Although the face of the program is not pacing the sidelines this season, the expectations haven't changed for the Carrollton High School boys' basketball team.
Fueled by the spirit of Tim Criswell, who is now back home recovering from injuries sustained in an August biking accident that resulted in a lengthy hospital stay and continued rehab, the Trojans are moving forward in the 2017-18 campaign with the legendary head coach in their hearts.
Interim Trojan head coach Paul Fitz-Simons noted how this group is playing with a purpose this winter, just as he is proud to carry the torch for his mentor in pursuit of another region crown and state playoff run.
"I love our group. We've got some high-character kids. Our coaches are high-character coaches that work non-stop. The team, the coaches, the players, they've handled this adversity that we're going through like Trojans," Fitz-Simons said. "I'm so proud of them. They're working hard every day."
Carrollton, which is off to a 3-1 start and a 1-0 mark in Region 7-AAAAA play following Tuesday night's win over Woodland, Cartersville returns just one senior starter in forward Tim Green, while senior guard Robert Simmons is one of the top assets off the bench.
This year's ballclub is young and somewhat inexperienced at the varsity level, but that doesn't mean success can't come for Carrollton.
The Trojans feature talent, just young talent, led by sophomore standout and reigning Times-Georgian All-Area Newcomer of the Year Marcellious Lockett.
Lockett is joined in the backcourt by junior guard Ricky Rodriguez, a move-in from Puerto Rico, while fellow juniors Isaiah Lancaster, Jeffrey Hodges and Grayson Udombon are also expected to be key contributors. Sophomore wing Melvin Edwards and freshman talent Jamison Winters will also be in the mix as promising underclassmen.
As all the moving parts develop the necessary cohesion and chemistry, one of the main things Fitz-Simons is looking to see early in the year is how his team handles defensive pressure.
"Our point guard last year (Trevon Reddish) transferred out. Ricky Rodriguez has moved in and has kind of earned that starting spot. He's working hard," Fitz-Simons said. "But we've got to handle ball-pressure and get into stuff in the halfcourt.
"Defensively, we're going to be OK. With effort, you can be in most games. We've got to find somebody that can score for us and hopefully get around that 60-point mark and win more than we lose."
Carrollton had its game at Rome on Friday pushed back to next week due to the Wolves playing in the Class AAAAA state championship football game, so the next order of business is a trip to Paulding County on Saturday.
From there, it sets up a huge rivalry showdown with Villa Rica on Tuesday leading up to the Dec. 15 make-up date with Rome and then the Carrollton Christmas Tournament on Dec. 21-23, followed by the Mary Persons Tournament on Dec. 28-30.
Once the calendar flips to 2018, it's nothing but league battles the rest of the way — and the Trojans expect to be right in the mix for the region crown once again this winter.
"We'd be doing a disservice to our kids and the Trojan community if we didn't hold our expectations high and expect to play for it," Fitz-Simons said. "Our region is very, very good. I know we've had some teams with Cass already beating South Paulding and Kell's going to be really good, Villa Rica's always going to be really good. It's going to be a fun year. We're going to have a lot of really close, grind-it-out games. Hopefully, the Carrollton community will come out and support these guys."