After losing seven players to graduation, the Whetstone High School boys basketball team expected several new players to fill key roles.

After losing seven players to graduation, the Whetstone High School boys basketball team expected several new players to fill key roles.

Then the Braves' top two returnees went down with preseason injuries.

The residue from the changes was a 1-4 start that included three losses by more than 30 points, including an 81-27 shellacking last Friday by visiting Brookhaven.

According to coach Kevin Arway, the biggest thing his team has on its side as it prepares to take steps forward with a lineup with little previous varsity experience is its positive attitude.

"It's definitely been a rough start for us," Arway said. "We've definitely had a number of games scoring-wise where things have gotten out of hand. What keeps you going as a coach is when you have a group that keeps trying and working hard, and it encourages me that we've got a real willing group."

Junior point guard Cameron Vines, who was among the key players off the bench last year when the Braves went 15-8 and were Division I district semifinalists, might not return until the 2010 portion of the schedule because of a knee injury.

Senior Marcus Penn was expected to be the team's go-to player offensively after seeing significant action last year, but isn't playing this season. Penn has verbally committed to play football at Eastern Michigan and is choosing to rest from a knee injury he suffered late in the fall.

In their absence, juniors Leo Cleary-Foeller and Isaiah Bishop have been thrust into a leadership role.

"We're coming together as a team, but we're still pretty young," Cleary-Foeller said. "Overall, everybody is hustling pretty well and playing good defense. We have to keep working on limiting our turnovers, playing good defense and boxing out."

Sophomores Ross Homan and Gabe Reece are among the other young players the Braves are building around.

Homan finished with 16 points in a 61-59 win over Columbus West on Dec. 12, while Reece scored eight in a 53-41 loss to Linden-McKinley on Dec. 15.

In the loss to Brookhaven, the Braves committed 17 first-half turnovers and trailed 36-11 at halftime.

That overshadowed what Arway believed was a solid defensive performance.

"All of our 11th-graders are really first-time varsity players," Arway said. "We just have very limited varsity experience, but they all love playing. We're trying to focus on the journey and getting better. Reece has really been as much of a leader as you'll see out of a 10th-grader.

"I think when we get our main returnee, Cameron Vines, back, he's our point guard and our offense will click a little bit. Going into the season we had him tagged as one of our top returnees."

•According to coach Doug Kohler, the girls basketball team showed steady improvement over its first three games.

Although the Braves posted their first win when they edged Linden 48-46 on Dec. 15, Kohler wasn't pleased with the way his team played.

Then, last Friday, Whetstone didn't score in the first half and lost 68-11 to Brookhaven.

The Braves have an opportunity to bounce back when they compete Monday and Tuesday at the Gilead Christian Holiday Tournament.

Whetstone plays at 3:30 p.m. Monday against Lorain Admiral King, and the other teams at the event are the host Eagles and Williamstown (W.Va.) Wood County Christian.

"We saw it on the OHSAA Web site and saw that it was a chance to get two games in," Kohler said. "When I was an assistant at Northland, we went over to the tournament they used to have at Westland over the holidays. It'll be a chance for a trophy, so it should be fun."

In the win over Linden, Haley Buskirk scored 15 points for the Braves as they outscored the Panthers 21-11 in the third quarter. Kasey Althouse added 10 points.

"Right now we're still working on things," Kohler said. "In the first three games, I could clearly see a ton of improvement. When we play the way we want, we're playing real solid defense and blocking out and keeping the other team out of the middle. It's really been a team effort offensively at this point."