Heritage boys' basketball coach Drew Williams said Region 8-AAAAA is wide open this year and, even though the season is just eight games old, it seems like the Patriots are a big reason why.
Heritage won just three games last year, but is already 5-3 and has won two region matchups in 2012-13.
In just his second year as head coach, Drew Williams has the Patriots on an upswing, almost doubling his win total from his first year in just eight games.
The players have bought into the system he and his coaches have implemented, but also have gained experience throughout the last year.
"We had zero minutes of varsity experience going into last season, and have a lot of experience now, which is good," Williams said. "They really are buying into what we're doing, we've changed our style a little bit offensively and defensively."
Defensively, the Patriots have focused on rebounding, something they have done with much success in the season's beginnings. Heritage is averaging close to around 25 rebounds per game and is maintaining that edge with size like it hasn't had in the past.
The Patriots boast three starters 6-foot-3 or better in Eric McIver, Dave Rowe and Terrell Rainey, and another three off the bench greater than that height, including Terrell Flowers at 6-5.
That height has been a big advantage for the Patriots this season, but another advantage has been their ability to forget.
Early in the season, Williams was using the 2011-12 season as motivation for his players in starting this one. However, about two weeks ago he came to a different realization.
"Throughout the first two to three weeks of practice and games, I talked to them about it several times," Williams said. "Then it dawned on me that I was bringing a lot of negativity to the locker room by bringing up the past. We haven't mentioned last year's record since then."
The Patriots haven't looked back, and that proved true Tuesday night, when they scored just six points in the first quarter against Gainesville. Heritage led by four points in the fourth before the Patriots realized they had what it took to come away with the win.
"We came out really, really flat with a lack of intensity to start the game off with, and we were able to battle through it," Williams said. "We picked up our intensity in the fourth quarter and were able to pull away.
"We didn't play particularly well, but good enough to get the win."
Heritage was led by McIver with 16 points and Rashad Jones with 15.
It was Heritage's second straight win, following a 76-62 victory at Rockdale on Saturday.
"It was a great win," Williams said. "I don't think we ever fell behind. They gave us a scare at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, cutting it to nine and had the opportunity to cut it to less, but we just weathered the storm. It was the most complete game we played in two years and we weathered the storm."
It was the first time Heritage beat Rockdale since 2008, which marked Williams first year at Heritage as an assistant under Ron Bradley.
"We beat them at home, I don't know the last time we beat them over there," Williams said.
The Patriots were able to lead early in the cross-town matchup, holding on without giving the ball away. And once again, they controlled things on the boards, rebounding the ball well.
"We also hit big shots down the stretch and hit our free throws, which is something we haven't done all year."