Lebanon High School boys basketball coach Kevin Higgins looked around the first day of tryouts and everything hit home.
The Warriors were going to have a very different look in the first year of a revamped Greater Western Ohio Conference.
Lebanon lost six seniors and four starters from a group which finished 9-14 overall and 4-6 in the GWOC South Division.
Now a different-looking group will take on the GWOC National West Division, which — much like the Warriors — features some of the old and some of the new.
Miamisburg and Springboro remain as divisional rivals, while Northmont moves into the division. Fairborn, Xenia and West Carrollton have been moved elsewhere in the conference.
Higgins, though, has seen his inexperienced troops make some drastic strides through the preseason as they prepare to open the regular season Friday at home against Fairborn.
“We have shown growth, but we have a long way to go before we are playing at the level we need to to achieve results we want,” Higgins said. “The potential for growth is there, and we are excited about that taking place.”
Senior Dakota Allen, fresh off leading the Warrior football team to the Division I playoffs at quarterback, brings the most experience to the hardwood.
The 6-foot-4 Allen started the final 12 games of last season for the Warriors at forward, averaging 5.2 points and 4.7 rebounds, and will be looked to as a key cog in the machine this year.
Sophomore Zach Huffman saw action in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds, and junior Drew Sekerak averaged six minutes a game coming off the bench.
Lebanon will get significant contributions from 6-3 senior Parker Smith and 6-0 sophomore Bo Wilson, as well as a pair of freshmen — 6-2 guard Luke Arnold and 5-9 guard Brendan Lamb.
All told, the Warriors return just eight points a game offensively from a squad which averaged 52 points a game while allowing the same.
Lebanon had five games determined by fewer than five points and another 10 games decided by 10 points or fewer last season.
Higgins is looking for his youthful squad to grow as the season progesses and find its footing before heading into divisional play, where Springboro looks to be the favorite.
“Our expectations will to continue to grow during the season,” Higgins said. “We will be counting on several players that have limited or no varsity experience. We will need to develop and play through mistakes during the first half of the year and continue to progress each day as a group.”
While experience may be a drawback, the new group has one thing that can’t be coached — size.
Lamb is the shortest player at 5-9 on a team which boasts seven players over 6-0 and four others an inch shy of 6-0.
Huffman and junior center Parker Norris are both 6-6 to lead the Warriors’ height. Next are Allen, Smith, junior Harrison Hookfin (6-3), Arnold and Wilson, and Sekerak, sophomore Grant Gardner, junior Samuel Abbott and sophomore Samuel Stotts all check in at 5-11.
The physical make up should allow the Warriors to use their athleticism to keep games close while they learn on the fly.
“There is greater length and size on this team than over the past couple of years,” Higgins said. “We feel we can be a good offensive rebounding team and we can have multiple scorers develop as the year progresses.
“Our weakness is our experience, which leads to mistakes on both defense and offense. But that will change as the season goes on.”
Coach: Kevin Higgins, third season
2015-16 Record: 9-14 overall, 4-6 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference South Division (fourth place)
2016-17 Schedule (all start times 7:30 p.m. unless noted): Dec. 2 — Fairborn; Dec. 9 — Northmont; Dec. 16 — at Beavercreek; Dec. 17 — Fenwick, 7 p.m.; Dec. 20 — Springboro; Dec. 23 — at Miamisburg; Dec. 30 — at Hamilton; Jan. 3 — at Xenia; Jan. 6 — Springfield; Jan. 10 — at Fairmont; Jan. 14 — Finneytown, 7 p.m.; Jan. 17 — at Milford; Jan. 20 — Centerville; Jan. 24 — at Little Miami; Jan. 27 — Wayne; Jan. 31 — at West Carrollton; Feb. 3 — at Northmont; Feb. 7 — at La Salle; Feb. 10 — Miamisburg; Feb. 11 — Kings, 7 p.m.; Feb. 14 — Edgewood, 7 p.m.; Feb. 17 — at Springboro