Mary Ella Marion returns to guide hoops squad, Panageotou and Naldrett round out new basketball staff at Mercy

by Nelson Coffin

The Mercy basketball program in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference is taking two steps forward and one step back to the future now that Magic legend Mary Ella Marion recently agreed to return to the same position as head coach she held for 28 years at the all-girls Catholic high school in Northeast Baltimore.

She compiled a 389-322 mark from 1985-2013 at her alma mater, where she is also the Dean of Students and where she also once served as the athletic director.

Marion’s forward-oriented staff will include George Panageotou and Rich Naldrett, both of whom have extensive experience in the coaching ranks.

After leading Perry Hall High School to consecutive boys Class 4A state titles in 2017 and 2018 and an overall 105-47 mark, Panageotou was thinking about taking a year off from coaching the Gators when he learned that Mercy was about to make a change in its coaching staff headed by Steve Anderson.

Because his daughters, eighth-grader Lauren and Emma, who is in the fifth grade, are likely to attend Mercy, Panageotou thought he should make the jump.

Fresh off back-to-back 4A Boys State Championships at Perry Hall, George Panageotou has joined the basketball staff at Mercy where he hopes to coach his daughters in the future.

“It happened pretty quickly,” said Panageotou, who coaches his older daughter’s AAU team. “I contacted (Mercy AD) Nick Gill to see what direction they we’re going to go. When I found out Mary Ella was going to coach, I thought this was the right time to make the move.”

Besides, his wife, Tricia Henry, played for Marion at Mercy. She graduated from the school in 1995.

Naldrett was also high on Marion’s wish list to round out the staff.

“When I decided to come back, Rich was the first call I made,” she said about the former Mercy JV coach. “And I couldn’t be happier about it.”

As for Marion’s return, she said that she had a running joke with Gill about some day returning to head the hoops program.

“He would always ask me, ‘Are you thinking about coming back,?’” she said. “After Nick and the administration decided to make a change at the top, I thought that the program needed to go in a different direction.”

One thing she hopes to improve is to lure more multi-sport athletes to a program that went 13-34 under Anderson and has not had a winning season in nearly a decade.

“That’s how we were successful in the past,” Marion said. “Sure, we want to win, but we also want to have fun and lean how to support each other and play for school pride.”

Lest anyone believe that Marion is just a figurehead holding the job for her successor, think again.

“Needless to say, I’m not going to coach for 25 more years,” Marion said. “But I am going to coach a few years. I’m just not sure yet what ‘few’ means. But when I do leave, I know the program will be in capable hands. But we’re thinking about this year first, and, in the short term, trying to be competitive in ‘The Game’ (against archrival IND).”

The Magic has lost the last five games in the series it still leads, 30-22.

“It helps The Game overall when both teams are more competitive,” Marion added.

Having Naldrett and Panageotou on hand should help.

“What George accomplished at Perry Hall, to repeat, is awesome,” Marion said. “I watched his AAU team play, and he’s not a yeller or a screamer. I see how well he works with the girls and how he teaches fundamentals.”

Gill said that he is very pleased with the way things fell into place.

“It’s not very often that you get a chance to put together a star-studded coaching staff, and that’s exactly what we have here,” he said. “Mary Ella is a girls basketball legend in this area and bringing her back to take over the reins of the program is just what this historic basketball program needs. George is an absolutely fantastic basketball coach and one of the biggest coaching names in the area right now. I had the pleasure of working with Rich last year as he coached our JV. He brings a detail-oriented approach to the game, has a great basketball mind and knows how to motivate his players. I could not be more excited about the direction our basketball program is heading.”