BELLEVILLE — Althoff boys basketball coach Greg Leib has dealt with high expectations before.
So despite the early rave reviews about the Crusaders, who return three starters and boast one of the region's top freshmen, Leib is content to leave the hype alone.
"I think those same guys picked (Mitt) Romney to win the last election, too," joked Leib, whose team turned heads throughout the summer with its athletic playmakers. "We have an opportunity to do some good things."
The Crusaders finished second at the Effingham St. Anthony Tournament a year ago and will be back again seeking to better that finish. Their season opener is 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday at the same tourney against the Effingham Flaming Hearts.
Althoff was 14-13 last season, including a 5-5 mark in the South Seven Conference. The Crusaders lost to eventual state tourney qualifier Cahokia in the regional.
Leib also has high expectations, but his are a little more tempered than others as he enters his 16th season.
Those expectations are fueled by returning starters Kevin Renner, a 6-foot senior guard, 6-5 sophomore forward Brendon Gooch, 6-2 sophomore guard Keenen Young and heralded 6-3 freshman forward Jordan Goodwin.
Renner led the team in scoring last season at 15.8 points per game and has improved in all aspects, according to Leib. Leib said Renner has drawn some Division II and NAIA recruiting interest.
"Every year he's improved his game and this year he's stronger and shoots it better," Leib said. "It's a good luxury to have and he just loves basketball and has a great sense for it."
Young (11 points per game) and Gooch (8.8 ppg) gained valuable experience as freshmen starters on the varsity. Young also was one of the area's top wide receivers in football this fall.
"After he knocked the football rust off last year he came in and had a great year as a freshman," Leib said of Young. "Keenen's going to become more assertive, he's going to understand what we expect from him more and what we do offensively."
Leib said Gooch, already drawing Division I interest as a small forward, has added a few inches and more size and strength.
"As long as his arms are he plays about 6-8, so the janitors here had him change most of the light bulbs around the building to save the ladder for safety concerns," Leib said. "He really looks good."
Goodwin, who attracted attention this summer playing for the St. Louis Eagles' 15-under squad, is the son of former Cahokia High and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville standout Tim Goodwin.
Leib and Tim Goodwin were college basketball teammates at SIUE in the mid-1980s.
"When he got thirsty I handed him water," Leib said. "That was pretty much our relationship."
Leib said Jordan Goodwin may be arriving with the most talent of any Althoff player since Kevin Lisch, the former all-state guard who played at St. Louis University. Lisch is currently playing professional basketball in France.
"It's how hard he plays, he's got a great motor and plays the game really hard," Leib said of Goodwin. "He bangs on the boards, but that's genetically inclined because his dad used to bang pretty good back in the day at Cahokia and SIUE. He makes his teammates better as well, that's another good attribute he has."
Seniors Eric Mertens (6-3) and Erik Krause (6-6) also return along with senior guards Dennis Jackson, Grant Strieker and 6-4 junior Rick Edwards.
Jackson is dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the state football playoffs.
Leib has been pleased with his large senior group's confidence and maturity, two things that will be important with numerous youngsters on the roster.
"I really feel good about our seniors," Leib said. "They're good competitors and they're going to help these young guys understand how to compete on a daily basis and how to help themselves."
Leib said this team's strength could develop even more with unselfish play.
"It's having 15 young men willing to compete nightly with no care whatsoever who gets the credit for the accomplishment," Leib said. "If we can get to that situation as a group, we can compete with anybody around. We got all the football guys back (Tuesday) and we'll get them back up to speed and see what we've got going on."