HOOSICK, N.Y. — For the past two seasons, the Hoosick Falls Central School boys basketball team has hit the ground running, even with its football team — many of whom play basketball — driving the Panthers to the state playoffs.
That's the luxury afforded with a senior-heavy group like the one that went all the way to the regional final in 2014-15.
This year, coach Mike Lilac had all his players on Day 1, but even after nearly a month of practice and four scrimmages, the Panthers are still trying to find an identity.
"Last season, all the roles were established, like Noah [Chani] as the sixth man and other guys, so even with the late start from football, we still hit the ground running," Lilac said. "This year, we're trying to fit the pieces together and that's one of the biggest things. A lot of guys that were reserves last year, need to step up. They're still veterans even though they weren't starters last season, they've paid the dues and now it's their turn."
The Panthers will be led by the only starter returning in senior forward Connor McCart. McCart played in showcases like the Empire State Takeover this summer and all that experience will be huge. Reserves last year, seniors Rem Hickey and Alex Mendez, look to step up into starting spots as well.
"Connor should be our leading scorer this year, but our strength last year was the balance and we need the next five guys to have that balance," said Lilac, who in his 20th season sits at 297 wins. "We'll have a bunch of good shooters, but we need guys to fill in the gaps. And not just the next guy, but five guys."
Another little-used reserve, Kellan Skott, will be on the block with McCart. Both are 6-foot-3 with very good strength to battle taller players in the block.
The only sophomore on the team, is Guy Milliman, who will direct the offense, while Alex Haynes was the leading scorer for the junior varsity last season and has been focusing on his shooting this offseason.
"Guy, we're not putting too much on his shoulders," Lilac said. "He doesn't have to be flashy. He's strong for a sophomore, he can handle the physicality of the varsity level. And Alex will be a big piece of the puzzle [as well]. We're trying to get other parts of his game better too, but he's shooting the ball really well."
The rest of the squad includes Jordan Case, Wyatt Cushman, Jake Kinney, Noah LaBarge, Jacob Restino, Hayden Smith, Jeremy St. Onge and Aaron Tomczak.
Over the past few seasons, the Panthers have hung its hat on its defense, rarely allowing 60 points a game and usually well below that on average. But Lilac said that if his defense will have that pull in 2015-16, the guys will have to get gritty.
"We're still trying to find those guys and it depends how the early games go, but they all have a chance to be a lockdown guy," Lilac said. "Last year, we could send [Mark] Hackett to shut this guy off or [Austin] Pitt to stop that one, but that's the other piece, the mental toughness of playing defense."
Unlike past years, the Panthers jump into Wasaren League play against Hoosic Valley on Wednesday.
"I'd rather have a non-league game or two, so we start with Valley," Lilac said. "It's a big league game right off the bat."