Sophomores will be in style on the Navy basketball team this year.
A season after three seniors helped Navy to a 20-9 finish but fell a victory shy of a second straight NCAA berth, coach Don DeVoe is looking for three second-year players -- Michael Heary, Greg Stephens and Hassan Booker -- to lead the Midshipmen back to the NCAA tournament.
"Being realistic, I can't expect us to win as many as 20 games again this season," said DeVoe. "We've added teams like Stanford and Davidson to our nonconference schedule and we've undergone such a change in personnel."
Through graduation, Navy lost two of its best frontcourt players in Wes Cooper and Larry Green, and a consistent backcourt scorer in T. J. Hall.
"This year, Heary, Stephens and Booker will have to score a great deal and [junior point guard] Brian Walker will have to pick up his scoring for us to be competitive," DeVoe said. "And we have to get more production out of the center position from [senior] Alex Kohnen."
DeVoe, who, in three seasons has turned around Navy's basketball program, saw positive signs during a two-week summer trip to Finland and Sweden, where the Mids won five of eight games competing against national and club teams.
"We already knew Heary could score," said DeVoe, referring to the 6-foot-5 swingman who led Navy in scoring as a freshman with a 13.4 average and made 87 percent of his free throws. "Mike got 54 points in 20 minutes in one of our games over there. But Stephens really stepped up to another level on the trip. I can see him pushing Walker for the starting job, or possibly teaming with him in the backcourt."
Devoe is likely to use a platoon system at center, featuring Kohnen (6-11), Booker (6-3) and freshman Josh Williams (6-10).
"Most centers can't roam like I can," said Booker. "I've always played against guys bigger than me. It's the kind of challenge I enjoy."
Because of their lack of size, the Mids' will rely on quickness and full-court pressure.
"We've got a lot of guards and small forward types," said Walker. "We can create a lot of havoc and force the tempo."
After two exhibitions, the Mids open the season in Annapolis against Air Force, Nov. 25.