The big question for the area boys basketball teams in the River Valley Conference this season is whether the gains will offset the losses.
Durant, West Liberty and Wilton all lost their leading scorer to graduation, opening up new opportunities for returning players and newcomers to have a bigger role.
The Wildcats lost Luke Whitlock, who averaged 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. They also won’t return Josh Hein, who scored 8.4 points per game, and Jake Conley, who posted 6.2 points and a team-leading 2.6 assists per game.
The good news for Durant is that it returns arguably its best all-around player in junior Mason Compton, who averaged 7.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
“Mason Compton might be, if not our best, one of our best all-around players on our team, really good defensive and offensive player,” Durant coach Matt Straube said.
The Wildcats also welcome back starters Easton Botkins, Joe Lilienthal and Bryce Lafrenz.
“Easton Botkins is returning as our point guard, started last year as a sophomore,” Straube said. “He’s really improved to make himself more of a complete offensive player instead of just a jump shooter. Joe Lilienthal’s back as our starting center, started 19 or 20 games as a freshman, so we’re expecting bigger things from him. And then Bryce Lafrenz is a returning junior who started I think (19-21) games last year.”
After leaving the team and moving to Arizona last year, Ty Chenault, who scored 2.4 points per game and shot 43.8 percent from the field as a sophomore, is back with the Wildcats as well.
Straube referred to the senior as a “really skilled offensive player” who will be a nice piece for the team.
All of those players will be key as Durant tries to improve upon its 9-13 finish to last season.
“We’re just really trying to have more consistent energy and competitiveness in practice than we’ve had in the past and trying to be playing at a higher tempo all the time," Straube said. "Hopefully that translates to the games. We want to play a little bit faster than we’ve done in the past and get up and down a little bit more. That’s kind of been our focus early on.”
West Liberty optimistic: While the Comets lost their top scorer and rebounder from last season, Noah Feldman, who averaged 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, West Liberty coach James Laughlin is confident the team’s depth will help fill that void.
Seth Feldman, Noah’s brother, is returning after averaging 10.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
“(Seth) can shoot the ball, rebound, pretty good all-around player,” said Laughlin, whose team finished 7-15 last year.
The Comets also welcome back their third- and fourth-leading scorers, Spencer Daufeldt and Tanner Iske, who both averaged more than 6 points per game.
“Replacing (Noah’s) scoring and rebounding will be a big goal for us,” Laughlin said. “But I think we have a little bit more depth this year, and I think we’ll be able to utilize different people to pick up that scoring and that rebounding for us.
“Hopefully we can win a few more ball games than we did last year and always looking to challenge for the South Division title.”
Wilton faces uphill battle: The Beavers were hit the hardest with losses, losing their top four scorers –- Matt Paustian, Jake Fratzke, Brady Barrett and Evan Reifert –- from a team that finished 2-20 last season.
Those four players accounted for more than 66 percent of the Beavers’ entire scoring output.
The stiff competition in the River Valley Conference won’t provide any favors either.
“We’ve got a lot of unknowns with our players, with our experience,” Wilton coach Mark Patterson said. “Given the fact that our conference is top to bottom awfully tough, our kids have to work on becoming prepared to compete on a daily and nightly basis.”
Wilton has only one returning starter from last year’s team, Jacob Shepherd, who averaged 0.8 points per game.