Harlem High School's weight room buzzed last week as its boys basketball players moved through their various workouts.
Coach Kim Chambers' voice cut through the conversation and clanging of the weights.
"Hey, Colton, you having fun playing basketball?" Chambers asked.
"Yes, sir," replied senior Colton Lane.
The question will be Chambers' measure of his team's success this season. The Bulldogs' boys varsity roster is seven players deep, plus whatever playing time Chambers might get from junior varsity players.
The numbers mean a player like Lane will have the opportunity to contribute immediately. Lane, a 6-foot-4 senior, last played for Chambers as a sophomore on the Bulldogs golf team. This is his first year playing organized basketball outside of church league, and he'll probably play a key role.
"We're having fun out there," Lane said. "Nobody's really letting it bother them that people are saying we're not supposed to do good because we're so small (numbers-wise)."
Of his seven varsity players, Chambers has two returning with varsity experience -- senior Kendrell Germany and junior Darius "Quail" Johnson.
Johnson was part of Harlem's junior varsity squad when it won the county JV championship last season. He showed his potential with a 35-point effort in the tournament semifinal against Evans.
Unlike a year ago, when standout Cedric Boatner had the green light to shoot at will, Chambers said his offensive sets would be more structured with clear options on where the ball should go and working to get a clean shot.
"We got to work as a team," Germany said. "Score when you get the opportunity and don't try to force everything."
Germany said the Bulldogs' primary focus has been on defense, and Chambers has dedicated full practices to stopping the other team.
Other work has been done outside of the gym, to ensure the Bulldogs' numbers don't go any lower because of academic casualties. And Chambers expects his team to get a boost with who could become eligible after Christmas.
"We've been doing everything we can to try to make sure that we're not going to lose any kids," Chambers said. "And I think they're having fun. I know it's hard work, but in the long run, I think we're having fun."
Harlem girls coach Michael Hopkins faces an even greater challenge. The Bulldogs girls, a year after winning the first state playoff game in the school's history, is down to nine players, with no junior varsity team.
Harlem has three returners -- senior Skye Slagle, junior Amanda Rogers and sophomore Samantha Trobaugh. Hopkins said none of the rest to come out have basketball experience, and that the Bulldogs have spent practice time working on the basics.
"Fundamentals," he said. "That's it."
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