BUFORD — For upwards of two hours, the Buford Lady Wolves basketball team moves.
The whistle blows and they do passing drills; it blows again and they go to layups; it blows a final time and they move to lane slides, all in an effort to improve game conditioning.
They run up and down the court, constantly: there is no standing around.
When fifth-year coach Gene Durden speaks, you could hear a pin drop. But when he isn’t speaking, his girls are, ensuring their teammates are in the right places on both defense and offense.
The two-plus daily routine is simply an exercise in how defending state champions prepare, especially when they are returning only two starters and graduated eight seniors.
“(The state title) was so great for our program and community,” Durden said. “We can’t take last year for granted, but now it’s time to move forward and see what this crew can do.”
“Last year we didn’t have to focus on little things as much because we had such incredible talent,” sophomore shooting guard Andraya Carter said. “We have to focus on the little things now and make sure that we’re playing great defense.”
Carter and senior Alysha Rudnik – who recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Georgia Tech – are the returning starters.
Carter averaged 10 points, seven assists, five steals and two rebounds a game as a freshman on last year’s Class AA state championship team. Rudnik was not only the team’s 3-point specialist, but was also the catalyst for the defense.
“She’s the hardest worker on our team,” Carter said of Rudnik. “I look up to Alysha so much and have so much respect for her.”
“For (Rudnik) to come out and try to lead this team like she is, is amazing because she doesn’t have to be out here,” Durden said. “She’s already signed with Tech, but we need her, and the fact that she knows that and comes out here and works tirelessly…it takes my respect for her to a whole different level.”
This year’s Buford team has five seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and nine freshman, who will be an integral part to the Lady Wolves success according to Durden.
“We can’t replace last year’s senior class and we’re not going to try,” Durden said. “These kids we have are ready to show what they can do.
“We have a lot more speed and athleticism than we did last year and a lot of the girls have been in the program and know my expectations.”
And it starts with Carter, who will be looked to this year to take over when asked to and when not asked to; a stark contrast to last year.
“Andraya has to step her game up to another level because she’s in a totally different role,” said Durden of his sophomore who is already being recruited by the likes of Georgia, Tennessee and Connecticut. “She’s no longer in the position where passing it off is the thing to do, it’s her time.”
“Both Alysha and I have to lead a lot and work as hard as we can,” Carter said. “We have to talk to the girls on this team and bring them up with us. We have to be vocal leaders.”
Carter’s summer prepared her for this year’s challenges. She not only played on an AAU team that made it to the national championship game, but was also invited to try out for the 16-and-under USA team.
“I stood in awe at some of the girls I competed against,” Carter said. “I was upset when I didn’t make the USA team but it eventually got to the point where I had to stop feeling sorry for myself.
“Those people saw something in someone else that I didn’t have, so it’s my job to work hard and gain those skills. I have to step up my game not only for Buford, but to make sure my future is what I want it to be.”
With Carter ready to play her role, and Rudnik ready for hers, and both apt and willing to lead, Durden is excited about this year’s team.
“I’m excited because of the experience on this team, or the lack of it where varsity basketball is concerned,” Durden said. “They are young and seeing what they can do…I’m excited about how far we can take this team.”