After taking Archbishop Spalding's boys basketball program from obscurity to national prominence in three years, coach Tony Martin envisions a similar turnaround at John Carroll.
He already appears to have the parts to make it happen.
In this his second season at the Harford County Catholic high school, the former Cardinal Gibbons and Mount St. Joseph assistant has brought in a 7-foot-4, 285-pound center from Sokolow Podlaski, Poland, in Jakub Kusmieruk, a fledgling 6-6 prospect from Kansas in Isaiah Philmore, and Josh Selby, perhaps the top incoming freshman from the metro area.
Selby was coveted by all of the Baltimore Catholic League coaches.
"Our AD, Larry Dukes [former Mount St. Joseph assistant], is committed to bringing in the best student-athletes," Martin said. "That's what Lee Dove [Spalding athletic director] did, and look what has happened there with the success of the football and baseball teams that came after the basketball team's rise."
At Spalding, Martin inherited a team that went 3-17 the season before and led it to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference title in 1997-98. In his second season, he took the Cavaliers to the Baltimore Catholic League championship.
He did it with recruiting, transfers and foreign players from Cameroon and Serbia. Because of the transfers, the Cavaliers' rapid turnaround caused a stir among BCL coaches, but Spalding was never found guilty of any wrongdoing.
His final team in 1999-2000 went 31-5 and Martin, who was named The Sun's All-Metro Coach of the Year, resigned because he and his wife were taking care of an ill family member.
After a brief stint as an assistant coach at Towson University, Martin returned as a high school coach at John Carroll last year. The Patriots, who play in the B Conference, went 15-22, the most wins for the program since 1994-95 when they went 15-11 under Pat Goles.
The BCL voted against John Carroll's induction into the league for the 2007-08 season, but the MIAA did vote the Patriots into the A Conference for next year, and they will play BCL teams.
"We're excited about becoming part of the A Conference next year and slightly disappointed being turned down by the Catholic League," Martin said. "They [BCL] want to give us a two-year evaluation period to see that our team would be no short-term thing. We will petition them again next year and hope that we get in. It would be great for the league."
For now, the Patriots are setting their sights on a B Conference title and a 20-win season despite playing in three national tournaments in Columbia, S.C., the Benedictine in Richmond, Va., and the Monteverde Invitational in Orlando, Fla.
"If everybody stays healthy and works together, we can be very competitive and win 20 games," Martin said.
Fueling Martin's enthusiasm is returning leading scorer Mike Maczko (pronounced munch-ko), a 6-5 junior who is being recruited by a host of Division I schools, 6-6 seniors Stanley Budzynski and Ryan Horka and the three newcomers in Kusmieruk, Philmore and Selby.
"Last year we had a fairly young team," said Maczko, whose team has just three seniors. "As far as the incoming guys, they add a lot as far as character and confidence and swagger to the game that a lot of guys last year really didn't have. We should have a successful season and many more to come."
Kusmieruk is one of the most improved players after seeing limited action last year and averaging three points and 3.6 rebounds in his first season of organized basketball. Nicknamed "Kuba," he was recommended to Martin by former Towson coach Stan Jazkulski, whom Martin assisted.
"Kuba has a lot of potential and has made a lot of progress in a very short time," Martin said.
The Polish transfer, who speaks four languages (Polish, English, Russian and German), says he loves it at John Carroll.
"In Poland, I was the biggest kid everywhere," said Kusmieruk, who said he played low-level basketball in Poland as compared with basketball here. "Here, I have friends who are 6-8, 6-7, so I'm still tall but with my friends, I'm just like a normal kid."
Kusmieruk, who says the team and coaches have become like his family, said that everybody at school has gotten used to him after the initial shock at his height.
"My biggest concern is my conditioning," Kusmieruk said. "Skills, mental and physical toughness and strength are very important. I'm a better athlete than last year and try to play hard every single time. I'm very excited about this team. Last year, we were very young."
Philmore played one season in high school in Kansas, where he averaged 39 points a game at St. Xavier High.
"My mom really wanted to get out of Kansas, didn't like it there," said Philmore, a standout at Reebok Camop Next in Neptune, N.J., this past summer. "So, she looked on the Internet and decided it would be good to come East. We moved to Bel Air and my AAU coach [Duane Coverdale, Delaware Sharpshooters] recommended John Carroll.