ANDERSON — Joe Nadaline's first two years as the Anderson boys basketball coach had a similar theme as an experienced core of players fought to rebuild the program.
And it worked.
The Indians improved from four wins to nine in Nadaline's debut season, and then jumped to a 16-6 overall record and a Madison County championship a year ago.
But seven seniors — including mainstays Jalin Beard, Chris Lemon and Tre Boyd — graduated from that team, and Anderson finds itself starting over this season.
The varsity roster for tonight's opener at Lapel features five sophomores and a freshman, and it's already changed the way Nadaline approaches practice. He's had to catch himself at times, making sure to slow down and re-teach details about his system that had become second nature for much of last year's team.
"It's a very talented group of young players, and the sky's the limit for them," Nadaline said. "But it's just a process. You've gotta crawl before you can walk."
That process was made a little more difficult by — of all things — the Brebeuf Jesuit football team.
The Braves were supposed to serve as Anderson's home opener Saturday. But the football team's 35-14 victory against Gibson Southern on Friday night clinched the program's first trip to the Class 3A state finals next weekend. As a result, Brebeuf asked to reschedule the basketball game. It will now be played Jan. 28.
That leaves the Tribe with a lengthy break after tonight's game. Anderson will travel to Fort Wayne Snider on Dec. 7 and won't make its home debut until six days later against Guerin Catholic. It's not an ideal situation, but there's little that can be done about it.
Nadaline will use the extra time to keep seasoning his young players. And he'll have help from his few returning lettermen.
Senior Kenya Wilkerson and junior Fresan Reese are the only players returning who logged significant playing time at the varsity level last year. Senior Grant Bennett worked into the rotation during the second semester after become eligible following a transfer from Liberty Christian.
Bennett was part of a Class A sectional championship with the Lions two years ago, and he's the only other Anderson player who has a good idea of what he's getting into.
Those three players got an up-close look at the work last year's senior class put in and the way they carried themselves on and off the court. Wilkerson, Reese and Bennett now will be asked to pass those lessons along to the next generation.
"We want to keep building momentum for the program," Nadaline said. "I think, hopefully, we're headed in the right direction."
The rest of the roster will be filled out by varsity newcomers including juniors Tony Bova and Khalil Williams, sophomores Dionte Rains, Thomas Wells, Greg Dixon, Djuan Peel and Kobe Clay and freshman Zac Owens.
Junior Aaron Karr also joins the Tribe after transferring in from Frankton.
Anderson lost 90 percent of its scoring and 75 percent of its rebounding from last season, but help is on the way.
"That's a pretty big drop, but having said that, this is a very talented group," Nadaline said. "They've got a lot of potential. They just don't know how to unleash it. That's what we're working on now."
Everybody involved seems to understand that process will take time.
Last season opened with grand goals of winning county, conference and sectional championships. But it took three years of hard work by the core of that team to get to that point.
Nadaline hopes the new group quickly will mature, but rushing the process ahead of schedule isn't in anyone's best interest.
"This year, there are so many unknowns," he said. "The expectation for us is just to continue to get better every day, every game, every week. That's more important for this team than any team I've had because this team is growing.
"I don't think the best way to measure this team is going to be with wins and losses. It's really going to be a trial by fire."
Hoops Preview This is the final story in an 11-part series previewing the boys basketball season. Previous installments in the series are available at theheraldbulletin.com.