The loss of eight players, including one of the program's all-time greats, has to concern Ohio University Eastern's Donnie Madzia. And to be sure, that's certainly the case.
Ordinarily, a major rebuilding project would be in order at the Route 40 campus west of St. Clairsville. However, Madzia, entering his sixth season leading the Panthers' cagers, is welcoming a talented cast of newcomers.
"No question, we're without a number of mainstay players who helped carry on the successful tradition of OUE hoops," Madzia disclosed. "At the same time, we're excited regarding the potential of (this) season's team. We feel we're bringing in some quality young talent. How quickly they adapt to playing at a new level will be important. We're hoping to make a little progress each day."
Eastern actually opened its 2012-13 campaign last night, opposing non-conference foe and West Virginia Conference member Fairmont State. Later, the Panthers square off against Slippery Rock.
"Playing teams (of that caliber) is obviously a challenge, but we also have an opportunity to make some evaluations," Madzia added. "Usually, we're a better team once we begin conference play."
Under Madzia, Eastern has never experienced a losing campaign. Last winter's unit finished 12-10 before the Panthers fell to eventual ORCC tournament champion Miami-Middletown in the conference's annual postseason event.
Graduation casualties were more than noticeable, led by perennial all-conference swingman Jason Shaw (Caldwell High) regarded among the ORCC's elite hoopsters.
"Jason was a consistent scorer (20.9 ppg) and rebounder (9.0). But he also a steady defender." Madzia noted. "You just don't replace a player like that."
Ex-St. Clairsville cagers Adam Perzanowski, Dustin Hynes and Allen Derosa are also missing in addition to Shenandoah's Wes Rataiczak (12 ppg.) and Harrison Central's Bo J Bailie. Frontcourters Logan Wendt and Grant McCroskey round out the departed.
"That was a special group which developed good chemistry and contributed to our success," Madzia pointed out.
Two productive returning junior starters show the way this season. They are Shadyside's Nick Schuetz and Union Local's Jordan Barbina.
"It's nice having both on the floor," Madzia related. "Nick and Jordan are intense competitors not to mention reliable scorers. We expect both to take on increased leadership roles."
A 16 ppg. scorer, Schuetz (5-10) is a steady three-point threat and excellent foul shooter. Barbina (5-11) came on strong as the season progressed last winter. The duo will vie for all-ORCC laurels on a nightly basis.
Bridgeport's Derek Phillips, a 6-0 forward also returns and will provide valuable minutes off the bench.
Eight incoming newcomers will don the Green and White. The most high profile member if former Wheeling Park High and West Liberty transfer Marqez O'Neil, a versatile 6-4 talent.
"We expect Marqez to become an immediate impact player," Madzia revealed. "He possesses (that) kind of talent and will likely be the most athletic player I've coached here."
Three additional Park High products include potential starter Djhae Jackson, a smooth-operating 5-10 point guard whose quickness is a major asset.
Count on 6-3 NaKwuan Phillips to also make his presence felt in the post. "NaKwuan should make steady progress as the season progresses," Madzia speculated.
Also moving in is 6-2 swingman D'Andrea Anderson, a former Patriot hoopster who graduated from a Virginia high school last spring. "D'Andrea should earn more minutes as the team evolves,' Madzia stated.
Junior transfer Darnell Fisher, a 6-3 forward, joins Eastern's program after vying at Steubenville's Franciscan University. "Darnell will be joining us in the second semester," Madzia noted. "He'll add immediate depth to the frontcourt."
The frosh class includes Devin Ward, the ex-Bellaire High cager. "Devin is a potential sixth man with an opportunity to play more as the season moves along, noted Madzia of the 5-10 backcourt ace.
A pair of east Ohio players round out OUE's roster - 6-2 forward Matt Burke (Beallsville) and 5-8 guard Josh Perrelli (Bridgeport). "Both add depth off the bench," Madzia informed.
"No team has practiced as hard as (this one)," Madzia stated. "Hopefully, that's something that pays dividends as the season wears on. As usual, our goal is reaching the (ORCC) Final Four. I don't believe that's unrealistic at all."
Eastern makes its ORCC debut on the home floor Saturday against West Virginia-Parkersburg. The Lady Panthers also vie in what will be a twinbill.
Returning as Madzia's longtime assistant is veteran Terry Wasem.