ALBANY -- The Westover boys basketball program already owned the tradition to draw the attention of every opponent it faced.
But now, one season removed from a Class AAA state runner-up finish, no team in Southwest Georgia holds a bigger target on its chest than the Patriots.
"Everybody is gunning for you," said coach Dallis Smith, whose team lost in the state title game to South Atlanta and top recruit Derrick Favors -- who now starts for Georgia Tech -- last season. "Every day, you have to come in and every day go hard and make yourself better.
"Bcause they are going to be coming."
And for the first time he can remember during his nine-year run as head coach of Westover, Smith doesn't have the depth to run the 10-man rotation that has become his calling card.
The departure of
second-team All-State point guard and Willie Boston Player of the Year Terrance Noel, along with shooting guard Greg Green and forwards Rashad Greene and Kenji Breedlove, the Patriots have lost years of experience.
As is typically the case at Westover, it is more of a reload. After all, left in the wake of last year's crop of players that pushed the Pats to a Region 1-AAA title are Southeastern Louisiana signee Onochie Ochie and returning starters Shevren Keaton, Malcolm Sapp and Chris Wheeler.
Also, shooting guard Anthony Ball returns from missing his junior year due to an ACL injury.
"We know we don't have as much experience as last year, but as seniors we are ready to get back this year and win it this time," Keaton said. "I have been waiting on this since I was a little kid."
To return to Macon, the Patriots must overcome a height disadvantage. It seems more like an
annual rite of winter when Smith figures out how to overcome being the smallest team in the region, but such is the case again.
The 6-foot-5 Wheeler and 6'6 Ochie will have to take care of the interior because -- after them -- nobody else expected to contribute minutes tops 6'3.
Smith plans to spread the floor and feature his trio of deadly 3-point shooters in Keaton, Ball and Sapp. The offense will also force centers to come out to the perimeter and guard the athletic Ochie, expected to be the Patriots leading scorer.
Sapp, a junior, emerged during last year's state title run and knocked down 6-of-9 3-pointers during the first quarters of the first two state playoff games. Ball was one of the primary 3-point shooters for the 2007-08 team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
"It's going to be a blast," said Keaton, who admitted this style will fit his game better than in year's past with a more open-floor attack to dribble-drive. "I know this year I can go whatever way and there is a shooter on both sides."