Willingboro finished No. 5 in The Inquirer's South Jersey ratings. This season, despite Collins' apprehension, the Chimeras should again be one of South Jersey's more heralded teams. It appears as though the only person not convinced about Willingboro's talent is Collins.
"We're not in a position where we can take anything for granted," said Collins, who enters his 13th year as the Willingboro coach. "This is probably my youngest team as far as experience on the varsity level - only one kid played valuable minutes. When you go into the season without (proven) guards, anything can happen. But I'm not crying about the talent we have."
Willingboro must replace three double-figure scorers in Tom Davis (19.2 ppg), Paul Newman (16.8) and point guard Frank Stewart (12.0). Davis, an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey selection, and Newman each finished with more than 1,000 career points.
While Willingboro only has one returning starter, many coaches would give up seasoned veterans for the chance to coach 6-foot, 7-inch Aaron Davis. Last season, Davis averaged 16.1 points, and by this season's end, he could finish as Willingboro's all-time leading scorer.
The senior center enters the campaign with 861 points, well within Newman's school record of 1,277. A third-year starter, Davis should be one of the big men in South Jersey.
"He is an extremely gifted player," said Collins. "I believe whatever Division I school he plays for he will be on the wing. He needs ballhandling skills, but from 17 feet he may be my best shooter. I have no doubt in my mind that he will do well in college, both academically and on the court."
But Collins warned not to judge Davis solely on statistics.
"He could be the highest scorer around," said the coach, "but I don't like using the star system where one guy averages 35 points a game."
Larry Williams, a 6-4 senior, will occupy one of the forward positions. ''Potentially he is one of the better scoring forwards around," said Collins. The other forward spot isn't as clear-cut. Mel Brennan, a 6-8 junior, 6-5 sophomore Derrick Malbon and 6-1 senior Kevin Lewis are all front- court candidates.
Bob Holloway, last year's junior varsity point guard, will assume similar duties on the varsity. Fred Mitchell, Devon Williams, Stacey Stewart and Jaun Atwater are others who could figure into the guard picture.
Collins plans to substitute more freely this season.
''I think I will play more people than I ever have," he said. "I see nine playing. We have depth. There is not much difference between our third and eighth man."
Collins also sees his team's added quickness as a major factor.
"We may not be as big," he said, "but we are a little quicker. This year we look to press more, and I see more pressure in the backcourt."
Willingboro has won five of the last seven Liberty Division titles. As for being the consensus preseason favorite, Collins offers this view:
"I don't think there will be the big runaway that people think. But we will be up there."
And if all goes according to form, the Chimeras will stay there - once again.