CONYERS - Salem boys basketball coach Darren Wilkins is looking forward to the 2007-08 season, and with good reason.
Last year, the Seminoles rebounded from a 1-11 start to win seven of their last 15 games after Jan. 1. Salem finished the season with an 8-19 record and ended up just a victory away from a state tournament berth after losing to Loganville 52-48 in the Region 8-AAAA quarterfinals.
"I feel good about this season. We have a great group of guys returning. They are hard workers, very coachable and have great attitudes," Wilkins said. "We had a strong finish to last season and we are looking to build on it. The team is anxious to get started."
Wilkins has a talented and experienced team in his fourth season at the helm of the Seminoles. The only key loss off last year's team was team captain Corvin Bradley.
Senior center Zach Roddenberry returns after leading the team in scoring (17.2 points per game) and rebounding (11.6 per game) last season. He signed a basketball scholarship with Harding University on Wednesday.
Senior David Raudebaugh, who averaged 10 points a game year, gives Salem a top-notch outside shooting threat.
Senior Alex Miller, junior Terrence Bennett and junior Darius Ferguson are also back this season for the Seminoles.
"Each of these guys played heavy minutes and were the core of our team (last year)," Wilkins said. "They bring a lot of experience and toughness. They are a fun group to coach."
Wilkins is also looking for key contributions from junior Dramel Oubre and sophomore JoJo Smith.
"Jasijah Smith and Dramel Oubre will make a big impact on this team," he said. "Both worked hard during the summer and made great improvements. People will be surprised at how far they have progressed and both will have key roles on this team."
Right now, the biggest concern for Wilkins is getting the team together. Salem's run to the playoffs in football means Roddenberry, Miller, Smith and Oubre are not on the court yet.
"My only concern will be getting everybody in shape and becoming cohesive once we have our whole team out," Wilkins said. "We have several guys playing football and they are in the (state) playoffs, and hopefully they will have a long and successful run. We will be into the season when they return, so we will have to get them into game shape in a hurry."
When Salem has all of its pieces in place, Wilkins feels this year's squad will present some unique challenges to the opposition.
"One of our strengths will be our team speed. We will have more team speed than any team since I've been here. Our backcourt is really quick and strong," he said. "We will actually have a rather tall team. We will have several guys with long arms that really can really jump.
"Our biggest strength will be our shooting. We set school records in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage last year. In our preseason scrimmage, we shot 75 percent from the (foul) line. And, of course, we have a pretty good post player (Roddenberry) who I will put up against anybody. With the shooting we have, it will be hard for teams to double team him."
Salem opens this season tonight against Whitewater at 8:30 in the Heritage Bank Class at Union Grove High School in McDonough.
The tournament will conclude the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Salem's first home game is Dec. 4 against Madison County.
SideBar: At a glance
' Team: Salem boys basketball
' Coach: Darren Wilkins
' Last year: 8-19, lost in Region 8-AAAA quarterfinals
' First game: Tonight vs. Whitewater in Heritage Bank Classic at Union Grove High School