BELLEVILLE — Without a proven scorer, Belleville West's calling card this season will be defense.
The Maroons graduated Nick Van Osdale, Markkies Goodwin, Donnie Foster, Isaiah Lewis, D.J. Owens and LaDarcus Ford. They accounted for about 60 points per game.
Also gone are Sherand Boyd and Tarkus Ferguson. Boyd opted to concentrate on football; Ferguson transferred to Cahokia.
"The motto of our team this year has got to be defense," 10th-year West coach Joe Muniz said. "That's something this team can be outstanding at --the ability to guard. That's something we've worked on all preseason long. Our defense is going to be what carries us.
"Last year, we were second in the (Southwestern) conference in scoring, but we were second-to-last in defense. This year, we're going to have to be one of those teams that's going to be at the top of the conference in holding teams to as low a point total as possible or as low a field-goal percentage as possible for us to be succesful."
Led by three-year starter Van Osdale's 23.5 points per game and Goodwin's 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds, West was 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the SWC last season.
The Maroons return seven players who were with the team, but had limited roles. Senior guard Kyle Sweeney is the top returning scorer at 2.1 points per game.
The 6-foot Sweeney is battling for a starting spot along with 6-0 senior Steven Roberts, 6-1 senior Brian Hill, 6-4 senior Cole Henke, 6-1 senior Jalen Foster and 6-3 senior Cade Dibadj.
"We've got guys who have played varsity basketball," Muniz said. "They've played in games that matter. It's just the amount of court time we have coming back (is lacking). The last couple of years, we've always had one or two starters back from the year before. This year, we don't have that."
Junior Eugene Jones, junior Nick Givens, senior Khalil Fowler, senior Jeff Whicker, junior Demond White and freshman Tyler Dancy also are in the mix. Jones is 6-4, while Dancy and Givens are 6-5. Junior Will Presson, who is 6-9, and junior Dominic Davis complete the Maroons' 14-player roster.
"We've got 14 guys, and we're going to use all 14 guys," Muniz said. "Everybody on our roster has got to be ready to play. As far as depth goes, we've got probably the deepest team I can remember. This year, if a kid gets in foul trouble, we've got people who can back him up."
Offensively, Muniz said West will be balanced and that he wouldn't be surprised if no player averages in double figures.
"I really do think this team is going to be extremely balanced," adding that the junior-varsity squad used that approach to finish 12-4 last season.
"The scoring came from everybody," he said. "I don't think you're going to see a team that's going to go out there and (see opponents) key on one guy. Hopefully, there will be five or six guys around eight, nine points a game. That's kind of how we're going to have to win this year."
Size will be an asset for the Maroons. Henke, Jones, Dancy, Presson and Givens all play in the low blocks.
"Brian Hill is only 6-1, but he plays like he's 6-6, 6-7," Muniz said. "He's such a great competitor. He's a wonderful person to have on the team. Cole Henke is another one. He's gotten better and better and better, and his overall game has evolved. Nic Givens has gotten bigger and stronger. He's shooting the ball much better. He can score with his back to the basket; he can score facing the basket, from 18 to 19 feet.
"I'm hopeful that our freshman, Tyler Dancy, by midseason will be in the mix because he is just a load. He's got some of the best post moves I've seen a young kid have in our program in a long time. He's got a lot of offensive game.
"(Presson) is getting better every day. You can't teach 6-9, and he's got that. So we do have some size. That's one nice thing."
West will open its season in the Vianney Tournament. The pairings for the tournament will not be released until Tuesday.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.