Allen Elmore commands the attention of his Westside basketball teammates like a fear-inducing coach from a bygone era.
"He gives us that intimidating look, like coach (Marvin) Fields," teammate Dominique Thomas. "He means business."
Before the Patriots battled Richmond Academy this season, Elmore didn't need Fields' permission to address the team. While their coach watched the girls game outside, Elmore laid into his teammates, scolding them for fearing a team that was demolishing every opponent.
Westside went out and nearly toppled the Musketeers, falling by one point in overtime to a team that outside of that game was beating Region 3-AAAA opponents by an average of two dozen points.
Because Westside doesn't possess the girth or height of virtually every team it faces -- of the Patriots' top four scorers, none are taller than 6-foot-2, including the 5-9 Elmore -- its success is exclusively dependent on chemistry and cohesion. Those things are developed through moments like that pregame speech.
"A lot of times going in a gym, we don't pass the eyeball test," Fields said. "We kind of look like a JV team. ... but we don't play like one."
Westside is one of several teams in the area, boys and girls, enjoying a successful season even though their rosters violate basketball's most obvious tenet: taller players shall have a distinct advantage.
The Patriots are 7-5 in Region 3-AAAA (fifth place) and a playoff contender a year after struggling to a bottom-tier finish. Westside gave defending champion and region unbeaten Richmond Academy by far its closest game of the year.
"We're the smallest team in the region, but we know we have a lot of things going for us," said Elmore, who has scored in double figures in 12 of his team's 15 games and leads the Patriots with a 12.6 scoring average. "We are basically like a family."
The Patriots, in fact, have been breaking the huddle with that word: family.
"I didn't even know they were doing that," Fields said. "That's just something they have been doing on their own."
Much of the team's unity comes from the leadership of Elmore, a junior guard with unlimited shooting range. Teammates sometimes recite his sayings as if they were poetry. An example: Teamwork makes the dream work.
As a child, Elmore would follow his brother, Albert, to the Westside gym. Coaches used to include him in practice by placing him on the free-throw line. If he missed the shot, the varsity players would have to run.
"I was never big enough to drive it into the lane," Elmore said. "I just sat there and shot free throws, because I didn't want them to run."
Said Fields: "His teammates respect him because he's a good kid. There are a few passive players on this team who need someone to follow. He's their guy."
Since the school's gym is under construction, Westside has been practicing all season at A.R. Johnson. The boys team usually holds study hall while the girls team practices, then works out from 5:45-8 p.m. The varsity and the junior varsity practice together -- usually 20 players in all -- which Fields said has helped the varsity, since players on both teams are close.
"We're very small, but the thing I like about this group is the chemistry," Fields said. "The thing about basketball is, you may not have as much talent as another team, but if the guys play team basketball, they can be successful."
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.