Westminster Christian Warriors
Last year: 17-13, 5-3 Northeastern Athletic Conference
Coach: Bruce Firchau, ninth season at Westminster Christian (135-92), 37th season overall (518-430)
Top returnees: seniors Sam Carani (6-4, F/G), Connor Rejman (5-11, G); juniors Robert Kleczynski (6-2, F), Brian McDonaugh (6-6, C); sophomore Dillon Rejman (5-9, G)
Top newcomers: senior Paul Ellerbusch (5-11, G); junior Derrick Martinez (5-11, F); sophomores Noah Anderson (5-9, G), Brad Barker (6-4, F); freshmen Elliott Brandon (5-10, G), Scott Graziano (5-9, G), Nick Kleczynski (6-1, F)
Outlook: IBCA Hall of Fame coach Bruce Firchau said the inexperienced talent infusing the Westminster Christian basketball program could allow the Warriors to develop into a "special" team in a year or so, but this squad must navigate the potholes of youth on the road to broader success. That road is already bumpy; Westminster's two most experienced players, senior Sam Carani and junior Robert Kleczynski, have each missed five days of practice due to illnesses. However, both are expected to be in the lineup for the Westminster Christian Thanksgiving Tournament next week. Due to his versatility, Firchau called Carani "one of those players you get to coach once every 10 years." Carani averaged 6.4 points per game last year, partly because he shot 78.8 percent from the free throw line, the second-highest percentage among returning players in the Fox Valley area. Such free-throw accuracy may prove all-important if the new emphasis on hand-check fouls is enforced tightly. Carani can play all five positions and might be asked to play three different spots in a single game depending on the situation. Kleczynski can run the floor with anyone in the Northeastern Athletic Conference, his coach said. He averaged 7.2 ppg last season, third on the team and highest of any returning Warrior. The team graduated its top two 3-point shooters, but sophomore Dillon Rejman does return. He buried 23 of 74 attempts from 3-point range last year (30.7 percent) and will get the green light often. Firchau called guard Connor Rejman one of the team's most improved players. Firchau said 6-4 sophomore Brad Barker is the best leaper he has coached in his nine seasons at the Elgin school. He will be asked to crash the boards for rebounds and tip-ins. Carani is the only senior among a 10-11 man rotation that could include three freshmen -- including all-conference wide receiver Scott Graziano -- but that could change on Jan. 14. That's when Paul Ellerbusch, a transfer from St. Charles North, becomes eligible to play by IHSA rules. "He's a strong defensive player and will really help," Firchau said. "Overall, we are a very young team so our development and how quickly we grasp our system will be the keys to a successful season. We know we'll make mistakes, but we don't want to make the same mistake twice. We play seven 3A schools plus Mooseheart, so we need to be able to compete against strong competition. Our defense will be the key, as will being able to stay healthy. This should be a fun group to coach and watch mature into a cohesive team."