After the GFA boys basketball team graduated three Division I players from last season's Fairchester Athletic Association and New England Class C championship squad that went 24-2, head coach Doug Scott was unsure what to expect from the Dragons this term.
A summer camp at Dartmouth that included an impressive series of victories helped ease Scott's initial qualms, and from there the Dragons (14-3) have hit the ground running behind a cast of veterans and newcomers that have blended together quite nicely.
GFA, which recently had its 27-game winning streak snapped, is gearing up for another postseason run with three new starters supplying the offense.
"Every high school team has to reinvent themselves to some degree," Scott said. "I had no idea how good we would be this year, but you never really know going in unless you return everyone. We were fortunate we have a couple of key transfers, which helps in a small school."
GFA lost Sean Obi, Hunter Eggers -- now both attending Rice -- and Pat Ryan to graduation. The trio combined for 48 points per game last season.
"I feel like a lot of people thought that with the seniors leaving last year, that we weren't going to have as much of a chance (this season)," said junior forward Zach Baines. "But we were still humble and maintained expectations to succeed."
Baines, the MVP of last season's Class C title win, averages 16 points, nine rebounds and nearly four blocks per contest for the Dragons.
The Dragons also lost Tremont Waters, who transferred to South Kent Prep before the season. Waters made the GFA varsity team in seventh grade and is currently one of the highest rated freshman in the country, according to recruiting websites.
"From a talent standpoint it was unbelievable, and (Waters) had the ability to shoot from everywhere," Scott said. "If you are a shooting guard you can contribute right away because if you can shoot from 25-30 feet away, teams have to guard him. When you have to guard him, it opens up everything else."
The Dragons, who had little success prior to Scott's arrival in 2010, are 69-20 in three-plus seasons under his watch. Scott has enjoyed success at every level of coaching and has continued that pattern at the smallest school in the FAA.
"It's different; (Scott is) always organized," senior point guard Matt Tate said. "He's always prepared and on top of everything, every detail. He's very detail orientated; he's a great coach."
Tate, who led New England in assists last season (7.5 per game), has increased his scoring by five points per contest this season. Prior to the season, Scott approached Tate about becoming more aggressive on the offensive end.
"That's easier said than done," Scott said. "His judgment on when to shoot is the best I've seen in 25 years. He really just gets the ball where it needs to go, including himself."
One key incoming transfer was junior guard Jimmy Djema. Djema played for Greenwich last season, and, despite the improved competition the prep school scene presents, Djema hasn't missed a beat and averages 15 points per game.
Following in Obi's footsteps, freshman center Sunday Okeke arrived from Nigeria over the summer and has made an immediate impact for the Dragons. The 6-foot-7 Okeke refined his game during the summer months, helping the Connecticut United Sons and Daughters U-14 AAU team win a host of accolades. Okeke averages 10 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.
"It was easy for (Okeke to adjust), we interact with him like he's been here forever," Djema said. "He talks a lot, he likes to have fun and he's learning a lot. It's his first year playing real organized basketball, he works hard and it's easy for him to adapt and get the concepts."
GFA won its first nine games by double digits this season. Two of the Dragons losses came in back-to-back games against Masters (N.Y), GFA's biggest rival to the FAA title this year. There are three games left in the regular season with the FAA playoffs scheduled to begin Feb. 19.
With the excellent skillsets and chemistry, the Dragons appear to make a serious run at back to back league and region titles.
"We're at that time of year where we know our stuff," Scott said. It's just making sure you don't have the natural human letdown. Because we are winning; we are always going to be playing better after a loss. I think the reality is if we make it to the postseason tournaments, every team plays a bunch of different styles. We have to make sure we stay hungry and be prepared for everything we are going to see."