Brandon Jolly knows it's time to turn the page after his Lake Norman basketball team was crowned 4A state champions in March. But making that shift has been a bit challenging.
"We celebrated it for a pretty good while - it seemed like there was something every week somebody wanted to do for us," said Jolly, whose team was recognized by the school board and the town among others. "We now want to get these guys geared up for this season. They've been working hard."
It wasn't until the end of summer that Jolly admits he was able to put last year's team in the past and focus on this season.
The Wildcats lost seven seniors, including its top five players and four starters, to graduation. Their biggest losses were all-state players Reggie Price (17.9 points per game) and Paul Larsen (16.9) as well as Kevin Canevari (7.1 points, 6.9 assists per contest).
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Jolly said his team will regroup with the talent they have left.
"We had some good players on the bench who didn't play a lot because we were so good," said Jolly.
The team will build around senior guard Brian Whalen, Lake Norman's lone returning starter, and forward Chris Patterson, the team's sixth man from last year.
The Wildcats will also need seniors Luke Smith and Mac Dudley to shoot the ball well to relieve some pressure from the post after losing Price and Matt Eller, which tremendously diminished their perimeter threat.
Senior Austin Eisenhofer and Alabama junior transfer Najee Pritchett, an athletic player who Jolly said has a lot of potential, could also play major roles for the team.
Jolly said that for now he's looking to find some balance on his team.
"Last year we were pretty dangerous all over the floor at every position - that's what we're looking for not just to be a good shooting team or a good post team, but a threat all over the floor," he said.
"If they all continue to work we could have a really good season," said Jolly.
Jolly and his Wildcats have seen plenty of success recently.
Lake Norman has been among the top teams in the state the past two seasons - going 25-2 and coming up short in the 3A state playoffs before winning it all in the state's highest classification earlier this year.
Jolly said losing in a closely contested game in the third round to Concord in 2009 fueled his Lake Norman squad to work harder last season.
"It made the squad hungry, the staff hungry," he said. "They really busted their tail all year long, so that's why it was so nice to see all that work pay off."
Jolly has a hard time putting into words what winning the state title meant for him, but he remembers the game well.
"I hardly ever look at the clock, but towards the end of the game, I swear I must've looked at it 100 times. It seemed like it wasn't even moving," he said.
"When that horn sounded, I dropped to my knees said a prayer and found the first person I could to hug. I found my wife and my little girl. It was just an amazing feeling that you dream about all your whole life."
But he's had to put that feeling away to focus on this year.
Jolly said his Wildcats had a solid summer and are already starting to show signs of improvement in the first few weeks of basketball practice.
"We're trying to find out if they have that hunger and make them not get complacent because they are state champs," said Jolly.
Doing that has been a challenge.
"We try to not talk about last year, we're trying to focus on working as hard as possible in every drill, every practice, in everything we do," said Jolly, whose Wildcats kick off their season Monday at South Iredell.
Lake Norman's goal for now is to keep getting better.
"We're still trying to feel where we are and get in sync with one another," said Jolly, who added that Lake Norman could realistically contend for a conference title and make the playoffs.
"I think we have the talent to do it, the question still is whether they're going to work hard enough," said Jolly.
Overall the I-Meck as a whole will be down, having lost several top players, so Jolly and his team could have a shot. Their toughest tests will come against rival Mooresville and West Charlotte.
"Last year it was the best conference in the state by far," said Jolly. "The landscape of the whole conference will be different, but I still think there's going to be a lot of basketball played."