CONYERS - Ron Bradley knows what he's talking about.
After all, the man has been coaching high school basketball for almost half a century and is the winningest active coach in the country.
So it should come as no surprise that his Heritage Patriots enter this season ranked seventh overall in Region AAAA.
"It's nice that somebody thinks you're capable of being that good, but I'd rather earn it," Bradley said. "We feel like we've got another good basketball team. As you go down the path of the season, you hope your guys can stay healthy, eligible and attitudes continue to stay good. There are so many factors that influence your team when you're dealing with young people.
"But we're excited about the team," he said. "I think we have some talent, (but) we have to stay healthy and motivated. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, so it will be interesting to see if we can continue to improve."
Led by standouts Shakeem Mitchell and Justin Jones, the Patriots were 19-7 overall last season.
Mitchell averaged 14.2 points per game, while the 6-foot-8 Jones averaged 13.6 rebounds, the second-highest total ever for a player in Bradley's 49 years of coaching.
"Both of them are outstanding players and are going to be very exciting to watch," Bradley said.
Perhaps Heritage's biggest strength is its biggest hindrance - depth, which includes 16 talented players and five at the guard position.
"The question is (whether) or not they are going to do a good enough job of plugging and running our offense and stay with what we've got planned," Bradley said.
"Everyone seems to have a good work ethic and seems to be hungry right now," he continued. "You want to be just as good as your talent will allow you to be, and we're capable of being a good team. But then you've got to find out if the youngsters want to be that good and if it's that big a deal. These are things we have to find out over a season, but there's a lot of talent here."
It begins today when Heritage travels to Jefferson for not only its season-opener but also its first true test, on the road nevertheless.
"I tend to worry more about my team than I do the other one," Bradley said. "If we do what we're supposed to do, we've got a chance to win. We like to think that if we're fundamentally sound and well-disciplined, we've got a chance. And if we get away from that, then we hurt our chances to be successful.
"Every game is important, and certainly we want to win. Winning is not everything, but it beats anything that comes in second."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Heritage boys basketball
Coach: Ron Bradley (second year)
Last year: 19-7 overall
First game: 8:30 p.m. today at Jefferson in Jefferson Tournament
Key returning players: Shakeem Mitchell, Justin Jones and Austin Murray