The Elgin Community College men's basketball team started the 2012-2013 season with a 7-5 mark.
But injuries and other circumstances played a major role in the derailment of last year's campaign as the Spartans limped to a 9-22 overall mark and finished 2-12 in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference.
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With a healthy roster full of experienced players, coach Reed Nosbisch is hopeful his squad can get off to another solid start and build upon that as the 2013-2014 season wears on.
"We have experience coming back and we're still fairly young," said Nosbisch, a Larkin graduate and former ECC player.
Leading the list of returners is 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Zach Cooper, who was a second-team all-region and first-team all-conference pick last year. Sophomore 6-2 forward Brock Ralphs (Hampshire) started 17 games last year and ended up with strong conference scoring numbers.
Sophomore 6-4 forward Jon Leigeber started 10 games last year, while Elgin product Alan Walker (5-7, G) started five games. The team's other sophomore is Parkland transfer Jake Thomas (6-0, G).
Freshman Raynard Judkins (5-10, PG, Oak Lawn Richards High School) is back on the court after missing his senior high school season with a torn ACL. He had 7 assists and 0 turnovers in ECC's first game of the season.
Other freshmen newcomers include Zack Harris (6-9, C, Streamwood), Jon Moss (5-9, G, Bartlett), Ryan Ritchie (6-0, G, Burlington Central), Moter Deng (6-5, F, Burlington Central), Jason Barnhart (6-3, F, Larkin), Eugene Baretto (6-3, F, Jacobs), Demitri Strickland (6-2, F, Rich South), Brandon Metoyer (6-3, F, Glenbard North), Ryne Lundy (6-4, F, South Elgin), Matt Chaltin (6-4, G, Bartlett via Lake Forest College), Russell Wright (5-10, G, Rich East) and Nick Nekola (Bartlett).
ECC will be without Chaltin, Wright and Nekola for the first semester due to either transfer or administrative paperwork protocols. Lundy is out indefinitely (illness).
Nosbisch started Judkins, Thomas, Ralphs, Leigeber and Cooper during the team's opening weekend against Lincoln Land and defending NJCAA Division II national champion Rend Lake (Ina, Ill.). ECC went 0-2 in the tournament held at Truman College in Chicago.
"We started 4 sophomores against those teams. We needed the experience on the floor," said Nosbisch.
ECC was edged by Lincoln Land by a bucket (82-80) and lost 77-53 to Rend Lake after trailing by only four at halftime.
"We shot 17 percent in the second half against Rend Lake," said Nosbisch. "Those games were good early tests, especially for the younger guys. Our nonconference schedule is not easy and we got into it right off the bat against two quality opponents."
Nosbisch likes the talent level throughout the team.
"This is probably the deepest team I've had in my seven years here," he said. "We showed that against Rend Lake. We got into some foul trouble and we hung with them and trailed by four at half."
Nosbisch likes how his team can shoot the ball. ECC was 12-for-28 from the 3-point line in the win over Lincoln Land.
"We have guys who can shoot," he said.
Gaining the edge on the glass is a current concern for the Spartans.
"The biggest thing is we don't rebound very well right now," said Nosbisch. "If we don't rebound, we will struggle to win games."
Nosbisch also has been pleased with the team's interactions with one another.
"It's a pretty tight-knit group. They get along pretty well," he said. "They practice and play hard. They have high expectations of themselves. It's a matter of them getting better every day. Play hard, smart and together is our motto. Hopefully we'll see success here early in the season and continue to get better every day."
Nosbisch also noted the poise the team showed on the road to kick off the season.
"We had some exhibition games earlier and they were all at our place," he said. "This was our first experience with this group on the road and they got in the gym and played hard. We've been preaching to the kids it's hard to win on the road. Beyond that, we have a lot of tough teams coming up to our place. We have two teams in our own league who are nationally ranked. These guys understand there are no cupcakes. You have to toughen up. We have a sign on our door that says every play, every day. Every possession is critical at the college level."