Keith Hunter remembers Josh Sykes and Evan Stillahn as little kids, running around the Golden Valley High gym.
Sykes and Stillahn grew up around the Cougars basketball program with their dads helping out as coaches.
"It's exciting to see them in uniforms now playing," Hunter said. "Evan is a gym rat. Evan is going to be a great player. He's worked on his mid-range shot and getting to the rim. We're working on his passing and defense, of course. We want to make him a complete player.
"Josh brings a presence. He definitely has a nose for the basketball. He's got a gift to go after it."
Sykes and Stillahn will play key roles for the Cougars (4-1) this year.
At 6-foot-6, Sykes is GV's defender in the paint. He's the last line of defense at the rim with his long arms.
"Josh makes a big difference," Stillahn said. "We do know that if we get beat he's always there to do the dirty, clean-up work. We don't want to always rely on him, but it's nice to know he's there."
Stillahn is one of the Cougars many outside threats. One of the top pure shooters in the area, Stillahn has worked hard to improve other areas of his game.
"We can shoot it," Hunter said. "It's your typical Golden Valley team. We'll live or die by the jumper. What I do like is the intensity that the guys coming up from junior varsity bring.
"I do have the luxury of guys who play a lot of basketball. Hopefully, with the ball handling, passing and shooting, we won't have to go through a lot of slumps."
The Cougars are off to a good start, winning three of four games at the Modesto City Classic last week.
Junior Christian Carroll and senior Dusty Nunes both look comfortable in the bigger roles they'll play this season.
"We're young. We only have three seniors. We did have four sophomores on the team last year and we have three of them back," Hunter said. "That does make a difference. Christian, Josh and Evan play a lot of basketball. They've been through the AAU circuit. They've got a lot of experience to build on."
Hunter will also be counting on contributions from senior Rashawn Vance and juniors J.T. Edmunds, Damien Jimenez, Ben Fletcher and Devon Powell.
The Cougars know they can't just rely on their shooting if they want to win a third straight CCC title.
"We need to work hard on defense," Stillahn said. "Coach Hunter always tells us there are going to be nights when we're not shooting well. When the balls aren't going in. Defense is something that we can control ourselves."