Through 31 seasons that have featured 439 wins, a Division I state runner-up finish and plentiful talent that has gone on to play at various collegiate levels, Upper Arlington boys basketball coach Tim Casey doesn't think he's ever had a season start like this one.
Not only did the Golden Bears lose their top four scorers either to graduation or moving, they lost two more to season-ending injuries.
"This is the most depleted we've been as far as the preseason, ever. But it's part of it. The longer you (coach), there are no givens," said Casey, whose 19th season at his alma mater opens Friday, Dec. 6, with an OCC-Central Division contest at Central Crossing. "There is nothing you can count on. You just have to coach the guys that are there and hopefully assemble them into a reasonable group and see what happens."
Seniors Liam Keethler (6-foot, forward) and Fred Wilkes (5-11, guard) and sophomore Quinn Corna (6-2, guard) are among a handful of returnees from last season, when UA went 17-6 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Central and lost to Reynoldsburg 35-33 in a Division I district semifinal.
The Bears lost top scorer and forward Max Martz (20.2 points, 4.7 rebounds) to graduation as well as forward C.J. Karsatos (10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds) and point guard Sammy Sass (8.3 points, 4.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals). Martz is playing for Pennsylvania, Karsatos is playing at Ashland and Sass plays baseball at Wright State.
Senior guard Jake Warinner, who averaged 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds, moved back to New Albany, where he played as a freshman and sophomore.
Senior Miles Eriksen (6-1, guard) and junior Coleman Kegler (6-1, guard) both are out for the season with a torn ACL and a torn labrum, respectively.
"Coach Casey always talks about 'next man up,' so when someone goes down, we just have to have people who step up and fill that role," 6-0 senior guard John Basil said. "Even though we are young, we've done a good job acting mature and working hard in practice and getting better every day."
Keethler expects offensive production to be balanced, at least early in the season, as roles are determined and the players continue to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"I think we have a good offense this year and a lot of people can score easily, but our defense is the biggest thing we need to work on," Keethler said. "We're a little soft right now because we don't have much experience. (We are emphasizing) help-side defense, so you're not just sticking to your man or not just playing on the ball."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Max Buckley (6-1, guard), David Robbins (6-2, forward) and Clint Younkin (6-1, guard), juniors Magnus Entenmann (6-6, forward/center), Tyler Grimm (6-3, forward) and Deno Tzagournis (5-9, guard) and sophomores Luke Eriksen (6-2, forward), Nick Heath (6-2, guard) and Geoffrey Schoeny (5-11, guard).
UA's home opener is Tuesday, Dec. 10, against Westerville Central.
The Bears placed second in the OCC-Central last season behind Dublin Coffman (9-1).
"We are going to be a work in progress," Casey said. "I honestly believe that if we keep grinding and keep working, we have the chance to have a pretty good year."