Basketball season got under way successfully for Rockdale County's boys' basketball teams in the opening week, with all three area teams picking up wins.
Rockdale started things off with an overtime win against Collins Hill, before defeating Spalding 74-55 on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Heritage defeated Dutchtown 56-54 and Salem set a school record in points during an 88-78 win over Henry County.
The Salem Seminoles reached the state tournament a season ago, before falling to Tucker 60-38 in the first round.
Salem's coach Darren Wilkins will look for his team to improve this year as it features the most veteran players in the county.
"We've got a lot of kids that can play on a very deep roster," Wilkins said.
The Salem Seminoles return seniors Caneshe Green, Andre Spring and Jaquan Davis, and fill out the rest of the team with juniors and just one sophomore. Among those juniors, Dedrick Turner and Marcus McCoy are entering their third year on the varsity team.
That experience showed during the Salem Seminoles victory over Henry County.
"They were very calm with the stress of the fourth quarter," Wilkins said.
The amount of depth in the upper class ranks also helps Wilkins in the stat sheet. Last season Salem had one or two players come up with a big game, and this year he feels they have several players who can have solid games night in and night out.
"We're really looking for more balance," Wilkins said. "Over the course of the year last year when we played well we would have three, four or sometimes five people in double figures, and when we didn't play well we had one person in double figures. We're looking for more than one player this year."
Salem continues its run toward another playoff appearance at Clarke Central Saturday.
"We just want to take it game by game," Wilkins said. "We've got a good group of guys that really like each other. It should be a fun year."
While Salem may return almost all of their players, the opposite holds true for Heritage.
The Patriots, who were 17-12 in 2010-11, have just one player on this year's squad who played last season.
Senior guard/forward Shon Pittman returns to a team in which he is surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
"He's going to be in a few roles he's not quite comfortable with this year," Heritage coach Drew Williams said. But he is becoming a lot more vocal in his leadership and a lot more proactive in his leadership. In the past he hasn't had to do that because we had eight seniors last year."
Pittman isn't the only one who will be adjusting his game in 2011-12, as the whole Patriots team is shifting styles.
"We're changing our offense a little bit, and defensively we're still going to be a typical 2-3 zone, but we're going to be a little more aggressive defensively with some of things we do," Williams said.
Due to the inexperience and athleticism of the new-look Patriots, Heritage will also be looking for more from beyond the stats.
"We're going to look to push the ball this year," Williams said. "We have great ball speed as far as being able to get up the floor. We're going to try to utilize that a little more than we have in the past."
Rockdale is in a similar situation, having lost six players to graduation, and an upcoming senior who transferred to Oak Hill Academy.
The Bulldogs reached the state championship in 2010-11, falling 67-59 to Miller Grove.
However, most of the major contributors from that team have moved on. Starters Kevin Ware, Bernard Thompson and Deshaun Sunderhaus are now playing in college and fellow starter Darion Clark has transferred to the Virginia high school.
Ware is getting ready to go to Louisville to play for coach Rick Pitino, Thompson is starting for Florida Gulf Coast and Sunderhaus is playing for Seattle University.
The only lone starter returning from last year's squad is junior C.J. Wilson.
"He's been starting for us since he's been a freshman," Rockdale Assistant coach Ralph Denmark said. "He knows what it takes to be successful, and he's done a good job working hard in the off-season."
Also returning for the Bulldogs is Darius Mitchell.
"We're looking for a lot of things out him," Denmark said.
Charles Moore, an upcoming senior, who came off the bench as a 3-point specialist last season, is also expected to do more in 2011-12.