Hickory Ridge center Danny Book knows his team can make some noise in the South Piedmont Conference.
He knows that how far the Ragin' Bulls go will have a lot to do with him. That's why he's decided to step up his game.
"Being a senior, I'm more mature and ready to play," said Book. "The last three years I feel like I've been learning. I'm ready to take over and play better this year."
Book, who was pulled up to varsity as a freshman, is one of only two players coach Robert Machado has coached all four years Hickory Ridge has been open.
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"He's started just about every game for us all four years," said Machado. "He's had a little injury here and there, but if he's healthy he's starting for us.
"He means a lot in the middle for us."
Book has also become a leader along the way - being vocal in the back line, motivating his teammates.
But being 6-foot-6, his biggest contribution to the team has been his defense.
"He used to get in a lot of foul trouble his first two years, but he's learned to stay on the ground," said Machado. "Last year, he figured out how to use his body, and this year he's really come out strong."
The senior has become a bigger contributor offensively, averaging more than 10 points per game. His focus on the court, however, is rebounding.
"I think it's more important for me to rebound than to score," said the physical Book, who's averaging 8.5 boards a game. "Scoring will come naturally, but rebounding is one of the biggest things, besides defense, needed to win a game."
Book said his improvement is largely due to his poise.
"I was always a little more nervous playing basketball," said the all-conference football player. "I'm a lot more confident on the court this year. I think I can handle myself pretty well now."
Machado said his Bulls will be as good as Book and the rest of the post players are this season.
"We've made a conscious effort to push the ball inside," said Machado. "Even if (Book) doesn't score, he opens the game up for our guards."
Machado added that Book is a good kid to be around off the court.
"He's a jokester, he likes to have fun," he said. "He's also a smart kid in the classroom and is always polite. He's one of those kids other kids gravitate to - he's got a good personality."
That attitude translates well to his play on the court.
"I just relax; I know it's a game," said Book. "I don't like to get tensed up. I like to have fun out there."
Machado said the Ragin' Bulls (5-2 as of Dec. 17) have played well overall, although he admits both losses - to Marvin Ridge and Carson - have been lopsided.
"We didn't show up to play defensively," he said.
But Machado said he knows that might be due to the many injuries his players already have gone through early this season. He said his team has had five different starting lineups.
Book missed the first three games of the season recovering from a football injury, while leading scorer Quinton Wimbish has also missed some time.
Considering that, Machado said, he's happy about where the team is right now.
"We have a positive record going into conference, and that's what we wanted," he said.
The Ragin' Bulls got off on the right foot, defeating Central Cabarrus - a favorite to win the South Piedmont Conference - 71-65 to open their conference slate last week.
With the experience the Ragin' Bulls have on their roster - touting nine returning seniors - they should be able to make an impact on the SPC.
Hickory Ridge, behind Book and Wimbish, will also get a lot of help from guards Jay Lamothe and Travis Baucom, as well as forward Dillon Burdette. Machado said guard Garrett Mohre, a 6-foot-3 sharpshooter, has come out strong.
Book, who hopes to average a double-double and make all-conference this season, wants his team to be crowned SPC champs at the end of the year.
"That's our main goal," he said.