Depleted, not defeated

High schools: After a 2-4 start during which its roster was reduced to as few as six players, the Towson Catholic boys basketball team has won 10 straight and attained the area's No. 1 ranking.

January 11, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Towson Catholic coach Mike Daniel rolled his eyes recently when asked to explain the success of this season's Towson Catholic boys basketball squad.

"You sit back and you think, `Yeah, it's been like a miracle how we've been getting it done,' " said Daniel, whose Owls have won 10 straight games and took over the No. 1 ranking in The Sun's poll today with a 12-4 record.

"I've got 15 seasons in," Daniel said, "but make no mistake about it, this one ranks right up there as one of the toughest seasons I've been involved in."

Daniel, 49, has 269 wins against 180 losses coaching at the 220-student private school located near the heart of Towson.

With second-team All-Metro pick Keith Jenifer returning to lead a two-guard offense, "the puzzle seemed in place" to win a second consecutive Catholic League title, Daniel said. Expectations rose with the fall arrival of 6-foot-8, 255-pound center Jason Osborne, who transferred from national power Rice High of New York.

But the development of Osborne, who says he was "overshadowed" by teammates at Rice, went slower than Daniel anticipated.

Then Daniel was left reeling by the sudden transfer of shooting guard Gil Goodrich to Newport School of Montgomery County hours after playing with the Owls in a preseason scrimmage.

Things got worse as academic ineligibility reduced Towson Catholic's roster from nine to seven players. The number dipped to six for a game against Riverdale Baptist of Prince George's County after another player encountered transportation problems.

"We thought we had a good team in the beginning, but people started to disappear. It seemed like every day, you'd turn around and someone else would be gone," said Jenifer, a Catonsville resident, adding that the worst of what he called a "chaotic season" may be over. "Everyone's always saying, `Yeah I'm gonna transfer,' but it's like a running joke on our team. You never think it's serious.

"We lost a member of the family [in Goodrich], but as the team captain, it's kind of my job to keep everyone together. I just had to concentrate on Jason Osborne and whatever else we had left."

What the Owls had left included 6-6 junior swingman Ivan Griffin and 6-0 senior guard Aaron Early, two reserves last season who have assumed starting roles on a team that has four seniors.

Osborne, whose older brother also played for the Owls before graduating last spring, returned from The Bronx, where he lived with his father, to Baltimore to live with his mother "because she thought it was a better environment for me."

A Randallstown native, Osborne lived in Baltimore for a couple of years before moving to New York when he was 10.

"Jason got in a week after classes started, and nobody had seen him play," said the 6-3, 160-pound Jenifer, who is averaging 16 points a game. "It was my job to incorporate him into the offense. It's been tough, but I think we're getting it together."

Daniel said things started to turn around at the Mercersburg (Pa.) Tournament, with the return from ineligibility of 6-5 sophomore forward Carmelo Anthony and 6-7 freshman center Bryon Joynes. "We haven't lost a game, since," said Daniel, whose Owls won their sixth Catholic League regular-season crown last winter to go with four tournament titles.

The streak includes a victory over Hatboro (Pa.), which had defeated the Catholic League's Archbishop Spalding when the Cavaliers were ranked No. 1 in the area.

It also includes a win over Prince George's County power Gwynn Park and the reversal of a loss to defending Class 4A state champion Lake Clifton, which had to forfeit the victory over the Owls after school officials discovered the Lakers' use of two ineligible players.

The 51-49 overtime victory Sunday over Calvert Hall was a good test of the Owls' depth, though it came down to a last-second three-point play by Jenifer to secure the win.

But perhaps a truer test came a week earlier when the Owls overcame North County in a closer-than-expected 64-53 win. It was the proverbial "total team effort."

Having picked up their fifth fouls, Jenifer and Griffin were relegated to the bench for the game's final 1: 46 with North County six points down.

In the third quarter, Jennifer had scored six of his 11 points and handed out four of his seven assists -- with all four going to Osborne -- to help turn a five-point halftime lead into a 47-34 advantage entering the fourth period.

With Jenifer and Daniel shouting encouragement from the sideline, however, Osborne, Anthony, senior Marcel Umphery, sophomore Darnell Hopkins and 6-6 freshman Matt Stevenson held off the Knights.

Osborne, who is averaging 13 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks a game, finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks. Hopkins, playing with four fouls, scored six of his 10 points in the final period. Anthony scored 17.

"It's nice to have our bench back. But even without it, we've played well enough, at times, to get the W's," Daniel said. "And that's just because we've got some talent and we've got some real tough kids who know how to take care of business."

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