Here is a quick look at what's coming in the area in high school basketball this winter, involving some of the best players, teams and coaches for boys and girls in public and private schools.
Boys' Team To Watch: Poly
Basketball success often is defined by numbers and statistics. Here's the big one for Poly this season -- three.
The Engineers will be going after a third consecutive state championship. Poly edged Milford Mill, 49-47, in last year's Class 3A state title game. The Engineers finished 22-6 and now have won at least 20 games three years in a row.
Head coach Sam Brand has turned Poly into a state-level team during his eight years at the helm. He was a student at Poly and then played at Morgan State before later becoming an assistant coach under Todd Bozeman at Morgan. He eventually landed at Poly and helped the Engineers achieve bigger things.
Poly's biggest challenge at first will be trying to overcome the loss of guard Demetrius Mims, who graduated and now plays at Long Beach State. But 6-foot-7 junior forward Justin Lewis already has attracted plenty of attention from colleges (offers from Maryland, Florida, Boston College and others) and should carry a lot of the load this season at Poly.
Lewis scored a game-high 20 points during the state title game victory with Mims adding 17. Junior guard Rahim Ali returns as well. Ali handed out five assists while playing the entire championship game. He also scored eight points and dished out three helpers in the semifinal win against Stephen Decatur.
Girls' Team To Watch: St. Frances
St. Frances will try to repeat as the IAAM A Conference champion. The Panthers defeated McDonogh in last winter's title game, led by the dominant play of forward Angel Reese.
Reese will be the team's go-to player throughout the season. She's already being recruited by top-tier college programs in the country, and the question is how much more effective the senior can be this season.
Reese gives St. Frances a force going to the basket and from the outside and helps the team hurt opposing defenses in so many ways.
Last season, senior point guard Nia Clouden combined with Reese to form a dynamic 1-2 combination. But head coach Jerome Shelton should have plenty of other talent on the roster to replace Clouden and complement Reese as the Panthers try to defend the conference title.
Boys' Player To Watch: James Bishop, senior guard, Mount Saint Joseph
Bishop should be one of the area's top players this season and is going to be a leader at Mount Saint Joseph now that Jalen Smith has moved on down the road to play in College Park, Md. Bishop recently committed to play at LSU, and the spotlight will be shining on the senior guard when the Gaels take the court.
He played a big role last year in helping the Gaels finish 31-8 overall and second in the Baltimore Catholic League. Bishop also made the BCL All-Tournament team and was an All-MIAA pick.
The slick-shooting Bishop averaged 18 points per game last season, and his numbers could tick up this season since the Gaels should depend on him more with Smith now at Maryland. Last season,
The Baltimore Sun named Bishop a second-team All-Metro pick.
This will be Bishop's third season as a starter, and he is coming off of a strong summer in AAU ball.
Girls' Player to Watch: Angel Reese, junior forward, St. Frances
Reese is one of the top recruits in the nation. The junior forward has many of the major basketball powers in the nation coming after her (including Maryland, South Carolina, UCLA, Virginia and several others) and should help make the Panthers tough again this season.
Last year, Reese averaged a double-double of 17.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. She also scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds when St. Frances beat McDonogh, 69-51, in the A Conference title game.
She's difficult to defend because she's so tough to stop inside and outside. Reese can get to the basket, do damage in the lane, pull down rebounds and hurt the opponent at both ends of the floor.
Everything will be building up for Reese personally since she's so well-known nationally. She has a final list of 10 colleges she's considering, and this could turn out to be a very big season for Reese, especially if it turns out to be anything like last season.
Coach To Watch: Mary Ella Marion, Mercy
She's baaaaack. Mary Ella Marion had been off the bench since 2013 after stepping away from her longtime gig at Mercy. Now, she's returning to take over the basketball team she guided to 389 wins and a Catholic League title.
Marion ran the team from 1985-2013. She's now the dean of students at Mercy and wants to get back on the bench and help the team find its form once again. The Magic went 7-12 last year.
"It's actually very exciting," Marion said. "It's like riding a bike. The excitement about working with the girls … and showing them that there's more to me than my role as dean of students."
The Magic often found success during Marion's first stint with the team; she coached Mercy in many big games and had a number of talented players. The Magic's third coach since 2013, Marion gives Mercy a proven leader at the helm.
Marion is hoping to do as well as she did during her first run when this season starts, and it will be interesting to see what she can do with a team that struggled last year.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Phil Thompson
Issue 249: November 2018
Originally published Nov. 15, 2018