The Morton boys basketball team starts this year in a different position.
After several seasons in a row bringing back a group filled with experience, the Potters lack many varsity contributors as the 2012-13 campaign gets under way.
Morton needed to get a lot installed prior to Monday's season opener, a 75-57 loss against South Holland Seton Academy in the Lincoln/Eaton Round Robin Tournament.
"The first two weeks, they've responded well," said MHS head coach Jarrett Brown last week of the players. "I couldn't be happier with the enthusiasm and energy each day."
It may take fans some time to get accustomed to the new-look Potters, but the coaching staff has a lot of familiarity with the squad with the contact days in the summer and the practice dates prior to the arrival of the first game.
Morton won 87 games over the last four seasons. It claimed three straight Class 3A regional ('09 through '11) and three consecutive Mid-Illini ('10 through '12) Conference championships.
In Brown's debut season in '10-11, the Potters earned the program's first 3A sectional title.
Senior David Rossi is the lone starter back from last year's 23-6 team that tied Washington for the M-I crown at 12-2.
Rossi will be out, however, for an undetermined amount of time with an injury from football season.
"He has done a terrific job being involved in every facet of the program," Brown said of the guard.
In 27 games charted, Rossi shot 45 percent from the field as a junior playing the most minutes on the team in his second varsity season.
With Rossi's absence to start the year, junior Jake Morsch is the only returnee who played significant minutes.
Morsch averaged 13.6 minutes and provided 43-percent accuracy from the floor.
"He's done a terrific job setting the tone each day in practice," said Brown of the point guard Morsch.
Brent Waibel, a senior, played in only two games a year ago because of injury.
Brown said Waibel leads by example and by what he has to say now that he enters his last season. He will be an important component.
Seniors Weston Feucht and Ben Miller give Morton additional senior leadership after they appeared in games occasionally last winter.
Junior Breck Swinford played briefly for the '11-12 varsity.
Others on the roster include: juniors Corey Dullard, Nick Taylor, Andy Homa and Stephen Saunders and sophomores Jake Starkey, Zach Ham, Jared Liddle and Isaac Stephens.
With so many openings in the rotation since last year ended, a lot of players have tried to work their way into the mix.
"It creates an extra level of competition with opportunities available for other people," Brown said.
Page 2 of 2 - As they prepared for the season to commence with the five-game tournament in Lincoln, the Potters were enthusiastic and gave a consistent effort.
"I love this team. I'm really happy to be their coach," said Brown. "They give everything they've got each day."
Among the graduation losses from an eight-member senior class were: Will Headean, Brett Bisping and Beau Swinford.
They were the top three scorers and rebounders a year ago, combining for 38.5 points and 15.8 boards per game.
Headean was a four-time all-league pick, including first-team nominations his last two seasons.
Bisping was named three times. He was a first-team choice as a sophomore and senior.
Swinford landed on the second team in his farewell year.
In the conference, Washington, the winner of six of the last eight M-I championships, and Pekin are the headliners with a slew of players back from sectional finalist teams in 3A and 4A, respectively.
"The depth in our league is tremendous," said Brown, who added conference teams will be prepared well for the postseason after enduring the 14-game gauntlet.
Metamora brings back some nice pieces, and Limestone should be bolstered by transfers. Dunlap may have its best group in recent years.
The lone schedule change for Morton is a Jan. 21 date with defending 3A state champion Central in the River City Shootout at Renaissance Coliseum.
That contest replaces last season's shootout appearance at Naperville North against Oswego East.
The Potters' season continues Wednesday night against tournament host Lincoln.