Lebanon County's favorite sports season is almost upon us.

It's not like we don't enjoy football season around these parts, or embrace all that spring has to offer. And we don't want to turn a blind eye to the many talented wrestlers — including a blossoming powerhouse program at Northern Lebanon — and swimmers the county has to offer.

But there's just something about basketball season that stirs the passions of local sports fans like no other.

Simply put, it's just a special time of year. Not to be confused with the most wonderful time of the year, which also debuts this month.

Coincidence? We think not.

At any rate, we'll try once again to capture the special feelings that basketball season brings to Lebanon County with the annual A to Z lookahead to the local hoops scene.

We hope you'll enjoy. And away we go ...

is for Austin and Ariel, as in the Cedar Crest girls' basketball team's lethal 1-2 punch of junior center Alyssa Austin and junior point guard Ariel Jones.

The Falcons said goodbye to a quality senior class, but with Austin's post presence and Jones' lightning-quick backcourt play still in the fold, it will be difficult to wrest the L-L title away from Cedar Crest this winter.

is for Bouchette, former Northern Lebanon boys' coach Gary Bouchette. We'll spare you a rehash of the ridiculous situation that led to Bouchette's ouster after last season, and instead just note that we're happy that he is back on the bench this season as an assistant for the Cedar Crest boys.

C is for Colton, as in Colton Lawrence, the Elco boys' versatile senior forward and the most highly regarded boys player to come out of Myerstown in some time. He's a good one; just ask the growing number of college programs interested in obtaining his services. Lawrence and his Raider teammates could make this a very interesting and entertaining winter in Eastern Lebanon County.

is, of course, for defense. We've gone down this road before with the letter 'D', but hey, it fits. You can't win, at least not anything significant, if you don't play defense. At least we didn't use the 'defense wins championships' cliche. Oops.

is for, you guessed it, Evan, Cedar Crest's star senior guard Evan Horn. You may have heard of him. Hard to believe the do-it-all Horn is a senior and that this is the last season we'll get to see him on the hardwood in these parts. Enjoy it, people, they don't make many like this kid.

F In a related matter, F is for Falcons. These are good times at Cedar Crest, where both the boys and girls programs are defending Lancaster-Lebanon League champs and blessed with an enthusiastic and supportive fan base. 'The Cage is the place to be these days on basketball nights.

is for goals, and we don't mean field goals. We mean the sort of concrete goals that teams set to push themselves to greater heights and maximize their potential. If you don't have goals, well, why not?

is for Hill, as in Lebanon High's super sophomore forward Alexis Hill, who has a chance to be one of the best the county has ever seen. The long and lean Hill does a lot of things well, but her M.O. is just pure hustle. She's simply relentless, whether attacking the basket or chasing down loose balls. You can't teach desire. Hill has it.

is for intangibles, those qualities that don't show up in the score book or the stat sheet but are incredibly important to winning. Kind of hard to define but easy to notice their presence or lack thereof. Hint: It's the little things.

J is for jumpers. Yeah, it's fun to watch dunks and other sorts of adventurous moves to the hoop, but it's also nice to watch the players who can knock down open jump shots, or jumpers, on a consistent basis. Shout-out to the shooters. Hey, that's a good idea for the letter 'S'.

K is for Ken, Northern Lebanon girls' coach Ken Battistelli, easily the county's most expressive and emotional head coach. In short, Battistelli wears his heart on his sleeve game in and game out. We like that about him. The guy cares, about his players and the program he has helped turn into a fairly consistent contender in Section Three.

is for losing, which is an inevitability for all but the most fortunate. It sounds corny, but you can learn a lot from losing. But don't get too comfortable with it. That isn't good, either. But losing isn't failing. There is a difference.

M is for momentum, which can be a fickle companion to any team. But boy, when momentum is on your side the result can be something to behold.

N is for negativity, which comes out of the mouths of those in the stands far too often. Consider this the latest installment of our annual plea to keep the negativity, and stupidity, to a minimum when you enter a gym. Everyone will appreciate it.

O is for Ortiz, Lebanon High junior forward Shaq Ortiz, one of the key returning players for the Cedars this season. The Cedars will miss Ortiz's brother, Jahlil, who has graduated and moved on to the collegiate level, but the presence of Shaq and others should keep Lebanon competitive this season.

P is for Patti, as in legendary Lebanon Catholic girls' coach Patti Hower, now in her 38th season on Assumption Hill and coming off her 17th District Three Class A title as the Beavers' boss. Hower, who also has guided Catholic to two state titles during her illustrious tenure, is simply an institution during hoops season. It wouldn't be the same without her.

is for questions, which we reporters try to ask a lot of (all good ones, of course). Sometimes, we even get answers. Ah, we kid. Local coaches and players are usually very generous with their time and thoughts.

is for Ron, as in Palmyra's revered head girls' coach Ron Berman. We say this almost every year, but Berman is one of the best, which he proved again last season while helping the Cougars to a berth in the Class AAAA state semifinals.

Palmyra was hit hard by graduation, but we have a feeling Berman will find a way to keep the Cougars competitive again. He always does.

is for shock, which is what we felt when we realized we were only at 'S'. The alphabet is long, people.

T is for trophies, which every player and coach aspires to be holding sometime late in the season. It's not always about the hardware, though. Don't forget to enjoy the journey, too.

is for underdogs, which, let's face it, we all love. It's great to have the perennial powers, but nothing is more fun than watching an underdog pull off a big upset win. Hey, upset starts with a 'U' also. Cool.

is for victory. Granted, not very original. But we went with it again because, well, victory is sweet.

is for wisdom, which can only come with experience. That's why we enjoy watching veteran coaches and senior players do their things. Nothing against you newcomers. You're fun, too. Also, it's getting to the end and we're starting to get punchy. Can you tell?

is for Xs and Os, the finer strategy points of the game. There's more to winning and competing than just Xs and Os, but mastering them is undeniably important. Otherwise, you're just running around the court aimlessly. Don't do that.

Y is for yes, we're almost done. This is fun, but we can feel a headache coming on.

is, for the third year in a row, for Zoe Zerman, the Northern Lebanon girls' junior point guard. Obviously her name gives her an automatic spot in the alphabet, but lucky for us the kid can play, something she proved last season while leading the Vikings to a AAA district playoff bid.

And that ends our annual basketball-related trip through the alphabet. Thanks again for joining us and enjoy the games. We'll see you at the gym.

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