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Troy Athens junior guard Timmy Shayoka and the Red Hawks are a team on the rise this year, looking to parlay the momentum from last season's late-run to a district championship into more success with a veteran club in 2014. (Oakland Press file photo)

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The bounce of the ball was like music to the ears across the area, as practice for the 2013-2014 boys basketball campaign tipped off across the state Monday afternoon.

Hope and aspirations abounded.

“Today felt like someone let us out of cage,” said Holly head coach Lance Baylis of the atmosphere surrounding his first practice. “It’s like we were cooped up for eight months and now we’re free. The intensity, energy, enthusiasm and effort was at an all-time high. The hard work and commitment in the offseason just exploded onto the court. That was exciting to see.”

Baylis returns the bulk of his line-up from last winter and his Bronchos are expected to be one of the top teams in the Flint Metro League.

Sophomore sniper Kyle Woodruff might be the most dangerous long-range bomber in the county and junior Jake Daniels is a high-impact transfer from Grand Blanc.

Troy Athens is another up-and-coming team that brings back the majority of its roster from last year, a season where the Red Hawks got hot late and upset the field for a Class A district crown in the state tournament.

“The goal is to build on the foundation we laid last season,” Athens head coach Dave Scott said. “This is a nice group we have here. We expect to compete at a high level and be in the mix again when March comes around.”

Juniors Timmy Shayoka (guard), John Van Hoef (forward) and Corbin Vrinj (forward) and senior Mikey Williams (guard) light the fuse for the Athens' hardwood arsenal.

Scott’s Red Hawks will be a favorite in the Oakland Activities Association White Division this year, along with Oak Park, Birmingham Seaholm and Lake Orion.

At North Farmington, the Raiders were in the best of spirits, welcoming back star junior forward and Division I college recruit, Jeron (Buddha) Rogers, who had departed to Texas to live with family for the first three months of the school year, but returned a few days ago.

“We had good day of practice and everyone is really happy to have Buddha back with the team,” said Jacob Joubert, North Farmington’s standout sophomore combo guard, after the Raiders finished their inaugural workout of the campaign.

Alex Darden, a sophomore starter in the North Farmington frontcourt alongside Rogers, cracked a smile when discussing the upcoming season.

“We have high expectations,” he said.

The trio helped lead the Raiders to a district title last winter.

With Rogers' return, North Farmington is all of sudden back in the discussion for bragging rights in the OAA Red.

Seven-time defending OAA Red champion Clarkston will most likely be the county's No. 1 team this winter, stacked with experience, stellar guard play and tremendous size. Senior sharpshooter Nick Owens will be as tough to defend as any player in the area.

In it's first year as a combined program after the merger, Bloomfield Hills will also contend for the Red title, unleashing a grizzled and talented attack, anchored by the "Big 3" of senior Yante Maten, Khalil Gracey and Armand Cartwright, that led Lahser to repeat league and district championships the past two years.

Moving up a division, Defending OAA White title-holders Rochester Adams is a team that will be fighting it out for the OAA Red as well. The dynamic Akhemji Williams, one of the area's premiere seniors, will be helping Highlanders head coach John Hall teach the ropes to several JV call-ups from a squad that was undefeated in 2013.

The county's two returning state champions, Birmingham Detroit Country Day in Class B and Southfield Christian in Class D, will certainly be forces to be reckoned with, too.

Country Day is breaking in a new coaching staff headed by Mark Bray and for the first time since the 1970s will be minus Kurt Keener on the bench. However, the Yellowjackets have Mr. Basketball candidate Edmond Sumner to help significantly ease the transition process.

Southfield Christian will be frontrunners to raise a third straight state-title banner, rolling out a line-up full of primetime performers like all-state point guard Bakari Evelyn and silky-smooth Lindsey Hunter IV (both Division I college recruits)and menacing center Demarco White.

Last Updated: 11/19/2013 10:57:34 AM EST

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