The Whale Branch Early College High School boys basketball team studied video of its playoff run last season.
The Warriors watched video of their preseason scrimmages and a television show offering a behind-the-scenes look at the University of Alabama football program. Coach Linc Lyles changed the name of plays he already ran and added some new elements.
All in a quest to maintain the success the Warriors experienced at the beginning of the year, when they reached the Class 1-A championship game, losing to Lewisville.
Expectations are high. The Warriors are ranked No. 1 by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association to start the season.
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Lyles thinks the ranking might be a stretch -- all-state forward Dee Delaney graduated, as did seniors Charles Jiles and Terrell Hazel. But he is pushing Whale Branch as if the entire state is chasing.
"You've got the bullseye on your back," Lyles told his players during practice Monday. "You've got to play every game like it's a playoff game."
Whale Branch returns senior guard Simeon Middleton, voted by the state's coaches during the preseason as an all-state player. Others returning are his brother, junior Michael Middleton, sophomore guard Justin Rhode and senior forward Denzel Daniel, who collectively represent a bulk of the Warriors' minutes last season.
The Warriors, who relished their reputation as one of the deeper teams in the state last year, have to rebuild that depth with guys who were previously role players or on junior varsity. Lyles still wants to platoon.
To bring everyone up to speed, he stops film or halts practice to let someone know what they need to do to earn playing time. The bench might be shallower than he would like early in the season.
"Last year's team, everybody knew where everybody would be," Simeon Middleton said. "Our chemistry isn't good this year -- yet. But throughout the season, we'll get better."
The Warriors went to camps at Summerville and Coastal Carolina during the summer. Lyles wanted the Warriors accustomed to long road trips in case they travel during the playoffs.
Whale Branch played host to three playoff games last season before heading to the Lower State final at Florence Civic Center. He said the Warriors could easily face a three-hour road trip, as Region 5-A foe Allendale-Fairfax faced with Johnsonville in the second round.
"I tell the guys that one play you take off, that one sprint where you didn't touch that line, that one day you were five minutes late -- that could be us going to Johnsonville," Lyles said.
The Warriors hope a front-loaded schedule will help prepare them for region play. Whale Branch doesn't face a Class 1-A team on the non-region schedule. The team will play rival Battery Creek, Class 3-A Hilton Head Island High School, 4-A Bluffton High School and Class 2-A Wade Hampton.
The Region 5-A competition remains a relative unknown this early, Middleton said.
Denmark-Olar gave the Warriors a run during a half of scrimmage this month. Outside of that, Whale Branch will have to wait and see.
After last year, the Warriors know to expect everyone's best shot.
"It's a lot of pressure, but we can't really let that get to our heads," Middleton said. "We've just got to go out and practice and give it all we got in the game."
Boys basketball 2013-14 preview capsules
SCISAA Region 1-AA
Coach: Chip Dinkins (12th year, 122-158)
2012-13: 8-15 (3-6)
Notable losses: Conner Akers, Preston Suber
Top returning players: G Jack Dailey, G Walker Floyd, F Brandon Massalon, F Tucker Trask
Key newcomers: Thibault Deneye, Clay Melville
Coach's prognosis: "Beaufort Academy will stress an up-tempo, guard-oriented attack this year, relying on numerous defensive looks," Dinkins said. "Finding a go-to scorer to replace Conner Akers and Preston Suber will be among the first orders of business. Look for an exciting and competitive season to come."
Coach: Antoine Youmans (fourth year, 29-42)
2012-13 results: 13-10, second in Region 6-AA, lost to Silver Bluff in the first round of Class 2-A playoffs
Top returning players: G Devonte Wilson (13 ppg, 4 rpg) G Adonis Williams (7 ppg 4 assists), G Yuneek Crittendon (13 ppg, 2 spg), C Eric Freeman (6 ppg, 8 rpg), G Raheem Cooper (8 ppg 5 rpg)
Key newcomers: Christian Brown, Tavien Heyward.
Strengths: Athleticism, experience.
Coach's prognosis: "Everyone is excited about this upcoming year," Youmans said. "We want to win the region and make a good playoff run."
Coach: Bruce Beasley (24th season, 314-271)
2012-13 results: 14-13, lost to Goose Creek in the first round of the Class 4-A playoffs
Notable losses: Thomas Parker, Anthony White, Rafael Guevara
Top returning players: Kendrick Colvin, Adonis Grant, Jawan Mack, Otis McClain, Michael Dickson, Lamont Fripp, Rodney Warren, Marlon Gray, Carlton Johnson, Darryl Owens
Key newcomers: Devin Stedman, Matthew Garay, Monty White
Strengths: Depth, versatility, experience
Coach's prognosis: "If we can contniue to work hard, improve and get better individually and collectively, our team's success will take care of itself," Beasley said. "Our success will be dependent on and a reflection of our effeciency and offensive execution, defensive desire and toughness, our consistent rebounding effort and ability and our ability to protect the basketball."
Coach: Brett Macy (51-40)
2012-13 results: 14-9, 6-4 Region 8-AAAA
Notable losses: (C.J. Frazier (12 ppg), Demetrius Smalls (12 ppg), Anthony Smith, Marquis Webber, Harlan Kendrick
Key returning players: G BJ Hill, G Jawara Middleton, F Chance Murphy
Strengths: "One of our main strengths should be our athleticism from top to bottom," Macy said. "We add some height with transfer D.J. Dobson from Dutch Fork High School and Adriel Willis from junior varsity."
Weaknesses: "A weakness will be experience off the bench. We will have a quality bench, but it just lacks time in our system and varsity level of play."
Coach's prognosis: "The main question...how will our newcomers perform when the lights are on?" Macy said. "And who is going to shoulder the load of scoring left from C.J. Frazier and Demetrius Smalls."
HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
SCISAA Region 3-AAA
Coach: Mac Tamminen (second season)
2012-13 results: 10-14 overall, 2-8 SCISAA Region 3-AAA
Notable losses: F Jamario Williams (3.9 ppg 5 rpg), F Caleb Lewis (8.2 ppg 3.8 rpg)
Top returning players: G Brad Meccariello (18.4 ppg 4.1 rpg), F Zack Polk (7.9 ppg 3.7 rpg) , F Josh Polk (5 ppg 3 rpg), G Ryan Barrett (4.1 ppg)
Key newcomers: G Deovonte Doe, F Franklin Smith, G Chris Edwards
Strengths: Depth and returning players with varsity experience
Weakness: Lack of size
Coach's prognosis: "If everyone accepts their role, plays unselfish, and puts the team before themselves, we have the opportunity to increase our number of wins from last year and make the state tournament," Tamminen said.
HILTON HEAD ISLAND HIGH
Coach: Ken Updike (fifth year, 45-52)
2012-13 results: 14-13, 5-5 Region 7-AAA, lost to Hartsville in second round of Class 3-A playoffs
Notable losses: Michael Julian (12 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg, 3.5 bpg, 2 spg, all-state), Chris MacMurray (2 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1 spg), James Sanders (6 ppg, 5 rpg)
Top returning players: G Jacob Coltrane (9.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.5 apg), C Craig Ryan (2 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G Aaron Frazier (16.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2 spg), Troy Clifford (3.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Key newcomers: G Malik Singleton, F Sam Page, F Matt MacDonnel, F Cameron Halseth, G Khalil Marshburn, F Tate Steinour, G Bryce Singleton, G PJ Franklin
HILTON HEAD PREP
SCISAA Region 3-AAA
Coach: Jerry Faulkner (second year, 14-13)
2012-13 results: 14-13 overall, 2-6 Region 3-AAA, lost to Northwood Academy in first round of SCISAA 3-A playoffs
Notable losses: G Charlie Wilmot (8.2 ppg, 4.5 apg); Sam McCracken (5.5 ppg, 5 rpg)
Top returning players: G/F John Eck (15.2 ppg, 7 rpg), Sr.; C Randy Young (11.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Sr.; G JT Marbut (1.0 ppg, 1.0 apg), Sr.
Key newcomers: F Brennan Mikell, Jr.
Weaknesses: Lack of depth and playing experience
Coach's prognosis: "Our lack of depth hinders practice and any injuries or foul trouble will hurt in games," Faulkner said. "However, as always we will seek to learn lessons of life through basketball and to cmopete, not against our opponents, but within ourselves to be the best we can be."
Coach: Jeremiah Faber (30th year, 430-241)
Notable losses: Anthony Polite, Garrison Seeden, Kareem Burns, Frederico Bolden, DeQuan Johnson
Top retuning players: G Terrance Frazier (18.3 ppg, 4.5 spg; 4.1 apg), F Charles Mitchell (11.2ppg, 9.4 rpg, Richard Garvin 8.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Gaylus Bailey, F Derrel Myers (6.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Nizi Wilson, Devontae Roberson (12.1 ppg, 3.4 spg, 4.1 apg), Tyrae Simmons
Key newcomers: Trenard Ferrell, Ramson Dunham; Walter Nathan; Galvin Bush; Malachi Bowden
Coach's prognosis: "We're very athletic, experienced, with the capacity to defend," Faber said.
THOMAS HEYWARD ACADEMY
SCISAA Region 1-AA
Coach: Nic Shuford
No other information provided
Coach: Linc Lyles (fourth year, 45-28, 244-109 as a head coach)
2012-2013 results: 24-4, 9-1 Region 5-A, Lower State champions, lost to Lewisville in Class 1-A championship
Notable losses: Dee Delaney (all-state), Terell Hazell (all-region), Charles Jiles (all-region)
Top returning players: G Simeon Middleton (13 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg), G Justin Rhode (12 ppg, 3 apg); F Denzel Daniel (8 ppg, 7 rgp); F Jay Abney (7 ppg, 6 rgp)
Key newcomers: Marlon Williams, David Lamb
Strengths: Defensive pressure, athleticism, speed, quickness, returning veteran players with deep playoff experience, love for the game, versatility to play multiple positions, and depth.
Weaknesses: Plenty. Our focus is on improving our rebounding, ball-handling, free-throw shooting, mental focus and ability to persevere inside of difficult challenges.
Coach's prognosis: "Our single goal before the season starts is to become a disciplined and mature team that develops team chemistry," Lyles said. "We do not play any 1-A teams until January, so all of our weaknesses will be exposed early."