The Merced College men's basketball program will be starting fresh this season.
Forward Shaquille Wallen is the only returning Blue Devil from a squad that went 1-22 a season ago, and he's still playing football.
With two wins in the last two seasons, MC head coach Bill Russell wasn't opposed to shaking things up.
So Russell will take the court with 10 freshmen making their collegiate debuts tonight when MC opens its season against San Jose City College at the San Jose Tournament.
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
"We're extremely young and unproven," Russell said. "I like what I've seen in practice, but until you get into game situations, you never know who is going to rise to the occasion.
"We should have more of a post presence than we had a year ago, with (6-foot-8) Ronald Charles and (6-foot-4) Willy Williams.
"We've added some things offensively to take advantage of that. I believe we should be a more physical team than a year ago, but last year's team played extremely hard every night.
"If we can get that kind of effort to go along with being a little more physically gifted, we could do some things."
Geremi Dixon will enter the season handling the point. He'll share time with Jermaine Crowder and Chowchilla graduate Sean Kinsley.
Former Chowchilla leading scorer Aaron Deatherage and Paul Wilson will split time at the high post, while DeAndre Davis, Everett Stembridge and Satinder Rai will provide minutes off of the bench.
MC will have two more options once football season concludes in a couple weeks with Wallen and Devin Gaines joining the fray.
"Right now we're looking at a seven- or eight-man rotation while some of the other guys get caught up. Hopefully we can be disciplined defensively and not be forced to change that, but you never know.
"This is a loaded tournament with multiple teams from the NorCal playoffs, so we're going to get our feet wet real fast."
Merced College women
Allen Huddleston just can't seem to open a season with his full complement of players.
The Lady Devils have been decimated by injuries the last two seasons, and it appears this year will be more of the same.
MC will open the season against Redwoods on Friday at the Delta Tournament with just nine of its anticipated 13 players. Of the four injured, there's only hope for one to return.
The good news is that all-conference center Sonji Green and and forward Rogenee Russell lead the cast of healthy players.
The front-court duo combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds per game as freshmen.
"It helps that a couple of us have been through dealing with injuries before and gotten a lot done," Green said. "We're really trying to take it all the way this year.
"We've got the team. The freshmen are picking things up really quick and we made coach Huddleston proud with how hard we've been pushing each other in practice to get ready for this tournament."
Green, Russell, guard Shellie Perkins and swingman Presley Ringeisen are all that remain from a squad that went 19-11 and advanced to the second round of the NorCal playoffs last year.
"Sonji is one of the best players in Northern California and Rogenee has just continued to improve. We're expecting big things from her," Huddleston said. "They're obviously going to be a handful down low for any team we face, and then I think we've added some nice guards to balance that out."
Freshmen Trinity Washington and Brenai Walker will both handle point guard duties while Nitorya Bone will provide athleticism on both sides of the court.
"We lost some players that were really going to help us, but we still like what we have," Huddleston said. "The girls have been preparing, knowing there aren't going to be a lot of subs. I think we're ready to go.
"We have one of the stronger posts in Northern California. We have some kids that can shoot it from the outside. And we have a pretty strong group of mid-range shooters, so I like our mix."
NEXT HOME GAMES
Merced College men
Nov. 26, 7 p.m. vs. Delta
Dec. 18, 7 p.m. vs. De Anza
Jan. 4, 7 p.m. - vs. Hartnell
Merced College women
Nov. 21-23 Coca-Cola Shootout
Dec. 19, 5 p.m. vs. Delta
Feb. 4, 5 p.m. vs. Foothill
Sun-Star sports writer Sean Lynch can be reached at 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.