NEW CONCORD -- To state that last year's basketball season was not what veteran Muskingum coach Gene Ford is accustomed to would be a huge understatement.
The Fighting Muskies garnered just one victory against 24 losses and went winless (0-18) in the Ohio Athletic Conference missing out on the conference post-season tournament.
However, nobody graduated from that squad which began the season with a lot of questions and a bevy of unproven and untested talent and ended in very much the same way. However, they get another chance, with a year's experience, this season to rectify the situation.
Ford, beginning his seventh season as the mentor of his alma mater following a very successful 25-year run as boss of the Cambridge High School program, is assisted by Dave Kirby.
He returns seven letterwinners including four players who were starters off-and-on last year from a team that scored an average of 67.5 points per game, but gave up an average of 83.4 points to opponents.
Heading the list of returnees is senior guard and three-point shooting ace Dave "Downtown" Brown. Other senior lettermen back are guard Phil Ellis (6-0, 5.4 points, 2.3 rebounds), forward and last year's leading rebounder Clay Owings (6-3, 8.4 points, 6 rebounds) and guard Isaiah Shakespeare (5-8, 2.3 points per game). The other senior candidate is 6-10 forward/post Jarod Hood.
Other lettermen returning include 6-1 junior guard Logan Kimble (New Philadelphia, 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds) and 6-0 sophomore guard Christian Keller (8.5 points, 2.5 rebounds) and 6-5 sophomore forward Cody Seiler (5.7 points, 3.1 rebounds per game).
One of the questions at the beginning of last season was where the scoring would come from. An answer to that question came from the transfer guard Brown who played his high school hoops at nearby Coshocton High.
Brown not only led the Muskies in scoring, but also paced the OAC with a 17.2 ppg average. He also was tops in the conference in free throw shooting percentage, hitting at a 87.5 percent clip.
"Brown will be a marked man in the conference this year," Ford conceded. "He will have to learn to be patient and not get in a hurry. The question is who else will score for us. Keller has some experience and Kimble has worked hard on his shot in the offseason. We are not real big and size is always a concern, but we are going to more up-tempo than in the past."
There are no other juniors and the other sophomore candidate is 6-5 forward Nathan Davis.
A total of 11 first-year candidates rounds out the roster.
Those freshmen include guard Heath Dodson (John Glenn, 6-3), guard Tyler Hale (5-10), forward Robbie Hisey (6-5), guard Teryn Jarrett (Beallsville, 6-3), guard Joshua Keys (6-4), forwards Cody Kinn (6-4) and Trevven Kinney (6-3), guard Brenden Mathews (6-2), and guards Shon Smith (Fort Frye, 5-9), Mitchell Stephens (6-2) and Nicholas Warnement (6-2).
"We have a pretty good freshman class," Ford pointed out, "and there are two or three kids that by mid-season could see some playing time.
"We have to be more consistent both on offense and defense," he added. "Last year, we gave up a lot of points off of the type of turnovers we committed. We have to cut down on the type of turnovers that turn into points for the opponents. The other difference this year will be the way the officials call the games.
"You are not allowed to impede a player's movement," he said. "This is designed to aid the offense and a desire by the Division I schools to have higher scoring games."
Defensively, the Muskies will still utilize the basic man-to-man defense, but some zone may be used out of necessity due to foul trouble.
"One of the concerns is being consistent on our defensive effort," Ford stated. "We have to be limiting people to just one shot."
The pressures that the Muskies and coaching staff may be feeling are self-imposed after the dreadful season last year.
"We have to keep encouraging them," Ford pointed out, "and get some early wins to gain confidence because there are no easy outs in the conference.
"Baldwin Wallace will be at the top of everybody's list," he said of the conference. "They have a lot back this year. Wilmington has one of the best players and Mount Union has everybody back and finished last year very strong."
Muskingum opens the season with two new additions to the schedule, facing Oberlin on the road in the opener today and then playing Case Western Reserve at home on the Nov. 21.
The remainder of the November schedule will be Kenyon on the 23rd, Bethany on the 26th, both on the road, and Washington and Jefferson at home on Nov. 30 before the grueling OAC schedule begins.