Six weeks after the fact, Trey Miller of the New Albany High School boys basketball team admits he jumped the gun.
One of two returning starters from last year's OCC-Capital Division championship and Division I district semifinalist team that went 22-3, Miller thought this season's growing pains would be minimal after a 3-0 start. But then came a stretch of seven losses in nine games, the first of which was a 64-62 setback against Westerville South in which New Albany led by 21 points early in the fourth quarter.
"I thought we'd maybe lose two games if we kept going the way we played early," said Miller, a 6-foot senior guard who has committed to play at Otterbein. "But as the season progressed, we started learning things about each other and how coach (Sam) Davis was coaching us. That helped us learn even more.
"Even three weeks ago, we were doubting ourselves. We didn't have a lot of confidence in each other. Now, we trust each other and are getting in the flow of things."
The Eagles hope matters have stabilized.
Riding a three-game winning streak, New Albany was 8-7 overall and 7-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing Big Walnut on Feb. 4. The Eagles narrowly led the league ahead of Delaware and Worthington Kilbourne, who were tied for second at 7-3.
New Albany has road games remaining against both teams. The Eagles visit Kilbourne on Friday, Feb. 7, and Delaware on Feb. 15 in a game that was postponed from Jan. 28 because of bad weather. Kilbourne edged New Albany 51-47 on Jan. 14, and the Eagles beat the Pacers 57-40 in their season opener Dec. 10.
A 53-46 win at Pickerington North on Feb. 1 was New Albany's first victory in six non-league games this season.
"One thing is we're starting to get a better rotation as far as substitution patterns go," Davis said. "The other thing is, even at the beginning of the year, I said we didn't have a lot of guys who had played with the bright lights on them. It's just game experience. Now we've been in close games. We're not as nervous against a press. We're not as nervous at the foul line. We're not as nervous shooting a 3. There is nothing that takes the place of game experience."
Davis has settled on two starting lineups, one with three guards and another with three forwards depending on the matchup. Miller, Austin Schaub and Alex Sparks started as guards against North, with Chris London and John Miller as the big men.
In the three-forward lineup, Avery Schneider starts instead of one of the guards. Schneider also was a starter last year.
The emergence of Schaub, a 6-0 junior, has played no small part in the turnaround. In his first start Jan. 21, he scored 28 points in a 70-63 loss at Reynoldsburg. He had 22 points in a 51-39 win over Franklin Heights on Jan. 24 and had a team-high 13 at North.
"I knew I always had it in me. I've just been getting more comfortable with gaining experience on varsity," Schaub said. "I've been hitting my 3s. I've been feeling really good. But I like to get other people involved as a point guard, and I like to rack up assists, too."
A second consecutive OCC-Capital championship, and third in four years, remains the primary goal for now.
"We are taking the game as it comes a lot more, but (a league title) is definitely our main goal," Schaub said. "We're just getting more comfortable. That's the big thing."