John Tyler girls basketball coach Mike Smith likened his 2013-14 team to a six-shooter, with talent loaded in every chamber.
When all the bullets are firing, the Lady Lions will be hard to beat.
"I'm really excited," Smith said. "I believe we have a golden opportunity to have probably the best year that we've had yet.
"When we put it all together, it's going to be a very good, successful team."
John Tyler opens a new season tonight with a road date against Palestine at 6:30. The home opener is 4 p.m. Friday against Bishop Gorman, coached by Smith's brother, Jeff.
The Lady Lions went 22-12 last year, finishing second in District 16-4A with a 7-3 mark. That squad was led by a pair of four-year varsity starters who have since moved on, Tiaka Lee and Quaneshia Johnson.
While their leadership will take time to replace, Mike Smith likes his current group.
"We have the players now that can take over those positions, but (Lee and Johnson) did such a good job of it, it's going to take something special," Smith said. "Tiaka and Tootie, they loved the game, they were dedicated. That's the kind of kids we have in our program now and it's just a matter of someone stepping up."
John Tyler may not have the experience of Lee and Johnson to rely on, but that won't stop the Lady Lions from pushing the pace. JT hopes to force turnovers to create easy scoring opportunities on the break.
"We're going to be a quick, defensive-minded, pressure-oriented, up-tempo type of team," Smith said. "We need to try to control the tempo of the game to play in our hands. We're not real big at all."
Leading the way for JT this year will be juniors Amia Wickware and Tameal Jones, along with last year's 16-4A Newcomer of the Year Ashtyn Beal.
Wickware led the Lady Lions in rebounds (7.5) and blocks (1.4) last year while also scoring 10.1 points per game. Jones, who will miss the first few games as she recovers from a torn ACL, will run the offense after putting up 9.2 points and 3.2 steals per game a year ago.
Beal, who was third on the team in scoring last year behind Lee and Johnson, will start at point guard until Jones returns. The sophomore averaged 7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game last year.
"We really look forward to a great year from her," Smith said of Beal. "She's dedicated and improved. She's really looking good for us right now. We're looking for good things out of her."
Sophomore Kaylee Hackett is likely to start at the four position and DeDe Rouge will add strength in the post for the Lady Lions. Junior Germonique Ward and senior Key-Ana Tatum will figure in at the three.
"(Tatum) doesn't score a lot but when she comes in the game the energy level just increases tremendously," Smith said.
Senior post Kayla Webb, a three-year varsity player, provides experience, grit and leadership in the post.
"Kayla is one of those kids that absolutely outworks everybody and is determined that she's going to do everything right," Smith said. "Her leadership has been fantastic; her work has been great. I look forward to a good year — her doing a lot of rebounding and scoring for us inside."
The Lady Lions will play in three tournaments in December: the Georgetown Tournament that includes a strong field of Austin-area schools, the Great East Texas Shootout and the Macy Chenevert Patriot Holiday Tournament.
John Tyler opens league play on Jan. 3 against defending champion Lindale at the Lions Den.
John Tyler Lady Lions
Coach: Mike Smith
2012-13 record: 22-12 (7-3 District 16-4A)
Last playoff appearance: 2013 (lost in bi-district playoff to Red Oak, 70-60)
Returning starters: 3
What's New: The Lady Lions are without two four-year starters with the graduation of Tiaka Lee and Quaneshia Johnson but Amia Wickware, Tameal Jones and Ashtyn Beal lead have Smith excited for the new season.
Offensive outlook: With the speed and ball-handling skills available, the Lady Lions will push the pace and look to score before opponents can set their defense. Otherwise, JT will look to rely on its outside shooting. "Hopefully (we don't) even have to set up in an offense," Smith said. "If we do it's going to be a perimeter offense. We can shoot from outside; we're going to be real strong shooting from outside."
Defensive outlook: The Lady Lions will look to harass opponents up and down the court, using high pressure in attempts to create turnovers to spark their offense. "We're going to be our best in transition so the more transition we can cause the better we'll be," Smith said.
Team strengths: Smith said this team's forte will be its teamwork, with every position able to make meaningful contributions to a winning team. Additionally, the Lady Lions' speed should give them an advantage over most opposition.
2013-14 John Tyler Lady Lions Basketball Schedule
Nov. 5at Palestine6:30
Nov. 8Bishop Gorman4
Nov. 15Mount Pleasant7:30
Nov. 19at Pal. Westwood6:30
Nov. 22Pine Tree6
Nov. 26Robert E. Lee#noon
Dec. 5-7Georgetown TournamentTBA
Dec. 10at Sulphur Springs6:30
Dec. 12-14Great East Texas ShootoutTBA
Dec. 27-29Macy Chenevert TournamentTBA
Jan. 7at Jacksonville*7:30
Jan. 14at Whitehouse*7:30
Jan. 24at Lindale*7:30
Jan. 28at Nacogdoches*7:30
Feb. 4at Corsicana*7:30
* — District 16-4A game
# — At Tyler Junior College