Last season, the Keenan boys had their season come to an unexpectedly early end as Southside ended the Raider's title hopes with a 58-45 defeat in the semifinals of the state playoffs.
"We didn't play our best game against Southside," Keenan coach Zach Norris said. "We think that we had an excellent game plan going in, but we didn't count on (Southside guard) Robbie Dreher dropping 36 points on us. (Dreher) was just on fire and had one of those games you dream about having, but other than that we played well until the closing minutes of the game."
With three key starters returning and an influx of young, talented players, Norris hopes the Raider's can make another run at a state title.
"We return three starters from last year, so we're going to be kind of young," Norris said. "We're going to have to wait and see which young players will step up and earn those other two starting spots for us, but, hopefully, it'll work out in the end. We've got six kids coming back from last year's team though, so it shouldn't be that tough of a teaching job for us."
The returning starting trio of Bradley Smith, Dennis Rowe, and Jacob Green should provide the Raiders with quality experience as they each enter their fourth season with the program. The Raiders posted a 20-9 overall record and a 9-1 record in Region 4-2A to earn a share of the region title with Central last season.
"Bradley Smith and Dennis Rowe will probably be our leading scorers so we'll depend on them a lot this season," Norris said. "They're two great athletes and their leadership this season will be key for us. Those two along with (fellow senior) Jacob Green can, hopefully, keep the mold of our team together."
Smith, ranked as the second-best player in the 2A preseason S.C. Basketball Coach's Association poll, looks to be the go-to guy after the graduation of Ryan Norris, last season's 2A All-Area player of the year. Averaging nearly 14 points and 10 rebounds a game, Smith expects to use his slashing ability and above-the-rim skills to help the Raiders.
"I'm just going try to be the best basketball player that I can be," Smith said. "I want to set my own pace and do what I'm best at to help my team win. I'm not going to try and go out there and do it all myself. On any given night Dennis (Rowe) and Jacob (Green) can have great games so I'm just going to play my part and do whatever the team needs me to do."
Norris plans to take advantage of Smith's selflessness. The Raiders have veteran, proven guards in Rowe and Green, so even though he projects to play shooting guard or small forward on the college level, Smith will be utilized as more of a power forward to start the season to give Keenan an experienced inside presence.
Behind those returning starters, Keenan will have nine new players on the varsity roster. With that in mind, Norris said it is essential for those younger players to attain the "go hard on every play" mentality and pay close attention to the smaller aspects of the game.
"I believe getting our younger guys to learn that you've got to come in and play hard everyday will be our biggest challenge," Norris said. "Some of those kids don't yet realize that paying attention to the little things, which sometimes go unnoticed, can play a major role in determining the success that you have. They've all got talent, so it's just a matter of putting it all together and playing hard every single day."