BELLEVILLE — During the upcoming 2012-13 basketball season, skills like running, jumping and flat out getting after the opposition on the defensive end of the court should not be a problem for the Belleville West Maroons.
Handling and shooting the basketball, at least at times, might be.
"Athletically? No question. This is the best we've ever been. Skills wise? We've had better teams," Maroons coach Clayton Fisher said. "That's what we're going to try and do this year which is get up and down the floor.
"We're going to look very shoddy at times and other times we're going to look like a college team moving the ball because of the speed we'll be able to play with."
Among the athletes returning are 6-foot-5 junior Jesheon Cooper and 5-5 senior point guard Asia Cochran. Add to that a sophomore class led by 5-9 Shay Fluker which finished 24-1 a year ago at the freshmen level and the future looks very bright for Belleville West.
West graduated its top three scorers -- Diamond Enlow, Samantha Voegtle and Emily Becker -- from a team which finished 15-14 and won a Class 4A regional a year ago.
Leading the way this year will be Cooper, who through countless hours of lifting weights with Belleville West strength coach Jesse Swift, is much stronger and has become an NCAA Division I prospect.
"Jesheon is much improved from last year. She's 6-5, but she's got a wingspan of a player 6-8 or 6-9. Plus she's a lot stronger and she can get up and down the floor," Fisher said. "Her size alone will create problems for teams and she's developed a nice touch around the basket."
Cochran, a potential Division 1 athlete in track and field, will be the starter at point guard after playing a lot a year ago as a junior.
The key for Cochran? Play under control.
"Asia is just another tremendous athlete who can get up and down the floor. She played a lot last and she knows what we expect" Fisher said. "Her key is to be under control both on the offensive and defensive end of the court."
Cochran and her Maroons teammates were on their game on Wednesday, forcing 34 turnovers in a 50-6 season opening win over Jerseyville at the Alton Tournament.
"We want to force teams to play faster then they want to and create turnovers," Fisher said. "I like to get into the passing lanes because when you get turnovers out of the passing lanes it leads to easy baskets," Fisher said.
"I told the girls that one our goals should be to shoot twice as many layups as our opponent."
Fluker, a physical 5-9 guard/forward, has great potential. Left-handed, quick, strong and fearless, Fluker could well be one of the top players in the Southwestern Conference.
"About midway through last season, we projected her to be a starter this year," Fisher said of Fluker. "The thing about Shay is that she's just so strong. She can take it to the basket, she's got a nice floater and she's left handed. That's an advantage in itself because teams just don't practice against them much."
Also expected to play a key role is senior Kiarra Daniels, who played at West as a sophomore before transferring to Belleville East last year. At 5-9, Daniels is another athlete for the Maroons who can score and get up and down the court.
Sophomores Imani Berry (5-6), Kari Gaskill (5-11), Toni Fields (5-8) and Alliyah St. John (5-6) will all see playing time as will junior Hannah Slimack who is the Maroons top perimeter shooter.
But for Fisher, it all starts on the defensive end of the court.
"What concerns me the most is that we need to get better in the halfcourt defense. I know we only gave up six points, but I was not happy with our halfcourt defense. We were able to recover well because of our athleticism," Fisher said. "We just want to get our girls in the right defensive position and kind of let our athleticism take over. We want to be hard to score against."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com