PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. - The star for the past two seasons is gone, so the obvious question facing the Silver Bluff boys basketball teams is this: How can the Bulldogs survive without Brandon Wallace?
Remember, Wallace was the guy who averaged 22.6 points, 16.5 rebounds, six blocks and four assists per game last year, the guy who was The Augusta Chronicle's all-area player of the year.
And - oh, yeah - he was the player who tipped in the game-winning lay-up with 4 seconds to play to lead the Bulldogs to their first state title last year.
So, coach Sam Lilly, how does your program continue to exist?
"With the little things, Brandon was amazing," said Lilly, whose team is coming off a 23-7 season and is ranked No. 4 in South Carolina's preseason poll. "The biggest thing we'll miss is that he could score eight or nine points in a row on a run. He was that type of player. But you go back after the smoke clears and you watch the game film, and you can see he wasn't the whole team."
That's true. Bobby Davis - a 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior center - averaged 15 points and 16 rebounds last season, and point guard Antwan Boyd rarely turned the ball over.
But the only way Silver Bluff can dribble by the ghost of Wallace is to work twice as hard as before.
Aside from the conditioning drills Lilly enforced upon the Bulldogs, the sixth-year coach put them through a "football regiment workout" to increase their strength.
It seems to have worked. Boyd was bench-pressing 90 pounds in June, but now he's lifting 185. Davis increased his max from 100 to 200 pounds.
Guard Steven Bagley can see the development as well.
"I can feel that I'm getting stronger," Bagley said. "It's a different attitude now that I've gotten some muscle on me. I'm not intimidated anymore."
That mentality will serve Silver Bluff well when it opens its schedule.
Apparently Lilly didn't want the hard work to end while running sprints and doing squats. He wants his team to sweat on the court against big-time competition.
"We do that all the time," Lilly said. "All of our (non-region) opponents are (Class) 4A, 5A or 6A. We do not play down. That's what really built our program. We have been blessed with a tough schedule."
Before the Bulldogs begin the defense of their Region 5-AA title, they'll travel to Jacksonville, Fla., this weekend to play Ribault High and Andrew Jackson - two of the top Class AAAA teams in Florida - in the Thanksgiving Tip-Off Classic.
Then there are meetings with North Augusta, Aiken and Stockbridge (a Class AAAAA team in Georgia).
"That helped us a lot (last year)," Boyd said. "We like to play those big-time schools to get our confidence up. It helps us get better."
It also will help prepare Davis to take over the role of team leader.
"Bobby's a quiet player - like Brandon was - and you're not going to hear much from him," Lilly said. "He's going to have to be a double-double guy this year. But he didn't miss a workout or a shoot-around all summer. He's ready."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.