Westlake junior Randy Starks is the only returning starter from last year's Southern Maryland Athletic Conference champions, and he is ready to make a name for himself. But that doesn't mean that his four teammates who graduated last spring--guards Greg Bennett, Charles Lightfoot and Jason Wilkins, and center Gregg Jones--will be forgotten.

"Those four guys taught me how to be a leader," said Starks, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound forward who will be the focus of the Wolverines' inside attack this season. "They all, in one way or another, did their part to make me a better person and a better player. My sophomore year was a learning experience for me."

Starks averaged 12 points and nine rebounds per game last season, overshadowed in the paint by the 6-8 Jones, who led the team with 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Over the last 10 games of the regular season, however, Starks began to assert himself more, scoring almost 20 points per game.

"He really got going there at the end," Westlake Coach Jimmy Ball said. "This year, he has to be able to do that from the start."

Starks said working against Jones in practice helped him develop new moves in the post. He had no choice: It was that or watch as his shots get blocked each day.

"He made me work hard," Starks said.

And the three senior guards?

"They were the ones who kept me going," Starks said. "If I did something wrong in practice or in a game, they would pick me up. That'll be my role this year. We have a lot of young players, and I can't let them get down on themselves."

Starks said he is beginning to gel with his new teammates. While they were spending time in open gym this fall getting ready for basketball season, Starks was earning all-SMAC honors as a defensive lineman for the Wolverines. When football ended, he spent the first two weeks of practice getting into "basketball shape," which included dropping nearly 20 pounds.

"That's the other thing I learned from last year's seniors," Starks said. "I condition myself better now. Maybe some of it comes with getting older, but I'm stronger now, and my jumping ability has improved, too. I learned a lot from them last year. But this year, this is my team. I have to be the leader now."