This year's Harper men's basketball team will have a decidedly local focus.
"We've got 13 kids that will play the first half -- 12 are area kids," says Harper coach Tony Amarino, whose Hawks open the regular season at 7 p.m. today with a trip to South Suburban College.
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The Bulldogs are ranked No. 6 in the NJCAA Division II poll.
"We want to stay away from the (out of district) scene," Amarino said of his roster's makeup.
The Hawks have just two out of district players. One is freshman Eric Porter from nearby Lake Zurich; the other is from quite a bit farther away. He's Cheyenne, Wyo. native Charles Wright, who is the brother of former Bulls first-round pick James Johnson.
"I think the area has been good for basketball players, and we're getting them now," Amarino said.
Harper will need to fill voids created by the departure of players such as Shonnon Barfield, Jordan Mack and Elk Grove graduate Brian Battaglia from last season's team that went 10-21.
Amarino called his freshman class "really good kids to coach."
Freshman guard Tyler Gaedele and forward Michael Rose should be familiar to area high school fans; they played together at Rolling Meadows High School.
Despite not being heathy in the off-season due to injury he suffered as a senior at Prospect, 6-foot-9, 280-pound Will Botefuhr should have an impact.
"I think if we get (Botefuhr) back by December, we will be happy" Amarino said of his big center.
Stefan Vucicevic (Hersey) will get plenty of court time until Botefuhr is ready to play. Vucicevic is a "a physical player," according to his coach, who said he hopes to have both big men on the court at the same time eventually.
The Hawks' backcourt will feature Caroll College transfer Christian Sotos (Conant) and sophomore Connor Miklasz (Hersey), who distinguished himself in many games last year as a serious long-range shooting threat.
John Lorenz (Elk Grove) is another shooter who was hurt early last season but is back with the squad. And Garrett Gatz (Conant) could be a focal point of the Hawks' offense; he's been granted a medical redshirt by the NJCAA.
"Garrett's got a gift -- he will be one of the best shooters in the region," Amarino said.
Hoffman Estates redshirt freshman guard Kyoshiro Azumaya is also with the team.
The Hawks play a pair of the best NJCAA Division II teams, beginning with South Suburban tonight, followed by Kishwaukee on Tuesday in Harper's home opener.
"It will be culture shock (playing South Suburban)," Amarino said. "They will probably be the best team in Division II."
A second road challenge the Hawks face is Moraine Valley and its Eastern Michigan recruit, 6-6 Dayton, Ohio native Karrington Ward on Nov. 13.
Tenth-ranked Joliet Junior College and Triton College enter the season as North Central Community College Conference favorites. Amarino called the N4C "a competitive conference."
The coach says he likes the effort he's seeing, both in practice and in the four full scrimmages the players have had. Despite an overall strength in the shooting department, he's stressing defense as the trait that will define this group.
"Our best basketball is ahead of us," Amarino said. "We always want to be known as a defensive team."