There are seven seniors expected to see major time, with Mike Anderson and Naji Jackson joining the returning core group of five upperclassmen. Other guys to keep an eye on are junior guards Dontae Ross and Andre McFadden.
2011-12 record: 6-13, 7-17
Top players: Seniors Mike Anderson (G), Duke Bartnik (G), Jake Crisco (F), Kyle Seeley (C) and Jake Spalding (G).
What you need to know: No county team lost more close games last season than the Lions, who dropped 10 games either in overtime or the last minute of regulation. With a new offensive system being put in designed to maximize possessions, coach Matt Jens is hoping to change that trend this winter. "We have a lot of guys that are hungry for some success," Jens said. "We are looking to be better in our half-court sets to hopefully improve in those games that are decided in those final few possessions."
Aside from tactical changes, there is also a completely different look in terms of personnel after last year's top seven scorers graduated. It's still an experienced group, however, with seven seniors. Bartnik saw starting time as a junior and will run the point, while Crisco and Spalding will each see expanded roles after playing limited minutes off the bench last year. Anderson, who starred on the football team this fall, and Seeley are both returning to the program after not playing last year. Also keep an eye on sophomore Jared Noble, who could see starter's minutes at shooting guard.
2011-12 record: 12-7, 14-9
Top players: Seniors Avery Allmond (F), Jalen Brown (G) and Brian Green (G).
What you need to know: Despite losing its top scorer, Devaughn Nowlin (14.0 ppg) and top rebounder, Daquan Hargrove (10.5 rpg), the Lightning bring back plenty of experience. Brown is a three-year varsity guy that runs the point, is relentless on defense and can score all over the floor.
Green, a transfer from Hammond after averaging 15.8 points a game as a junior, is "extremely athletic' and should be a "go-to guy," according to Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. Allmond, though, another three-year varsity guy, may be the x-factor. "The sky is the limit with him … he can really do a little bit of everything," Moraz said.
Expect Alex Neal and Kevin Betters, both seniors, to provide support at the guard positions. In the frontcourt, Stacy Woodland (Hammond transfer) and Charlie Kwanteng will both be counted on to help in the rebounding department.
"We won eight out of our last 10 (last season) and I think it gave this senior group some confidence," Moraz said. "This is their opportunity to step up and shine."
2011-12 record: 14-5, 18-6
Top players: Seniors Robert Davis (G), Connor Delaney (G), Sean Harrison (F), Ryan Miller (G) and Sam Willsey (F).
What you need to know: Marcus Lewis returns as coach of a Mustangs' team that graduated three guys that averaged nine or more points a game last season. The good news is that Davis also was a double-digit scorer (10.1 ppg) and is back to run the offense. "He's the key for us, no question," Lewis said. "The funny thing with him is we are actually trying to get him to be more selfish. He's been able to defer to those around him in the past, but he needs to be a scorer this season."
Also working in the team's favor is having five guys on the roster that were starters on the soccer team that captured the program's fourth consecutive state title this fall. Four of them, Delaney, Harrison (7.3 rpg last year), Miller and Willsey, are expected to play major roles this year. "That winning mentality that they bring you can't replace," Lewis said. "The hope is some of that rubs off on the rest of the team."
Other guys that are expected to play significant minutes are guards R.J. Bryant and Alex Caffes, along with forward Markquice Stringfellow.