The faces and names have changed — gone are Trevor Shipes, Joe Bates and Logan Bush, the program’s all-time leading scorer — but Lambert expects more of the same from this year’s young, highly-skilled team.
Lambert won a school-record 23 games and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs last season. Impressive as that is for a program that started in 2009, the Horns don’t want to be a flash in the pan.
"This season is huge," senior point guard Jake Morris said. "We want to build the tradition here at Lambert. We don’t want to be known for just one good season."
Scott Bracco won two state championships as the head coach at Dunwoody High School before moving to state power South Gwinnett. He wanted the challenge of building a new program at Lambert, but Bracco didn’t join the Suwanee school to win 20 games every few years.
"I’m not satisfied," Bracco said. "I want to win a state championship. That’s the expectation I brought to Lambert."
Lambert lost a bevy of experience from its frontcourt in Bush (15.1 PPG, 7 RPG) and Shipes (11.7 PPG, 10.8 RPG) and Bates’ all-around game (11.6 PPG, 6 RPG), but the Horns have three tall, skillful big men to step in capably.
Ross Morkem, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, can play inside and out. Morkem played in the paint for most of his life, but he’s drawn early interest from Gardner-Webb and Brown and will likely play more on the perimeter in college.
"I’m kind of in between a forward and center," Morkem said. "I like to play from the wing and shoot threes, but I can drive and score in the paint."
Connon Mannion (6-foot-7) takes over Logan Bush’s spot as a sharpshooting forward, only Mannion is five inches taller than his predecessor.
Trevon McSwain, a 6-foot-8 senior forward and a Duke football commit, gives Lambert a dimension it hasn’t had: a wide, strong big man on the block. Bracco and his players all expressed concern about the Horns’ rebounding ability in Shipes’ absence, but McSwain could help solve those issues.
"Trevon will get all the rebounds and be a presence down low, and he can dunk if we need to change momentum," Morris said.
McSwain and guards Tanner Hall and Patrick Noble — both major contributors — have not been able to practice much with Bracco’s team because of the Horns’ football state playoff run. Lambert opens the season by jumping directly in to Region 6-AAAAAA play against South.
"Our chemistry won’t come in the first week or the first month, even," Bracco said. "It’s one of those things you try to build every day in practice and it’s hard to know when that’ll all come together."
Bracco’s system works best when individuals don’t care who gets the credit, he said. Five Lambert players scored in double figures last season, and the Horns could be 12-deep this year.
"We play in a good system," Morris said. "Everybody can score. Look at the results: 16 wins (in 2012), 23 wins, and we’re going to keep going up. I feel like we have the potential to be even better."
Justin Young of HoopSeen.com and the Suwanee Sports Academy listed Lambert among his top 10 teams in Class AAAAAA for this season. Bracco said it’s an honor to be included on that list and an affirmation of how far the program has come.
Lambert needs its younger players to adjust quickly to expanded roles for the Horns to enjoy last season’s success.
"We don’t want to go back to being .500," Morris said. "If we do, we’ll just be like every other team in the county."