Mike Quarto speaks with confidence when projecting the path ahead. His calculated bravado is as honest an assessment he has offered since he began coaching Gulf in 2003.
"We're going to be very competitive," Quarto said with emphasis.
Translation: look out.
His words are reminiscent of his projections four years ago when he had a team loaded with similar talent. That's when players like Dominique English, Tiara Cook, Santana Lennon and Turquoise Sampson led the Buccaneers to the program's first region final and a school-best 29-2 record in Class 4A.
One difference this season: Quarto believes this team can win the Class 3A state title after moving down a classification.
And it's not just Gulf. Quarto said he expects Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass Ranch to be in the hunt as well. But even those coaches, Karim Nohra (Wesley Chapel) and Greg Finkel (Wiregrass Ranch), have conceded Gulf begins the season with a bull's-eye on its back.
"This team is deeper than we've had in the past," Quarto said. "We have more balance than we've had in the past. We have post players and guards."
The addition of transfers such as sophomores Lani Paselio (Mitchell) and Asia Spencer (Ridgewood) could prove key. Quarto lovingly calls Spencer "Baby Barkley," after NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. They will mix in with Coppin State signee Kianna Mills and Division-I prospect Nicole Adams, the reigning North Suncoast Player of the Year.
Of course, Gulf knows it simply cannot show up and win. There's a mentality that goes with talent.
"Our attitude is we are hungry," Adams said. "We want the reputation that we can beat teams."
The Bucs will test their mettle against some of the bay area's best, including Clearwater, Boca Ciega and Tampa Catholic.
This year's preseason focus was conditioning.
"Last year, we did more scrimmaging," Adams said. "This year we really got out on the track, ran the bleachers, ran miles, sprints and carried 25-pound weights across the field."
The question is whether it will all pay off.
"We have goals we want to achieve," Quarto said. "I want to be the first program from west Pasco to go to a final four."