BELLAIRE - As J.R. Battista begins his second season at the helm of the Bellaire basketball program, he's looking at the upcoming season as a process.
The Big Reds, who are coming off a tough 4-17 campaign trying to replace four starters.
''We're working at it,'' Battista said. ''The kids are working hard, we're pretty young and we're building. It really is a process for us.''
The familiarity between the players and Battista is something the Big Reds hope to build on as the new season gets under way.
''We're further ahead this year, at this point, than we were last year because all of the kids know me and what I expect,'' Battista said.
''We've got 12 or 13 kids back who practiced every day and they understand the effort, energy and attitude required.''
The kids aren't the only ones with a better understanding of things because Battista, who is in his first head coaching assignment, has a better grasp on what he expects from himself.
''Honestly, I think I expect more from this year,'' Battista said. ''I really didn't know where the bar should be put last year since it's your first go-around. You don't want to give too much gas to the car, take off and wreck, but now I've got a better feel for how hard I want to push things and where we need to be.''
Gone from last year's squad are nearly all of the Big Reds' scoring production in Shaheim Price, Derek Feller, Manny Ray and Juwan Whetstone.
''We lost a lot of scoring, but we feel we've got guys who can step up and fill some of that void,'' Battista said.
The Big Reds were a few days behind many teams, but that's OK with Battista. Many of the Big Reds players didn't report until late in the first week of practice because the football team qualified for the Division V playoffs.
The winning mentality is highly important, as are players who can score the basketball. The search for those guys has been ongoing throughout the preseason for the Big Reds, but Battista has seen some signs.
Junior Nick Patrone (5-foot-9) leads the list of returnees. He was a starter on the interior last season. A blue-collar player, Patrone scored around eight points and eight rebounds a game.
''Nick is probably one of the top athletes in the Buckeye 8, but unfortunately, he's only 5-8,'' Battista said. ''He'll give you everything he has on every possession, which is highly important.''
Junior Ryan Callarik (6-3) came on late in the season for the Big Reds and was averaging nearly a double-double down the stretch. Battista is hoping he builds on that success after a productive summer of play.
''Ryan's a big, strong kid,'' Battista said. ''He did well at the end of the last season.''
After those two pieces, it's been an all-out battle for minutes in scrimmages and practices.
''We've got some kids who are doing well,'' Battista said. ''We've still got some spots to fill, though.''
Senior Elliott Ellison is expected to log valuable minutes on the interior. He's a long and lanky 6-2 and saw some action a season ago at the varsity level.
Battista is also high on junior Kenny Hess (5-10), sophomore Nathan Steele (5-9), junior Wyatt Back (6-0), sophomore Hunter Westlake (6-0) and junior Colin Kimbro (5-9).
Steele has really caught the coaching staff's eye and is expected to see a lot of time at the point guard spot for the Big Reds.
The balance of the roster, which will see time both on the varsity and jayvee units, includes: senior Mason Bentz (6-0), juniors Kyle Hess (5-10), Robert Kovalyk (6-3), Seth Pickens (5-10), sophomores Nick Hall (5-10) and Tyler Ramsay (6-3).
''This is a really nice group of kids that works extremely hard,'' Battista said. ''We need to increase our skill level, which in basketball is important, but these kids have done whatever we've asked of them, they practice and work as hard as they can. They want to get better and they're putting in the time to do so.''
The biggest concern the Big Reds could face this season is scoring the basketball, but Battista expects his club to make up for that on the defensive end.
"We had guys put in some time over the summer, but basketball is a game of skill and you have to put a lot of time into it for it to translate well in the season," Battista said. "These kids have gotten better every day they've been here and I expect that to continue to be the case throughout the season."