BELLEVILLE — Two-time News-Democrat Player of the Year Malcolm Hill is now hitting jumpers for the Fighting Illini of Illinois, not the Belleville East Lancers.
And while the Lancers have no immediate replacement for Hill's 25-point scoring average and everything else he supplied, plenty of talent remains led by returning starters Darreon Reddick and Cameron Hunter.
"Malcolm had a fantastic high school career and did some great things for us," said Belleville East coach Abel Schrader, whose first season as a head coach included a 24-5 record and 13-2 mark inside the Southwestern Conference. "It's fun to watch him getting some playing time at Illinois right now.
"You can't necessarily replace him, but we do have guys with lots of varsity experience we feel comfortable with."
Belleville East opens the season at 6:15 p.m. Monday against Mahomet-Seymour at the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament. The Lancers' next tourney game is against Mascoutah at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
While the majority of the 2012-13 season went smoothly for the Lancers, being upset by O'Fallon in the regional made for a painfully abrupt ending.
"I think that last season was pretty enjoyable for everyone involved, coaches and players, until the very end," Schrader said. "Certainly the goal was to go farther than we did and it didn't happen. It's a new year and we move on."
Reddick, a 6-foot-3 guard, is a Division I recruit who should be one of the top guards in the St. Louis region. The three-year starter averaged 13.6 points and 2.9 assists as a junior with 20 3-pointers and 53 steals.
He has interest from numerous schools and scholarship offers from Indiana State and Toledo.
"He's had a very good preseason and a very good summer," Schrader said. "His leadership has improved and he certainly has to have the mentality that he has to go out and not have nights of inconsistency.
"Even if his shot's not falling he can affect a game to help us out in so many way; by making the extra pass, shutting down his man or getting a big rebound."
The 6-4 Hunter averaged 10.9 points and 5.4 rebounds and gives East a solid inside threat.
"He has gotten stronger, his hands have gotten better," Schrader said. "He needs to continue to work on finishing around the basket. He has the ability to very productive, and we need him to be very productive this year for us."
The Lancers have nine seniors in the mix as well as a few underclassmen pushing for varsity playing time. But there is little else in the way of actual varsity experience for most of the group.
"Right now we're just trying to find the right mix and rotation of kids that can come in and help us," Schrader said.
Included in the mix are senior point guard Daymione Cross, senior guard Dominique Blaylock, senior forward Austin Cox and 6-3 senior center Cortez Holman.
Senior guards Jacob Parker and Deion Buckles also are pushing for time along with junior forward Brady Schanuel. The top underclass prospects are sophomore guard Drew Millas and freshman guard Rico Sylvester.
"There are some growing pains we will go through due to the lack of experience but we have some guys hat when we find the right mix, will gel together," Schrader said. "We can certainly be competitive.
"Right now there's 10 or 11 guys that could potentially see minutes, so depth-wise we're pretty strong."
Schrader likes his team's quickness and thinks strong defense and rebounding could lead to another solid season.
"We have to make sure that we guard people and finish the possessions by rebounding," Schrader said. "Offensively we're looking for consistency."