Steve Nobles' voice is strong.
The Richmond Academy boys basketball coach hasn't been rendered hoarse, but he has been hollering the same thing building up to this basketball season: Here they come.
With a strong core of players returning from a team that posted the school's best season in more than 50 years, Nobles is counting on opponents bringing their best effort against his team, which went 21-2 against area teams a year ago.
"If they're not hearing it, there's going to be some disappointed young men and one disappointed old man," Nobles said. "We know that we can go down on any night. There are no gimmes. Nothing about what we're going to do is going to be easy, because everyone is going to be coming at us with their A-game."
In a year of turnover in Region 3-AAAA -- all four playoff teams from a year ago lost their leading scorer -- Richmond Academy remains the one constant. The Musketeers return six of their top seven players from a team that appeared in the school's first state semifinal since 1957. It won 28 games before falling to eventual champion Miller Grove by 15 points in the final four in Gwinnett County.
Expectations for the Musketeers are high even though their one loss is literally a large one. Ricardo Glenn, a stout 6-foot-7 post player, was The Augusta Chronicle Georgia player of the year last season as a senior, leading Richmond Academy in scoring (15.7 ppg) and averaging a double-double. He is a freshman at Division I USC Upstate this season.
Richmond Academy's tallest player this year is 6-foot-4 Ivan Rushen, a tough rebounder. Nobles will look to multiple players to help replace Glenn: athletic forward Don Quarles and improved Tommy Williams. Those two players are in final competition for the final starting spot, Nobles said.
"It's hard to replace somebody that big," Nobles said. "We're going to shore it up by committee -- we don't have one person that's going to take up space like Ricardo did. Three or four players will have to do it together."
Even though Richmond Academy dominated the area last season -- its two losses to area teams both came on the road: 71-62 to Evans and 85-81 to Cross Creek -- other teams are not willing to bow in reverence quite yet.
"They have everybody back except the big kid, but I really think we've got a chance," said Glenn Hills coach Travis McRae, whose team could be Richmond Academy's biggest competition in the region with its three returning starters and expected strong point guard play. "Most of the guys on my team have been playing together since the seventh grade."
Nobles said his team will not change its style of play with Glenn departed. They will play faster, he said, not because Glenn won't have to lumber down the floor, but because another year of experience should make the team's play more crisp.
Guards Desmond Lofland and Christian Nobles, the coach's son, handled the ball in every critical situation last year. Combined with smooth left-handed shooting guard Raston Brown, the Musketeers' backcourt will likely be without peer in the area.
"If anything, we should speed things up," Nobles said. "Everyone is a year older and should know where they're going and how they're going to get there. Everyone is more sure about their assignments. That extra year of playing time under their belts should hopefully make this season as good -- or better -- than last year."
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com.