What a difference a year makes.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, Jordan Blackburn entered his first season as a head basketball coach with an "interim" tag in front of his name. Five of the top eight players on his Delaware Hayes High School boys team were either sophomores or had not played in the program. There was only one senior on the squad.

Still, the Pacers came together and finished 12-10 after losing to eighth-seeded Marion-Franklin 50-46 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. Marion-Franklin upset third-seeded Westerville South 66-57 in a district semifinal before losing to third-seeded Dublin Coffman in a district championship.

This year, Delaware enters after a very strong summer. There are three starters returning and a transfer who has changed the dynamics of the team.

"Everybody knows this has the chance to be a special season," Blackburn said. "We dare them to be great every day and if they can do that, they could be a special team in February. But to get there, they need that day-in, day-out commitment, especially on the defensive end. They have to understand that fundamental play, teamwork and team concept can overcome teams who may have superstars but don't mesh well as a unit."

The returning starters include senior center Braxton Coleman (6-foot-5), junior guard Matt Bingaya (6-4) and junior forward Jacob Bosiokovic (6-6). Junior guard Zack Parsons (5-11) was a part-time starter who will come off the bench this season.

Sophomore Mike Wells (5-7) is taking over at point guard after transferring from Worthington Christian, where he was a starter last season.

"We now have moved Bingaya to his natural position as an off-guard," Blackburn said. "He is not worn down as easily because he is not responsible for bringing the ball up the floor every possession.

"Mike will be one of the better sophomores in central Ohio this year and he also will be one of the better passers, regardless of class."

Bingaya had a scorer's mentality as a point guard. Using his quickness, he often scored on drives. He averaged 17.2 points, 4.9 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals. He was third-team all-district and first-team all-OCC-Capital Division. Although banged up this fall playing football, Bingaya is healthy beginning the basketball season.

"Although he will wear a protective brace on his shoulder and ankle, he was cleared to play," Blackburn said. "He is much improved from last year. He has added a post-up game and an ability to consistently make outside shots, which helped us tremendously this summer."

In the summer, Delaware's eight-player team was second at Ashland, first at Denison and went 22-1 at Ohio University, winning its round-robin portion of the camp.

In addition to the returning starters, also on the roster are seniors Keith Butts (6-0, forward), Chase Pennington (5-7 guard), Troy Decker (6-2 forward) and Joe Weirtz (6-2 forward). Butts and Pennington both earned letters.

Parsons averaged 6.5 points and 1.8 assists and was honorable mention all-league last season when the Pacers finished fourth at 8-6 in the OCC-Capital. Mount Vernon and Olentangy Orange shared the title at 12-2, with New Albany finishing third at 11-3. Rounding out the standings were Big Walnut (7-7), Hilliard Bradley (4-10), Franklin Heights (1-13) and Watkins Memorial (1-13).

Coleman, in his first year of organized basketball in high school, averaged 8.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. Bosiokovic added 5.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals.

"(Bosiokovic) added 15 pounds of muscle and will play primarily at power forward," Blackburn said. "Keith Butts, Chase Pennington, Joe Weirtz and Troy Decker will draw many of the defensive assignments. They are all tough kids who will do whatever it takes to win.

"Braxton Coleman and Zack Parsons have been standouts in the preseason and will make much stronger contributions this season. We will play nine guys a game all more than 10 minutes a night. We will run and play fast and we will press at times."

Blackburn said Wells' unselfish play during the summer was contagious. He thinks the Pacers will use their athleticism, toughness and teamwork to compete for a league title.

"Mount Vernon and New Albany will be the favorites as they have everyone back and finished above us last year," he said. "Until someone knocks them off, they are the teams to beat, (but) our team goals are to win the OCC title and to continue striving toward becoming one of the best teams in the district, year-in and year-out."

Not on the roster is senior Nick Potter, who was special mention all-league last season. The 6-3 forward averaged 9.1 points and 6.6 rebounds and then averaged double digits in scoring over the summer.