NEW CONCORD -- With just one senior on the roster, it will be a relatively young squad that eighth year Muskingum basketball coach Gene Ford sends into the always rigorous Ohio Athletic Conference season.
Ford returns three starting lettermen after graduating five -- David Brown, Clay Owings, Isaiah Shakespeare, Phil Ellis and Jarod Hood -- from last year's team that finished 8-17 overall and 3-15 in the conference tied for eighth place. Losing the tie-breaker, the Muskies failed to appear in the OAC post-season tournament.
Ford will once again be assisted by Dave Kirby, who is also the Muskingum University golf coach.
Of the five graduates, Brown will be the biggest loss as he led the team in scoring with a 15.7 ppg average while Owings added an average of eight points per outing. Both were starters last year, while the other three were subs who came off the bench.
"We are going to be young with just the one senior," Ford admitted, "but we have some quality depth. We are deeper than we have been for a while. I like what I have seen so far. They share the ball, pass well and hopefully with the depth we will be able to pressure the ball and hopefully our defense can give us some easy baskets and take other teams out of their rhythm."
The returning lettermen returning include the lone senior -- Logan Kimble (6-3, New Philadelphia) --who was the second leading scorer a year ago with a 13.6 ppg average while also pulling down an average of five rebounds a game along with juniors Christian Keller (6-0) and Cody Seiler (6-6).
Keller scored at a 11.4 ppg clip a year ago and added four boards per outing while Seiler was close to double figures in scoring (9.8 ppg) and averaged seven rebounds per contest.
"We have three that were or were close to being double-figure scorers coming back," Ford stated. "That is a positive with 35-36 points per game coming back. Hopefully, we can continue that and build on it a little bit. Kimble and Keller will share the leadership responsibilities and Seiler has some experience which helps us inside some.
"Size is going to be a question mark for us," the Muskingum coach added. "Hopefully, we have some athleticism to make up for some of that. We have some people that play long and jump well."
The other two probable starters will be sophomore Josh Keyes (6-6), who got some playing time last year averaging 2.4 ppg and 1.9 boards a game, and sophomore Josh Glass (6-3).
"Keyes is long and lanky and hopefully, he can step in and give us some scoring and rebounding," Ford said. "Glass is a transfer from Bethel College (Ind.) and looks to be the fifth starter. It looks like he might be able to step right in."
Also expected to see varsity playing time are sophomore Robbie Hisey (6-5) and Cody Kinn (6-4) along with fellow sophomores Teryn Jarrett (6-3, Beallsville), Mitch Stephens (6-3), Brenden Mathews (6-4) and transfer Rickey Wilson (6-3) who is listed as a freshman.
"Kinn got some limited playing time last year," Ford pointed out. "He and Hisey should be able to go inside and bang a little. Keyes can be a scorer and Jarrett and Stephens cane shoot it. It will have to be by committee when we bring people into the game. Our experience inside is limited and we are not very big.
"We are going to try to be more up tempo both on offense and defense," he said. "Because we do have some depth this year we want to be able to play at a quicker pace."
One freshman recruit, Jacob Geller (6-5, Heath), could work himself into some varsity playing time.
"He has some potential," Ford observed. "He can shoot outside and get some rebounds."
Other first-year hopefuls include Nicholas Despot (6-7), Ross Elliott (6-2), Matt Jones (5-11), Austin King (6-2, Newcomerstown), Jordan Philpotts (5-11), Jah Tyler (5-8) and Ja'wann Young (5-10).
The veteran mentor points to good team chemistry, good passing skills, aggressiveness and some good shooters as strengths of the squad.
"Good team chemistry is important," he stated. "Our passing is good enough to cut down on turnovers and this group has an aggressive nature and I like that. We also have a number of players that can shoot it in. I like our group. They play together and we have a concept of team.
"I don't see this group backing down from anyone," he added. "They have a desire and passion to go out and be competitive and they will be a fun group to watch."
Ford believes the conference will be very competitive, but he points to the University of Mount Union and Marietta College as two teams that should rise to the top. Mount Union won the regular season last year, but Wilmington won the conference tournament and got the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Wilmington graduated probably its best player from a year ago.
"Mount Union will be really good and Marietta will be good again this year," he stated. "The conference will be very competitive again, but these two probably will be at the top. We should be very competitive with all the others. We will have to be scrappy and hard-nosed because we are going to undersized a lot."
The Muskies open the season Saturday, Nov. 15 on the road at Waynesburg in a 3:30 p.m. contest. Muskingum will return to the Recreation Center for its home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 19 hosting Oberlin in a 7:30 p.m. tilt.