In the past two years of Riverdale boys basketball, when the Raiders have endured the loss of pivotal players on the heels of impressive playoff runs, there have been players ready to emerge in the face of skepticism.
It began when Chris Barnes and Kerri Hagood graduated after Riverdale's appearance in the 2006-07 GHSA Final Four basketball playoffs that many explained away as an anomaly, when Ishmael John and Rashad Hassan rose to prominence and brought the Raiders within two points of consecutive Final Four appearances last season.
And so in the face of Riverdale's perceived doubters this season, the ones who wonder where Riverdale will turn to now without John and Hassan, the question is whether there are others ready to emerge again for the Raiders as they open their season tomorrow at 4 p.m. hosting Savannah, the Gasports.com Class AAAAA No. 9-ranked team.
Surely it can from somewhere on a roster with eight returning seniors. Maybe it will be 6-foot-8 forward Terrell Barnes, the younger brother of Chris that has signed to play with Tennessee Tech. Maybe it will be from Carlos Collier, the guard that as a sophomore sat in the stands for the Final Four game morose and helpless because of an injury.
"That was hard," Collier remembers. "I wanted to go out there and get the feel for the environment."
Maybe it will be swingman Byron Graham and guard Dante Turnipseed, seniors that played significant minutes last season in the Raiders run to the Elite Eight.
"I think they'll all be vital to our success," Riverdale coach Derick Powell said. "We've got a lot of leadership, a lot of experience. We're gonna depend on those guys to carry the load.
"We think being in the program for three years that they should be able to go out and handle situations on the court without me having to give a lot from the sidelines."
Barnes and Graham started in Riverdale's 48-46 season-ending loss to Westlake in the Elite Eight, but they did not display their potential. Barnes finished with two points.
Graham was held scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting. But Riverdale's presence alone that day saved some significance for the Raiders.
"Now we see that we can get there every year, not just that one year," Barnes said.
"Some people are like, 'Oh, they'll never get back,' or, 'Oh, well they lost my brother or Kerri Hagood.'
"But it's like Coach Powell was saying, it's a program. You just fill in and pick up where everybody else left off."
Whether Barnes, Collier and company are poised to seize their opportunity starts to become clearer tomorrow against a Savannah team that plays at a frenetic pace. Whereas Powell allows his team to push the tempo and rhythm of the game when the opposition's defense allows them, Savannah indiscriminately races up and down the court.
"They're always a tough opponent," Powell said. "They like to play an up-tempo style. They like to trap and press for 32 minutes, the entire game. So we're ready to come in and face a lot of intensity.
That's why we scheduled them, because you want to see the best to give yourself a measuring stick."
With two seasons of postseason success in its annals, and a close-knit group of players that bear witness to recent history, Riverdale's season measuring stick is now clearly defined: by how far it advances beyond the regular season.
"I think this year we actually could go further than we did the past two years," Barnes said, "and I think we're going to get to the championship game this year. With the seniors we have coming, the amount of senior leadership and just our work ethic everyday in practce, striving to get better. I think that we're actually a contender this year."