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PREP HOOPS PREVIEW: Eyes (back) on the prize for Westover boys

Westover's Dequan Green is ready for a big season for the Patriots.

Westover's Dequan Green is ready for a big season for the Patriots.

ALBANY — The day they put on their jersey for the first time they expect to win.

That’s life at Westover High, where the Patriots have been the most dominating boys basketball program in Southwest Georgia for decades.

“Nothing has changed,’’ coach Dallis Smith said at practice this week. “The expectations are still there. People don’t think we should rebuild.’’

That’s kind of what happened last year when the Patriots, who had made two consecutive trips to the Class AAA Final Four, including a state title game three years ago, went 16-11 and were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

Now, they’re back with a purpose.

“People are so used to us being 20-2 or something like that when we lose 11 games, people are spoiled. We’re regrouping. We’re building.’’

Smith expects to win it all every year, and he has a bright young wave of underclassmen to go with three starters, including Herald Super 6er Dequan Green.

Joseph Harrell, who was a force inside, and Malcolm Sapp, who had the best outside shot in Southwest Georgia, are gone along with Trent Brown, a big body inside who emerged off the bench last year.

Brandon Hudson, a 6-foot-1, all-around player who can play the 3 or 4 spot on the court and also launch 3-pointers, and Kenny Towns, a 6-4 forward who averaged six points and five rebounds a year ago, are back.

Hudson is a clutch player who has stepped up in big games in the past, and Green, a 6-3 forward, is the kind of player who can take over a game. He averaged 13 points a game last year but has the potential to be a 20-point-a-night player.

Those three players and guard Ricky Pugh, who saw a lot of time last year, will give Westover a strong nucleus, and the addition of guard T.J. Cromer, who was a starting guard at Tift County, should help make the Patriots a force again.

Cromer, a junior who played quarterback for the Patriots football team, changes the look of the team, because he gives Westover a true guard who can shoot.

“He will be a big part of what we’re doing,’’ Smith said.

Kerry Byrd, a 6-4 senior, and Kahlil Carson, a 6-4 sophomore, and C.J. Davis, a 6-4 sophomore, are the tallest players on the roster and should all see playing time this season. Smith likes to substitute in waves and he admits it will take his team some time to find its identity.

Westover has a strong junior class that should help. Josh Black, a 5-11 point guard, played as a sophomore last year and had some big moments on the court, and Kell Miller and Kyle Baker, a pair of 6-0 juniors, are expected to contribute this season.

“I’m really excited about the junior class,’’ Smith said. “I’m not looking to build my team around any one player. The team needs to come together and play together, and it’s the same thing every year with us — defense, defense, defense.’’

“We have a team full of guards,’’ he added. “We will once again be the shortest team in the region. We will run. Nothing has changed there. We’ll play defense and run. When you’re the shortest team in the region you’ve got to run.’’

Last year’s early exit in the playoffs is just fuel for the Westover kids this season.

“I was upset,’’ Green said. “It hurt, and it made me look forward to this season. We want to make a statement.’’

Towns added that because of last year, the players were more focused going into the season.

“This year every game is like a playoff game,’’ Towns said. “People think we’re the underdogs in the city.’’

Westover might not start the season ranked in the state poll or even at the top of The Herald’s Fab 5 poll, but some things won’t change.

“Everybody always wants to beat Westover,’’ Towns said. “Because of the name on our jerseys.’’