Ron Schadegg was a talented basketball player for the Mater Dei Knights, so his first game as Mater Dei's new head coach Tuesday brought back a flood of memories.
"When they put those uniforms and came out with that Columbia blue and white, it really sunk in a little bit that I was back where it started," Schadegg said of the Knights' school colors, worn proudly during a 64-51 victory over Gateway at the Waterloo Thanksgiving Tournament.
Schadegg had a 202-98 record in 11 seasons at Timber Creek High in Orlando, Fla., then returned to his home state to coach at Mater Dei.
"Basketball is basketball, it doesn't matter where you're coaching or teaching," he said.
Coming off a 17-14 season, the Knights got 22 points and 12 rebounds from junior Zach Haake and 16 points from Ben Lampe on Tuesday.
Despite losing three starters, including All-Area guard Adam Etter, the Knights return plenty of talent and an unusual amount of height.
Eric Vandeloo (6-foot-5 senior, 6 points per game) returns along with 6-4 junior Lampe (5.8 ppg), 6-4 junior Haake (6.4 ppg) and 6-3 junior Zack Deiters (4.3 ppg). The new point guard is 5-8 sophomore Brendan Timmermann.
Senior Nick Hitpas (ankle) and Jared Thole (fractured collarbone) are dealing with football injuries. The Knights also will rely on junior Sam Toennies
Schadegg hopes to get production from 6-8 junior Nolan Gerling and 6-5 sophomore Blake Langenhorst, with Nick Pollman, 6-5 sophomore Joseph Heimann and 6-6 sophomore Jordan Kampwerth also pushing for playing time.
Here's a look at some of the area's other small-schools or teams from small-school conferences:
Last year: Lost to Teutopolis in an epic double-overtime thriller to Teutopolis in the sectional final.
One to watch: Senior guard Jacob Timmermann (10.2 ppg) is a four-year starter who started on Central's state championship team as a sophomore. He's also one of the best defenders in Southern Illinois.
Other top players: Sophomore guard Logan Kohrmann, junior guard Robbie Harmon, senior Cameron Voss (out with leg injury), sophomore Mitchel Rule.
Strengths: Strong guard play with Timmermann and sophomore Logan Kohrmann, who sank six 3-pointers and scored 22 points in the season opener.
Questions: Can Central develop a strong enough inside game to complement the strong guard play of Timmermann and Kohrmann? The top inside hopefuls are 6-4 senior Kenton Roeckenhaus, 6-3 Centralia transfer Austin Shidle and Chase Schneider.
"I think we're gong to have to look to our guards to score obviously," first-year coach Jeremy Shubert said. "Logan and Jacob are going to have to bear the load of a lot of the scoring. We're going to have to develop an inside game, though.
"We're going to struggle early inside with the inside game."
Last year: The Hawks reached the sectional final before losing to eventual 1A runner-up Madison.
One to watch: Senior Wes Degener (12.9 ppg) has been a major part of state baseball and soccer championships for Gibault. He's an athletic scorer capable of doing heavy damage.
Degener has been slowed by a bad ankle sprain during soccer, but still scored 15 points Tuesday in the 2-0 Hawks' win over Gillespie.
Strengths: Strong guard play and Gibault's trademark man-to-man defense.
Other top players: Seniors Nick Row (9.5 ppg) and Mitch Meyer (6 ppg), senior Tyler Enright, senior Zach Neff and sophomore guard Jacob Rueter.
Questions: Degener has run into nagging injuries and needs to stay healthy for the Hawks to be at their best. Do the Hawks have enough power inside to compete with their abundance of guard talent?
The blue-collar Row could be a key to the inside game along with 6-4 sophomore Brian Deterding and 6-3 freshman Trevor Davis.
The Rueter quotient is extremely high with coach Dennis Rueter, sons Jared Rueter and Jacob Rueter and nephews Zach Rueter and Garrett Rueter.
Last year: Lost 54-44 to Illini Central in the Class 1A state championship game.
One to watch: Madison may have lost 2012-13 News-Democrat Player of the Year Marquis Borney, now playing for Southwestern Illinois College, but the Trojans have a dominant inside player in 6-6 senior Deontay Starnes (8.9 ppg, 10.5 rebounds per game).
Strengths: Along with Starnes inside, the Trojans picked up two talented junior transfers in former Lovejoy leading scorer Damon "Rocky" Warren and 6-2 Terrance Glover from Granite City. That helps make up for the loss of Borney and several other starters.
Questions: Can senior guards Tyvon Powers and Darian Crawford (out with a bruised foot) and fellow seniors DeAndre Poindexter and Brady Pierce help replace Borney's instant offense?
"It's one of those teams that I'm trying to figure out," Madison coach Jaime Cotto said. "With the two transfers coming in and being such an important part, it's interesting."
New Athens (21-7)
Last season: Lost to Okawville in the regional semifinals after winning the school's first Cahokia Conference title since 1979.
One to watch: Tyler Meyer (16 ppg, 12 rebounds per game) is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior forward who should be among the most dominant players in the conference.
Strengths: Inside play led by Meyer, plus several experienced guards return.
Other top players: Senior Nick Ozier, juniors Drew Ragland, Ryan Reuss and 6-3 Jimmy Kiefer along with junior guards Travis Zapfe and Dylan Toedte.
Question: Can New Athens make the competitive step up to knock off a team like 1A powers Madison, Okawville or Gibault in the regional?
Last year: Lost in the regional championship to Gibault.
One to watch: Senior guard Jacob Brammeier is ready to take on the scoring and ballhandling load for the Rockets.
Other top players: Seniors Alex Rossel, Kaleb Kiwatkowski and Grant Riess, sophomore Alec Wisneski and impressive 6-3 freshman Noah Frederking.
Question: Can the Rockets gain experience quickly to offset the loss of four senior starters?
Last season: Lost in the Class 3A regional.
One to watch: Freeburg's 6-9 senior center Justin Diecker (17.2 ppg, 10 rebounds per game) is headed for Division I Kennesaw State in Georgia.
"His shot's really developed and people are going to find out early they have to respect him a lot more on the perimeter," Freeburg coach T.J. Hoover said. "Playing with the St. Louis Eagles has really rounded out his game."
Other top players: Junior Jacob Mueller moved to shooting guard while athletic senior point guard Nick Yung is a strong defender. Also returning is 6-2 senior Jack Kemper, who broke his arm in the preseason a year ago, with 6-4 sophomore Zach Diecker hoping to contribute.
Last season: Lost in the Class 3A regional.
One to watch: One of the top football linemen in the area, 6-6, 250-pound senior Cole Foster (9 ppg, 8 rebounds per game) will bring his size and strength to the basketball court. Foster will be counted on even more since 6-8 senior Jacob Wessel (7.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) decided not to play.
Other top players: Senior guard Trey Search, junior guard Zach Mathews (out with a shoulder injury), 6-5 sophomore Korbin Farmer, 6-4 sophomore Drew Huebner, senior Quinten Spivey and sophomore point guard Ryan Gudeman.