West Oaks guard Andres Feliz couldn't help but hear the summer chatter through the grapevine.
Following a whirlwind off-season, which saw head coach Shaun Wiseman bolt to Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville (bringing 7-foot-3 behemoth center Chol Marial and 6-foot-9 Bradley-bound forward Koch Bar with him), those skeptical voices began to surface.
The wind traveling words crept through nooks and crannies, eventually finding their way into the ear of Feliz.
All of the words spewed similar messages. They indicated the program at West Oaks would be in for a down season, forced to work with a young and callow core.
Others said West Oaks would falter with a thoroughly cleansed roster. With its frontline gone and the squad forced to implement a small ball attack, conventional wisdom said West Oaks would have to rebuild.
What's that memorable quote from the movie White Men Can't Jump? You can listen to Jimmy, but you can't hear Jimmy.
Well, Feliz chose not to hear any of what the naysayers or foes had to say.
"We want to be back for that second ring," said Feliz, the South Florida-commit who averaged 18.9 points and 3.7 assists for future coach Orlando Antigua with the U-19 Dominican Republic national team this summer.
"We have to protect our championship. We have a lot of schools thinking we're not going to win it again. I believe in God, I believe in my team, I believe in my coaching staff. I believe we will win it again."
They'll have to do it without Corey Sanders. Sanders, a hyper-athletic and flashy guard who brought perhaps more entertainment value than anyone on Florida's prep scene the past three years, is now a freshman at Rutgers.
Flushed into a leadership role, Feliz brings a level of toughness on both ends of the floor.
He chose South Florida because of his relationship with the coaching staff, thirsting at the opportunity to make an instant impact.
Coaches are quick to cite the pitbull mentality in Feliz, who has a tendency to ramp up his defensive aggression in practice. He takes it upon himself to exploit any visible weaknesses in teammates.
Feliz, who had interest from a handful of high-majors, including Louisville, Miami, and Missouri, dropped a game-best 14 points in West Oaks' 49-33 win over Oak Ridge in last night's fall league game.
Displaying a natural knack for getting to the rim, Feliz was instrumental in West Oaks' thorough second half takeover.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard turned in a traditional 3-point play to quell a 10-2 Oak Ridge run in the second quarter.
Highly pressurized defense and a consistent transition game propelled West Oaks in the second half.
Michael Devoe, Oak Ridge's sophomore guard, paced them in the first half. A crafty lefty with a cerebral passing and driving game, Devoe has interest from Baylor, Xavier, Butler, and several others.
Practicing seven days a week, being around each other all the time in the film room, studying opponents' flaws and reciting their strengths, has made this team more together and hungrier.
Richardson Maitre, a Canadian guard and mid-major prospect, was expected to flee Orlando for Jacksonville with Wiseman.
Partly at his friendship and on-court chemistry with Feliz, partly at his desire to culminate his career with back-to-back titles, he elected to stay.
"We are our brother's keeper," Maitre said. "We all watch each other's backs. With our coaching staff, we're going to be able to accomplish this goal of winning again. When nobody is here, they are back at the school with us, making sure we are winnners. Winning the state championship last year put us on the map in Orlando."
While losing Sanders and its top bigs may prevent foes from smelling blood in the water, West Oaks doesn't feel it suffered a tremendous off-season blow.
"West Oaks is home," said Feliz. "We want to do it for each other and for the program."