West Ashley boys basketball coach Ronnie DuPre didn't know what to expect this season from the Wildcats.
Despite losing four starters, including The Post and Courier's Lowcountry Player of the Year in Shane Heyward, from last year's team that advanced to the Class AAAA Lower State semifinals, DuPre felt that he had some talent on the team, albeit untested talent.
"Honestly, I was cautiously optimistic about the season," DuPre said. "I thought we'd have a competitive team, but when you graduate that many kids, you're never sure how those new players are going to respond. A lot of the kids who we were going to be counting on were either secondary players or only practice players a year ago.
"Going into this season, they were going to have to do more, and we were going to rely on them more. I wasn't sure how they would respond to their new roles."
So far, so good.
With less than a month to go in the regular season, the Wildcats are 16-4 and 3-1 in Region 7-AAAA.
"I've been pleasantly surprised with our record," DuPre said. "Our record is a little bit better than I thought it would be at this point in the season."
The Wildcats got off to a fast start, winning seven of their first eight games.
"We were playing great defense early in the season and that kind of spurred our offense," DuPre said. "We hit a little bump in the road during the middle of the season when we were not defending well, and that hurt our production on the other end of the floor. The last couple of games we've been playing better defensively, so that gives me some hope."
The Wildcats have leaned on senior forward Tre McLean. The 6-4 McLean, who has committed to play at Queens University in Charlotte next year, is averaging 14.5 points and nine rebounds a game.
"Tre has been on the varsity team for three years, and he does all the little things a team needs done in order to win," DuPre said. "He can handle the ball, he can defend several different positions and he's the guy we turn to at crunch time. He's a very versatile player, and that's why the colleges liked him so much."
Sophomore Ernest Heyward, a 6-3 forward, and junior point guard Daquan Glenn have also been strong contributors all season, DuPre said.
"Both of those guys have probably exceeded my expectations," DuPre said. "They've both got very bright futures."
DuPre said the Wildcats' biggest concern down the stretch will be their consistency on the floor.
"We asked a lot of kids who have never been contributors in the past to play bigger roles, and that's going to take time for them to get adjusted," DuPre said.
The Wildcats have an important game tonight against Wando, a team that has accounted for half of the Wildcats' losses this season.
"In the first game, we were leading in the last minute of the game and made some bad decisions with the ball," DuPre said. "We just let that game slip away. It was one of those losses that you kind of scratch your head. The second game, Wando just outplayed us."
DuPre said the Wildcats will have to play better on both ends of the floor to beat Wando.
"First, we've got to defend better; that's our No. 1 priority," DuPre said. "We've got to do a better job of them shutting them down and getting them out of what they like to do. But Wando is also very good defensively. They present problems at both ends of the floor."