WELLSBURG - The Brooke boys are coming off one of their finest seasons in years.
So the natural thought is these guys are back.
That optimism, though, is tempered by the idea that Brooke, 15-8 last season, lost seven seniors, including first team All-Valley honoree Eric Johnson, who is now at the University of Charleston.
Johnson averaged 12.1 points, 3.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, shot 84.1 percent from the line, and left at No. 15 on the school's all-time scoring list with 790 career points.
Also gone are Hunter Wallace, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game was the club's MVP in a Florida Tournament, Austin Schambach (5.2 points, 2.0 assists), Jessie Gambellin (6.5 points, 3.4 rebounds), Ryan Heaton (6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds), Alec Buchmelter, and Colton Fritz.
''It's one of our better years record-wise in recent memory,'' said Coach Dave Reitter, who is in his 41st consecutive year of coaching basketball at Brooke in one capacity or another - a majority of those as head coach covering two stints, including a state championship.
''We've had great efforts from our kids all of the time, it's just a matter of the fact that the teams that we were probably a little more talented or outhustled us, whatever the case may be. But our kids played hard all the time and last year was an opportunity for these kids to reap a little bit of the benefits.''
Last Feb. 20, they also beat Wheeling Park for the first time since 2006.
The Bruins will rely on a pair of returnees in junior point guard Russell Schwertger, a player with strong Bruins bloodlines, and 6-foot-5 sophomore Thomas Cole.
Schwertfeger average 12.2 points, 2.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and led the club with 58 steals.
''Russell brings a little bit of scoring and a little bit of aggressiveness,'' Reitter said. ''He helped us over the long run with last year's team in that his being aggressive on the court, his hustling, carried over to everyone else. Everyone else started emulating that and it spread through the team.''
Cole, who averaged 7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds (leading the team with 138), isn't just a tall kid. He's a student of the game, as evidenced by his earning rare starts as a freshman at Brooke.
''He's worked at the game,'' Reitter said. ''He's one of these kids that if you tell him to do something, he goes out and he tries it. He tries to do it to the best of his ability at all times. He goes out on the floor and he plays hard. He doesn't show a whole lot of emotion. He gets excited when the other guys get excited around him.''
Seniors who split time with the varsity last year are Aquil Dameron, a 6-0 guard, Nick Destefano, a 6-1 wing, and Ethan Sole, a 6-0 guard.
Two sophomores who dressed varsity late in the season are Justin Laugherie (6-1) and Nathan Greene (6-6).
Others who seek varsity minutes are senior Noah Teaff, juniors Luc Pannett, Antonio Pizzuti, sophomore transfer Fargo Carmenkengo, Brandon Miller, along with a pair of seniors who did not play their junior years in Anthony Barnhart and Joey Staffilino.
New to the schedule, which, as always, is loaded with Two Rivers Athletic Conference teams, are St. Clairsville, South Charleston, Robert C. Byrd, and Fairmont Senior.
''With the schedule we have, we'd love to have 15 wins,'' Reitter said. ''Our goals are always 1) to have a winning season, 2) win the OVAC 3) win the section and get to the state tournament. That's everybody's dream when you start out the season. If we stay healthy and so forth, I think we can be very competitive with this group, even though we lack a lot of playing experience.
''If we can be aggressive as we were last year, then I think we'll be OK.''