CONYERS - With four starters back from last season's 23-3 squad, the Salem girls basketball team worked on something a little different this summer - team chemistry.
In fact, Salem coach Bill Roberts was pleased with his team's effort to reach its summertime goal.
"We had a competitive and successful summer. We were able to play in 30 games over the summer as well as get in some quality practice days," Roberts said. "With four starters returning, we had a good foundation of experienced players, so our goal was to work on team unity and continued team chemistry building.
"By the end of summer practice, we were a very tough team. The younger players were stepping up and following the lead of the seniors. We were able to pull off some very good wins at camp against some tough teams that went deep into the state tournament last season."
Salem's biggest loss from last year's Region 8-AAAA South championship squad was leading scorer and rebounder Precious Elkins, who averaged 20 points and 10 boards a game. Elkins is heading to the collegiate ranks at Lenoir-Rhyne College.
Returning players Ariel Wynter, Amber Johnson, Jaleen Thomas and Shardai Harrison all had impressive summers for Salem. Kentrell White is still rounding into shape after suffering an knee injury last season.
"Shardai Harrison, Jaleen Thomas and Ariel Wynter played extremely well this summer," Roberts said. "Amber Johnson has emerged into a very talented player. She is the floor general and a very athletic young lady. She has been motivated this summer by her uncle Robert Dozier, who played at Lithonia High School and then at (the University of) Memphis. He was chosen by the Miami Heat in the recent NBA draft.
"Kentrell White is still recovering from her ACL injury and did not compete during the summer, but she should be commended for her efforts in recovery and therapy. Above all, the leadership that Kentrell showed over the summer by being at every practice and camp shows the type of senior leadership that we will have this coming season."
Roberts also was pleased with the progress of his younger players over the summer.
"We had the emergence of two talented freshmen who will play big roles for us this season, Jordan Dillard and Danielle Thomas," he said. "Summer Scott, Jasmine Gray, Jazzmine Dupree and Jessica Vason showed great improvement during the summer season as well."
For now, the players will continue to work on their games as they wait for the upcoming season, which begins Oct. 26.
"Several of the players will still be competing with their AAU teams through September," Roberts said. "They are also encouraged to be in the weight room and in open gyms to continue working on improving their games until we can start practice and conditioning."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.