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Sky's the limit for veteran SHS hoops squad
BKB SHS HOOPS 022013 163 WEB
Statesboro's Zaquavian Smith skies against Baldwin County during the first round of the state playoffs last season. The Blue Devils, led by Smith in 2013-14, will, as usual, have high expectations this year. The season tips off today in Savannah. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

    With most of last season’s Final Four squad returning this year, the sky is the limit for the Statesboro boys’ basketball squad.
    The regular season begins tonight as the Blue Devils head to Savannah to participate in a tournament hosted by Windsor Forest.
    Last year, Statesboro started strong and never let up. The Blue Devils compiled a 29-4 record while winning a championship in the ultra-competitive Region 3-AAAA. The fun didn’t stop there as Statesboro won three state playoff games before losing in the semifinals.
    But rising to power is one thing. Staying there is quite another.
    “It’s going to be challenging,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “Last year, I think we kind of snuck up on a lot of people. We had a good record, but I don’t think a lot of people were circling us on the schedule. This year, you know that everyone is going to be ready for us.”
    The Devils will certainly get each opponent’s best shot, but they’re more than capable of responding in kind.
    Shooting guard Zaquavian Smith returns for his senior season with the Devils and will be an early favorite for the region Player of the Year award. Down in the post is Alex Simmons, who looks to continue his progression as an offensive threat in his junior campaign. Running the attack is O’Aaron Ware, who began last season as a game manager of the offense, but finished as another weapon in the Devils’ deep arsenal.
    This season will also feature the tallest roster that the Devils have had in quite some time. Simmons has been a constant for the last two seasons, but Jaylon Rawls now projects to start and some younger players getting their first varsity action will give Hill plenty of options in the frontcourt.
    “Being a little bigger just allows us to do more,” Hill said. “I think that we’re going to be a good shooting team, but it’s always good to be able to send the ball into the paint — especially when you play bigger teams in the postseason. Defensively, having guys who can guard other big men is going to let us put more pressure on teams with our press.”
    Statesboro could easily find itself back in the running for a state championship, but the road won’t be easy.
    In addition to joining competitive field’s in the Albany U-SAVE-IT tournament and hosting its annual Gentlemen’s Classic, the Devils also have strong non-region games lined up against Bradwell Institute and home-and-home dates vs. Effingham County and Richmond Hill.

Lady Devils tip off
    The Statesboro girls will also be competing in Windsor Forest’s tournament this weekend.
    Last season, the Devils had to endure some growing pains.
    Statesboro lost all five of its starters from the 2011-12 season and teams used to taking beating from the Devils got their revenge as Statesboro missed out on the state playoffs.
    This time around, the Devils are looking to put up more of a fight as most of last year’s roster — including starters Shanikwa Buie and Tanice Johnson —return.
    “It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to start from step one,” SHS coach Jeff Seier said. “I think everyone is a little more experienced and better prepared for what it takes to win at the varsity level.”
    Seier also added that the Devils’ game plan will be more complex this season. With roles having been developed last season, Statesboro enters tonight’s opener with more confidence.
    Improvement will be necessary if Statesboro wants to make it back to the postseason. The Devils came within a buzzer-beater of making the playoffs last year, but will once again have to deal with a very tough region.
    “South Effingham is going to be a really tough team again,” Seier said. “There are going to be plenty of good teams in the Augusta sub-region too. But I think that we can definitely contend.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.