Rarely in his 27-year coaching career has Pickerington High School North boys basketball coach Pete Liptrap faced anything like the rebuilding project now demanding his attention.

Rarely in his 27-year coaching career has Pickerington High School North boys basketball coach Pete Liptrap faced anything like the rebuilding project now demanding his attention.

The Panthers lost 10 seniors, including all five starters, from their 2010-11 team that went 21-2 overall and 13-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division to tie Gahanna for the league championship. Knowing for a while that this season and its growing pains would be inevitable, Liptrap simultaneously reflected on last year's success and defended the program's direction.

"We made the decision last year to keep 10 seniors. Those guys were deserving of playing on varsity," the Panthers' ninth-year coach said. "We had a lot of success with them and we wouldn't change that for anything. Now it's a different year. This will be a team in transition. A number of guys are coming in from football and adapting, and guys will be adapting to varsity play. That will be our challenge."

Last year, the Panthers and Gahanna finished ahead of Pickerington Central (8-6), Newark (8-6), Reynoldsburg (7-7), Grove City (5-9), Groveport (1-13) and Lancaster (1-13).

North earned the fifth seed in the district tournament and lost 52-50 to eighth-seeded New Albany in a semifinal. The Panthers still haven't made a district final since the school opened in 2003.

North thrived on balance all season. None of the Panthers made first-, second- or third-team all-district, but guards Tyler Kelly and Trent Waybright earned honorable mention all-district.

The rest of the senior class included guards Jake McCullough, Alex Green, Evan Mills and Devin Lomax, center Justin Zielinski and forwards Michael Klamo, Kyle Sorensen and Kyle Jones.

This year's seniors are 5-foot-11 guards Seth Gamby and Joe Liptrap and 6-2 guard DeVon Price. They're projected to be in the starting lineup with 6-6 junior forward Jake Butt and 6-6, 275-pound junior center Chris Huhn when the Panthers open Friday, Dec. 2, at Canal Winchester.

Expected contributors off the bench include 6-5 junior center Desmond Palmer, 6-1 junior guard Mason Olszewski, 6-0 junior guard Godwin Igwebuike, 6-0 senior guard Bryan Jimenez and 6-2 junior forward Khalen Watson.

"We all have to raise the level of our play," said Butt, a Division I recruit in football as a defensive end and tight end. "It's still early, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. I know I haven't played with some of these guys since eighth grade. We have to mold together as a team."

Part of that is finding an identity, which coach Liptrap said is a work in progress.

"We hope our post play can be a strength. All three of those guys (Butt, Huhn and Palmer) are juniors," Liptrap said. "We do have some kids who can shoot from the perimeter. If they shoot well, that will keep other teams from double- or triple-teaming us in the post. The big key is going to be how well we can defend. Traditionally, we've been a good defensive program. I hope we can hang in there."

The Panthers' league opener is Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Groveport. Their home opener is Dec. 9 against Pickerington Central.

"No one's going to feel sorry for us," Liptrap said. "Right now we're fractions of what we want to be, not a whole. We're developing our identity. Come Dec. 2 at Canal (Winchester), we'd better have one."