Bill Russell admittedly was optimistic.
After a couple seasons of scraping by by with rosters comprised more of grit than basketball skill, the Merced College men's basketball coach thought the 2011-12 season would be a turning point.
Despite the talent increase, the group's chemistry never came together and the Blue Devils (1-22) turned in one of the worst seasons in school history.
That sent Russell back to the drawing board for this season.
"We're starting fresh this season," Russell said. "We've got a young group with almost no experience, but I think the chemistry is already better than last year.
"I like the effort I'm seeing from this team so far."
His roster has 13 players consisting almost entirely of new faces. Football players Tyrell Vinson (2.3 points per game) and Carlos Smith (4.2 ppg) are the only returners, and they joined the team late last year.
Russell also has a pair of sophomores that took a year off.
David Sandoval played with MC two years ago and former Livingston shooter Gurpreet Sangha transfers in from Modesto Junior College. Former Buhach Colony guard Tyler Trammell leads a group of nine freshmen.
Experience isn't the only area in which the Blue Devils will be lacking entering the season.
Freshman Shaquille Wallen is the team's biggest player at 6-foot-6 and the bulk of the team averages about 6-foot-1.
"We're not big, so we're going to have to hustle and be fundamentally sound with things like boxing out," Russell said. "There's no doubt we're going to get outmuscled some nights.
"We're going to change up some of the things we do defensively with our presses and we'll run an offense to caters to our strengths."
The Blue Devils open their season tonight at the San Jose City Tournament against the host. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
"We're going to learn a lot in this first game," Russell said. "This team is working hard, but I think they can work harder.
"Nothing can recreate the level you need to play at like the real games.
"We're getting better every day, so hopefully we can continue to do that."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at (209) 385-2476.