like to see basketball valued as much as soccer as far as the way they work on the game."

North Carroll coach Troy Warehime said a lot of youngsters at his school play three different sports and, while he sees nothing wrong with that, it limits time available for basketball.

"I have a few that play all the time," said Warehime. "If you look at Frederick and Thomas Johnson, those guys play basketball all year round."

But other factors take away from kids playing at other times -- such as the simple layout of the county. Most of the coaches agree that since Carroll County is not like an urban area, basketball courts are not easily accessible and available.

"To me, the game of basketball lends itself to walking and finding a court," said Byers. "That's just not available in Carroll County."

But more kids are looking to play the game. The number of players looking to sign up for summer leagues and camps continues to rise. And as that happens, the victories will continue to rise.

Junior varsity programs are finding more success at various schools. Feeder programs are becoming stronger throughout the county. The combination of all this should help the county rise again -- albeit slowly.

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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