ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The loss of eight players, including one of the program's all-time greats, has to concern Ohio University Eastern's Donnie Madzia. And to be sure, that's certainly the case.
Ordinarily, a major rebuilding project would be in order. However, Madzia, entering his sixth season leading the Panthers, is welcoming a talented cast of newcomers.
''No question, we're without a number of mainstay players who helped carry on the successful tradition of OUE hoops,'' Madzia said. ''At the same time, we're excited regarding the potential of (this) season's team. We feel we're bringing in some quality young talent. How quickly they adapt to playing at a new level will be important. We're hoping to make a little progress each day.''
Under Madzia, Eastern has never experienced a losing campaign. Last season's team finished 12-10 before the Panthers fell to eventual ORCC tournament champion Miami-Middletown in the conference's annual postseason event.
Graduation casualties were more than noticeable, led by perennial all-conference swingman Jason Shaw (Caldwell High) regarded among the ORCC's elite hoopsters.
''Jason was a consistent scorer (20.9 ppg) and rebounder (9.0). But he also a steady defender,'' Madzia said. ''You just don't replace a player like that.''
Ex-St. Clairsville cagers Adam Perzanowski, Dustin Hynes and Allen Derosa are also missing in addition to Shenandoah's Wes Rataiczak (12 ppg.) and Harrison Central's Bo J Bailie. Frontcourters Logan Wendt and Grant McCroskey round out the departed.
Two productive returning junior starters show the way this season. They are Shadyside's Nick Schuetz and Union Local's Jordan Barbina.
''It's nice having both on the floor,'' Madzia said. ''Nick and Jordan are intense competitors not to mention reliable scorers. We expect both to take on increased leadership roles.''
A 16 points per game scorer, Schuetz (5-10) is a steady three-point threat and excellent foul shooter. Barbina (5-11) came on strong as the season progressed last winter. The duo will vie for all-ORCC laurels on a nightly basis.
Bridgeport's Derek Phillips, a 6-0 forward also returns and will provide valuable minutes off the bench.
Eight incoming newcomers will don the Green and White. The most high profile member is former Wheeling Park graduate and West Liberty transfer Marqez O'Neil, a versatile 6-4 talent.
''We expect Marqez to become an immediate impact player,'' Madzia said. ''He possesses (that) kind of talent and will likely be the most athletic player I've coached here.''
Three additional Park High products include potential starter Djhae Jackson, a smooth-operating 5-10 point guard whose quickness is a major asset.
Count on 6-3 NaKwuan Phillips to also make his presence felt in the post. ''NaKwuan should make steady progress as the season progresses,'' Madzia said.
Also moving in is 6-2 swingman D'Andrea Anderson, a former Patriots hoopster who graduated from a Virginia high school last spring. ''D'Andrea should earn more minutes as the team evolves,'' Madzia said.
Junior transfer Darnell Fisher, a 6-3 forward, joins Eastern's program after playing at Steubenville's Franciscan University. ''Darnell will be joining us in the second semester,'' Madzia said. ''He'll add immediate depth to the frontcourt.''
The freshman class includes Devin Ward, the ex-Bellaire High cager. ''Devin is a potential sixth man with an opportunity to play more as the season moves along,'' Madzia said.
A pair of east Ohio players round out OUE's roster - 6-2 forward Matt Burke (Beallsville) and 5-8 guard Josh Perrelli (Bridgeport).
''No team has practiced as hard as (this one),'' Madzia said. ''Hopefully, that's something that pays dividends as the season wears on. As usual, our goal is reaching the (ORCC) Final Four. I don't believe that's unrealistic at all.''
Returning as Madzia's longtime assistant is veteran Terry Wasem.