Burlington Central Rockets
Last year: 14-14, 11-1 Big Northern East (first)
Coach: Brett Porto, fifth season (59-51)
Top returnees: seniors RJ Dernbach (6-4, F), Sean Fitzgerald (6-1, F), Reed Hunnicutt (5-11, G), Duncan Ozburn (6-8, C), James Raney (5-11, G), Brett Rau (6-2, F), Jacob Schutta (5-10, G)
Top newcomers: senior Patrick Sernett (6-0, G); juniors Stefan Jochum (6-0, G), Andrew Lippert (6-0, G), Nathan Moxness (6-2, F), Tony Thompson (5-10, G), Drew Wiss (5-9, G); sophomores Ryan Fitzgerald (6-4, F), AJ Gouriotis (6-1, F), Luke McCurdy (6-0, G)
Outlook: The defending Big Northern East champs are hungry for another crack at the title, according to coach Brett Porto. The Rockets averaged a healthy total of 56.9 points per game last year. This season they hope to make life tough on opponents with their unselfish play. "It's the most unselfish team I've seen at the high school level," Porto said. "They truly don't care who scores. They always make the extra pass, which is good because the lowest amount of 3-point shooters we'll have on the floor at any time is three. They are very focused. and they play as hard or harder than any team I've coached, which is saying something." The Rockets top three scorers graduated, but 6-foot-8 center Duncan Ozburn is among a group poised to fill the scoring void. Ozburn enjoyed a strong summer season during which he impressed Division III schools like Augustana, North Central and Elmhurst College. He could be in line for a breakout season on the offensive end, according to his coach. As a junior Ozburn averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. Senior forward Brett Rau and senior guard Reed Hunnicutt (6.2 ppg) will also play starting roles for an up-tempo team that could rotate 10-12 players liberally. Like Ozburn, Porto said both players have gained strength and matured. Senior Sean Fitzgerald has grown to 6-5. He might rotate with Ozburn to keep a rebounding shot blocker on the floor at all times, Porto said, or he may play alongside Ozburn to create a formidable frontcourt. RJ Dernbach is another post presence with a bit of experience. Guard James Raney shot only 23 free throws last year, but he sank 18 of them (78.8 percent), the third highest percentage among area returning players, a useful weapon in the new era of tightly officiated basketball. Raney also shot 40 percent from 3-point range (12 of 30). Jacob Schutta is a ballhandler can score when the opportunity arises. His role could expand as a senior after he scored 41 points and dished 16 assists in 225 minutes last year. Porto has elevated three sophomores to the varsity, including point guard Luke McCurdy, who last year was with the varsity for 10 games. He will spell Rau. "It's a good mix," Porto said. "These seniors helped turn it around for us down the stretch last year when we finished 9-1, and they led the way in the summer for us. We've got some talented juniors and some hardworking sophomores. By playing hard and being unselfish on both ends of the floor, we can put ourselves in a lot of games."