There's something about a 6 a.m. practice that tends to demand attention.
New Belleville East boys basketball coach Abel Schrader knows he's not the first to use such a tactic, but he also was pleased with the turnout Monday for the first official day of practice.
"It's been done here (before), but it also shows me and the other coaches about the kids who want a a chance to be part of the team -- because they had to make an effort," said Schrader, hired as the Lancers' new head coach after nine seasons as an assistant at Belleville West.
Because of 6-foot-5 senior guard and Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill and a deep lineup that includes 6-3 junior Division I guard prospect Darreon Reddick, the Lancers have extremely high expectations.
Hill is the reigning News-Democrat Class 3A-4A Player of the Year who averaged 23.8 points last season to finish second in the St. Louis area scoring race. The shooting guard also is considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, placing him among the top 70 recruits in the nation and top five in Illinois.
He's also ranked in ESPN's Top 100 recruiting list.
"Malcolm has been a consistent player in our conference for the last three years," Schrader said. "I want him to continue to improve his leadership. I think leadership can be one of the biggest things that he can to do help his team."
Schrader said Hill is close to 100 percent after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome over the summer. The issue involves pain in the neck and shoulder, tingling in the fingers and a weak grip.
"I think he's 100 percent, but he's certainly been able to get in the gym and work on his game," Schrader said. "I look forward to him being a big part of this year."
Schrader tried to downplay the pressure, but realizes it's there because of the talented players on his squad.
"When you open up the season, every coach has pressure," Schrader said. "The pressure is to try to get your team to play to the best of their potential and capabilities."
Belleville East's schedule includes the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament, Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic, the Belleville East Tournament and the Highland Optimist Shootout.
The Lancers were 19-10 a year ago and 9-5 in a loaded Southwestern Conference. The SWC talent pool is still overflowing this season thanks to strong returning squads at Edwardsville (24-6), East St. Louis (24-9) and elsewhere.
Hill will sign with Illinois next week and Edwardsville High senior guard Garrett Covington will sign with Western Illinois University.
Belleville West senior guard Nick Van Osdale is headed to Division II Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
Schrader said Monday didn't feel much different to him since he was able to work with the team during the offseason.
"The good thing is we had all summer and the month of June to utilize our 25 contact days, to have practice and play quite a bit of games," Schrader said. "That really helped the transition."
Reddick, a junior guard whose recruiting stock continues to rise, already has offers from Indiana State and Missouri State and DePaul. He's back for the Lancers along with senior Khalil Smith-Traylor, Cameron Hunter and seniors Terrance Akins, James White and Patrick Smith.
Schrader -- who starred at Okawville High and Southern Illinois University Carbondale as a player -- plans no major style shakeup. But he does have some solid coaching fundamentals he believes in.
"I just want our kids to buy into playing hard, to buy into getting a defensive stop when we need to and buying into the team aspect," he said. "In our conference you play against some of the best athletes in the state each and every night."
Edwardsville also will be a major force again with Covington joined by Tre Harris (17.5 points per game), Shawn Roundtree (8 ppg) and Drew Curtis.
On the Class 3A level, all metro-east basketball conversations must start with East St. Louis and Cahokia.
East St. Louis (24-9) has a new head coach in former SIU Saluki guard Tony Young and plenty of returning talent led by seniors Deshawn Munson and Phillip Lockhart.
The Flyers edged Cahokia last season in the 3A Althoff Regional championship and reached the super-sectional before losing to Springfield Lanphier.
Cahokia (23-8) is extremely deep and athletic led by senior guard Keenan Minor (17.3 ppg), 6-5 senior forward Vincent Jackson (10 ppg) and 6-5 junior Darius Austin (11.6 ppg).
Marquette (28-3) would have been a state tournament contender in Class 2A thanks to its returning wealth of talent, but was reclassified in 3A along with Columbia and several other schools. Marquette still will be solid, but must fight its way through larger competition to have playoff success.
Among the top small-schools this season should be defending 2A state champion Central (34-1) and Carlyle (22-8) from the Cahokia Conference and independents Okawville (26-6) and Gibault (19-11).
Central returns three significant contributors from the state title team in junior guard Jacob Timmermann and seniors Austin Rickhoff and Justin Becker.
High-scoring Matt Hilmes and Cody Huels are the top returnees for Carlyle, while high-scoring guard Tyson Boehne also is playing again.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.