The Helias Crusaders ended last season with a win. They had just hoped it would have come a few games later in the schedule.
Eight months after the Crusaders had their Final Four run cut short by COVID-19, they'll return to the court tonight to start the 2020-21 season at Republic.
"We got together and celebrated the season at the banquet with all the guys," Helias coach Joe Rothweiler said. "We had some fun, told some stories. But there's still a little bit left there to close."
This will mark the first time Helias starts its season before Thanksgiving since 2007.
"A lot of teams play this week, and the guys want to play," Rothweiler said. "They don't want to practice for five straight weeks before the first game."
Helias returns two starters from last year's team that finished 23-6. One is junior guard Malcolm Davis, who averaged 11.2 points to go with 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
"Malcolm is in the gym every single day," Rothweiler said. " He's building up his leadership skills to where people are going to be really impressed with what they see him produce on the basketball court this year."
The other returning starter is senior forward Damon Johanns, but he will miss tonight's game as he continues to play for the Helias football team in the postseason.
"He gets our guys shots, and they love playing with him, because he's unselfish," Rothweiler said. " Hopefully they keep rolling in football, but we will definitely take a big step forward when Damon comes back to us."
Desmond White will go from being the sixth man on last year's team to a key player on this year's team. White, only a sophomore, received his first Division I scholarship offer earlier this month from Bryant University.
"His work ethic is right up there in line with Malcolm's," Rothweiler said. "Those are two of the hardest-working kids that we've had come through the program."
Senior guard Drew Schmidt will also be in the starting lineup this year.
"I haven't seen many kids improve as much as Drew Schmidt has improved over the course of the offseason," Rothweiler said. "He's another kid that works hard."
Rounding out the projected starting lineup for tonight's opener are junior forward Noah Voss and senior forward Joey Rembecki, who missed most of last season due to a concussion.
"He was in line to start for us, and on a loaded roster like that, he was bringing it every day," Rothweiler said of Rembecki.
Voss, who is 6-foot-4, will give the Crusaders some height in the paint.
"He can step out and shoot the 3 a little bit," Rothweiler said. "He can rebound, he can defend."
Other players that can come off the bench are junior Scott Haslag and sophomore Cale Sappenfield, who is also currently with the football team.
"There are some other sophomores that might be able to earn some time, but we don't know until we get enough practices in," Rothweiler said. "We're not going to be nearly as deep as last year."
Helias will play next week in the Willard Classic.
"That's going to be a huge test," Rothweiler said. "It will have two powerhouses with Greenwood and Kickapoo, and then Bolivar has a Division I post player."
Although the Crusaders joined the Central Missouri Activities Conference this season, the only newcomers to the Helias schedule from the conference are Battle and Capital City.
"We already have some big rivalries in that conference, and I think it will just 'up' those rivalries a little bit," Rothweiler said.
Helias played Father Tolton last Thursday in a Jamboree at Rackers Fieldhouse. Rothweiler liked what he saw from his team's defensive pressure, but he noted there is still room for improvement in other areas.
"As far as rotations on defense and sets on offense, we didn't do a great job of it, but that was the first time we were in a live game situation, so that was expected," he said. "It gives us something to go to the drawing board with the next few practices."
Helias' first home game is Dec. 10 against South Iron.
"If we stay healthy, with the guys that we can put on the floor, I think we have a chance to be really good," Rothweiler said.