ALBANY -- Guess who's coming to dinner, Deerfield-Windsor?
It's the Sherwood boys basketball team, which re-joins the reigning state champ Knights in GISA Class AAA this year after a two-year hiatus in Class AA.
Only this time, the Eagles don't plan on leaving any time soon.
"I don't know what the competition is like, but I know what I have and I'm confident with what I have," said new SCA coach Gavin Felix, who enters his second year as a head coach after a year at Crescent City Christian last year in New Orleans. "I think the guys who just came from football, if they can get acclimated with the system -- and so far so good, they've had three practices with us and look good -- I think we'll be able to build that chemistry as the year goes on."
Felix takes over Matt Ruta's Sherwood team that could have won the state title last year if its best player, Wesley Pittman, hadn't broken his arm in the Elite Eight round of the playoffs. The Eagles lost in triple overtime in that round, so when Ruta left to take over a program in his native Florida, Sherwood hired Felix. But Ruta left big shoes to fill -- after all, he won 40 games in two years at Sherwood, leading the Eagles to their first region title since 2004.
So far, Felix has been successful. The Eagles won their preseason tournament, and did it with an incomplete team since some of the players were on the football team that was in the playoffs.
"(Looking at) the preseason games, I think we did very well for the young team that we have," senior and returning starter Gary Holloway said. "We pulled it together and won the championship. So with the few players that we had, we did very well and (now) we're just excited for how the season is going to turn out."
Holloway scored 15 points in both of Sherwood's games in the preseason and teammate Patrick Stanford had 19 points in the second game, along with four 3-pointers. The freshmen even stepped up and one of them -- M.J. Vangure -- won the tourney's MVP honor.
"Honestly, I think a lot of them (can step up this year). I think we have a number of different guys who, on any given night, can lead in scoring," said Felix, whose New Orleans team went 18-13 and made the playoffs in his first year as a head coach. "I think Gary is a guy who can lead the team in scoring, Terrance (Burnette) can do that as well, Rashard Davis is a new kid this year (who can score) and Patrick Stanford led us this preseason, so there's a good mix of guys that can put it in the basket."
Burnette was one of the guys who recently joined the squad after the football team's season ended with a 17-7 loss to Tattnall Square in the first round of the playoffs. He was the Eagles' starting quarterback, so Felix believes he can provide some leadership on the court.
"I'm hoping, especially with him playing quarterback, that he'll have some leadership experience," Felix said. "We're always looking for leaders to step up, and I think he'll be one of them."
Burnette seemed up to the challenge, and said his team will be ready come Nov. 29 when they open their season against Grace Christian Academy at home.
"I think (my QB experience) will (help). Not physically or by scoring, but mentally," said Burnette, who can play four positions on the court. "(I think I can) keep everybody focused, keep their heads up when we get down and (provide) leadership.
"(Our) expectations are to make the playoffs. We want to go deep in the playoffs by the whole team contributing. The seniors will play a big part, but if our young guys can step up, we'll go far."
Yes, the Eagles are coming to dinner, but there won't be any leftovers, because they're hungry.
"Our mindset is to keep the intensity high, play hard on defense and don't let anybody do anything open -- like make a shot or a layup -- and, if anything, foul them at the least," Holloway said. "(We're) just (going to) learn our offense and do what the coach tells us to do and keep our heads up and never look down."