Former Westover star and Willie Boston Albany Herald Player of the Year, Terrance Noel, is just one of eight former local hoops stars to pepper the Albany Tech men's basketball team's roster this season.
ALBANY -- Beneath their mesh Albany Technical College practice jerseys, Westover High School logos were faintly visible on the undershirts of Terrance Noel and Kenji Breedlove during Wednesday's practice.
Worth County grad Jamorris Gaines was talking about the good ol' days when he and Terrell County grad Robert Ellis suited up against each other in a championship game of a prep holiday tournament.
Former Monroe stars Gary Colley and Anthony Mackey grew up playing against cross-town rivals such as Noel, The Herald's 2008-09 Willie Boston Player of the Year who led the Patriots to the 2009 Class AAA State Championship game.
In all, eight former Southwest Georgia hoops players make up nearly half of Albany Tech's roster this season, and that's exactly how Titans coach Sylvester Patterson wants it as he and his team prepare for today's season opener against Brewton-Parker's JV squad.
"These guys already knew each other, and they joke with each other," said Patterson, who has tried to sign local players each season since the program started five years ago.
Patterson then added: "And there is still a big rivalry with their high school teams. They still talk a lot of trash and get into each other when those high school teams are playing each other."
Patterson remembers those bus rides last season around the time Westover was playing Monroe.
"They were getting updates, and guys were texting them scores," Patterson said. "But when they get on the court, they forget about all that. They become Albany Tech."
Patterson has been able to mold his players with eclectic backgrounds into a team he brags may just be "the most talented" group he has ever had.
"We can't forget where we come from," said Gaines, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who graduated from Worth County in 2008. "But we have a good chemistry here. We got each other's backs. We are a really strong team."
But with just one returning starter in 6-5 sophomore Triquenski Hicks, just how strong can the Titans be?
"This is a really talented team," Patterson said. "This may be the most talented team I have had. The talent is there to challenge for the conference championship."
Albany Tech's eight local players are Gaines (Westover), Ellis (Terrell County), Melzie Johnson (Bainbridge), Mackey (Monroe), Noel (Westover), Breedlove (Westover), Colley (Monroe) and Eric Walker (Monroe).
"The city has been buzzing about us," Noel said. "They are excited to see me and a lot of the guys from the area playing. A lot of people should be at the game (today), and I'm excited.
"I have been playing against the guys from Monroe since middle school. That rivalry goes back, so it's good to have them on my team now. Even outside of school, we would go to the (YMCA) and play with each other."
Gaines and Breedlove are the only former Southwest Georgia stars who will be starting tonight for the Titans, but don't expect explosive players like Noel to stay on the bench long. Patterson said that bench -- which goes as deep as 12 players -- will be Albany Tech's strength this season.
"Noel's explosiveness is unmistakable when you watch him play," Patterson said about the former Westover star who had shoulder surgery last season while being redshirted at Daytona State. "He is on the second team, but most of these guys are interchangeable. Any of those guys could start, and they will all get their playing time. Toward the end of the game it's whoever is playing best."
Noel, Breedlove and Ellis are key transfers who will be coming home to play in front of friends and family. But it was also the potential success of Albany Tech this season that lured the three back to Albany.
"I told (Breedlove) we had Jamorris Gaines here and Robert (Ellis) coming," Noel said. "I told him we would be good. We are just trying to get a ring."
Also starting for the Titans will be Hicks, 6-7 sophomore Harrison Gibsons of East Gadsden and 5-10 sophomore Patrick Lewis of McAdams, Miss. Hicks, who was a part of last season's team that finished 22-9 overall and 11-7 in Region XVII -- the best season since the program was started in 2006 -- said the Titans' deep bench allows them to run up and down the court on offense and put full-court defensive pressure on opponents.
"This is the most talented team I have ever played on," Hicks said. "We are still doing a lot of running. The team is definitely in better shape (than last season), and these guys are really talented. This year we have a lot of guys who can run the floor and score in the open court."
Hicks, who graduated from Jefferson High School outside of Athens, has also seen the advantage of having so many Albany natives on his team
"It's a little competitive at practice, but at the end of the day everybody knows that we are on the same team and we are trying to get the same thing accomplished," Hicks said.
Want To Go?
WHO: Brewton-Parker JV at Albany Tech men.
WHAT: 2011-12 season opener for the Titans.
WHEN: 7 p.m. today.
WHERE: ASU's HPER Gym.