Bexley High School boys basketball coach Dave Gustin has high hopes that his initial starting lineup, while short in stature, still can come up big.
Gustin began his ninth season with three starters under 6-feet tall, and all five were shorter than their coach.
Bexley opened by beating Ready 48-44 on Nov. 30 and Yellow Springs 72-56 on Dec. 1 in the London Tip-Off Classic.
"I may start a lineup that won't be taller than me," Gustin, who is 6-3, said before the opener.
"We have to work very hard. Before every practice we say three things and it has to be said every night and we have to go by it every night.
"We have to eliminate turnovers, we have to block out and we have to play harder than we did the day before. Those things have to happen. We must block out. We can't allow teams to come down and get second-chance shots on us."
The Lions lost Tyler Bringman, Aaron Eldridge, A.J. Gogan, Jalen Robinette and Matt Tumen to graduation from last year's team that finished 7-15 overall with a 68-45 loss to second-seeded Brookhaven in the second round of the Division II district tournament. Bexley beat Caledonia River Valley 48-29 in the first round.
Robinette, a wing player, was second-team all-MSL-Ohio Division after averaging 11 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Senior Ethan Knisley (5-11) was honorable mention all-league last season. Now the starter at point guard, he is being counted on to boost his assists after averaging 1.7, along with six points, last season.
"He's very strong with the ball and should be able to set us up and get some other players shots throughout the year," Gustin said.
"We're running things through him and looking for him to score as well. He's also a pretty good defender."
Joining Knisley in the opening-game starting lineup were 6-2 junior guard/forward Sam Nolan, who averaged eight points last season, 5-11 junior forward Marshall Drewry and senior guards Josh Hoffman (6-0) and Tyler Kondracke (5-11).
"Even though he's 5-11 (and) coming off the j.v. team, Marshall will be asked to guard our opponents' bigger players because he's a really big hustler and a defensive wizard," Gustin said.
"We're not very big this year, so he'll have to help us out."
The team also includes 6-3 sophomore forward Drew Elliott, 5-10 senior guard Patrick McClendon, 6-6 junior center Gabe Rodriguez and 6-3 senior forward Will Gingery.
Knisley hopes to use the experience he gained as a junior to help his teammates adjust to varsity play.
"I think I'll be a great leader when our team's in difficult situations," he said.
"I can help out a lot of the younger guys. They have great futures, so playing with them and teaching them has been good."
The Lions open league play Saturday, Dec. 8, at Licking Valley. Bexley went 4-10 in the MSL-Ohio last season to finish sixth, behind Columbus Academy (12-2), Newark Catholic (12-2), Licking Valley (9-5), Granville (9-5) and Heath (6-8) and ahead of Whitehall (2-12) and Lakewood (2-12).
"As a team, we want to do the best we can. We want to win the league. That's our goal," Knisley said.
"Everybody will be looking at us as an underdog, but we all have the same mindset."