CONYERS - Two hours before tipoff Saturday afternoon, a scrimmage against live competition for the first time this season, and Salem boys basketball coach Darren Wilkins was all smiles.
After all, his team is ready to rebound from a 9-18 season one year ago. And the way the Seminoles have looked in practice, a winning record is not unattainable.
"So far, we've been real pleased," Wilkins said. "They've worked harder than any team we've ever had - practice, conditioning, everything. It's been just all out. We're kind of anxious to start playing other people now. We've been going at each other in practice real hard."
During the summer, Wilkins wanted his players to focus on two things: attitudes and establishing their roles.
"Well, that's one of the big things we've been preaching and still is," Wilkins said. "So far, with the work ethic and all that I've been real pleased. Our motto is 'team first.' We're trying to get them to understand if we have any success it's got to be done collectively. By doing that, we'll make everybody else better."
Like in years past, there will be no pushovers in Region 8-AAAA South play. Without 6-foot-9 center Zach Roddenberry - who led the Seminoles in scoring and rebounding last season - and David Raudebaugh, both lost to graduation, Wilkins is needing players to step up.
"Everybody in our region is strong," he said. "Clarke Central has most of their players back. Winder-Barrow has some good players and a couple of trees, but everybody in our region is strong and any night is capable of beating anybody else. Mainly, we try to focus on our team - playing the right way, doing the right things and then learning how to adjust to different opponents as they come along."
Without revealing too much, Wilkins noted that his team will be fast-paced. Defensively, Salem is going to bring the pressure as often as possible.
"Probably our strength is team speed and depth," Wilkins said. "We have a lot of guys who can actually play and contribute. But the biggest area I'm concerned about is our inside presence, like rebounding."
Tevin Bradley, a Newton transfer, should add more depth to an already deep Salem squad.
"He's done an outstanding job," Wilkins praised. "He's a really talented player, so we're looking for a lot from him. Terrance Bennett has come back this year and he's looked really strong and sharp, too, but we're all looking for contributions from everybody."
Should that happen, the Seminoles would atone for their 2-8 region record last year.
"The big thing is we gave away a lot of games that we led and that's been our focus so far," Wilkins said. "Our team goal is being able to finish games. We're definitely going to look at it one game at a time, leave it all on the court, see what happens and focus on the next one."
Jason Murdock can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: Salem Boys Basketball
Coach: Darren Wilkins (fifth year)
Last year: 9-18 overall
First game: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Mt. Zion, Jonesboro at Salem High School
Key returning players: Darius Ferguson, Terrence Bennett, Jarrett Brown and Tyone Elliot