The loss of some quality seniors to graduation and just five returning players leaves head coach Dave Gilson with a somewhat inexperienced Lockport High School boys varsity basketball team heading to Friday night's opener.
Despite that, the Lions are once again loaded with talent, with several good players coming up from the junior varsity program and enough of a sprinkling of experience to make the upcoming 2012-13 season another promising one on the hardwood.
Lost to graduation are the team's top scorer from a year ago, D'Antre Cullens, along with high-flying big man Nick DiMartile, athletic Ezra Nwachukwu and creative point guard Smiley Allen.
The Lions were 10-10 overall last season, but finished strong with a Section VI playoff win over Lancaster, before bowing to perennial NFL power Niagara Falls in the large school quarterfinals.
“We're young and we're going to need to grow up a bit on the court and learn to play through mistakes,” Gilson said at practice on Tuesday. “We've got nine juniors on the roster, along with four seniors, so I see the kids getting a lot better as the season goes on.”
The Lions will open their regular-season slate at 7:45 p.m. Friday in the second game of the 2012 Lockport Rotary Club Boys Tip-Off Basketball Tournament at LHS. The varsity opener at 6 p.m. pits St. Joe's versus Williamsville East. Two junior varsity boys basketball games are on tap Thursday (5 & 6:30), including Lockport versus International Prep in the nightcap.
Key players for Gilson's varsity team this winter are his five returners, seniors Omaro Luke and Kalen Mitchell and juniors Ryan Lawrence, Colin Dougherty and Moziah Townsend.
“Omaro's a hard working kid. He worked hard over the summer and his experience and leadership means a lot to a team with just three other seniors,” Gilson said.
“Mitchell's a gritty point guard. He works hard on defense and he isn't afraid to go under the basket on offense and defense. Colin is a great outside shooter and sees the floor very well. He'll be a major part of our offense.
“Ryan's a very versatile person who can play under the basket, as well as go up top and shoot the basketball,” Gilson said. “He's got good footwork under the basket and good moves. He also worked hard in the offseason with weight conditioning and strength conditioning.”
Gilson described his other returning player, Townsend, as, “the hardest working kid I've had in 21 years of coaching.” Townsend was a sophomore starter a year ago and adds strength and immeasurable heart to a younger team.
“He's just your ideal kid to have on your team,” Gilson said. “Mo does anything you want him to do. He's not afraid to go underneath the basket with the taller centers.”
Rounding out the Lions' roster are seniors Khari Demos and Sam Volby; and juniors Gerald Baker, Daniel Bronson, Phil Crenshaw, Ryan Guyton, Javon Jenkins and Charlie Sobieraski.
Gilson said because International Prep is a Buffalo city school, there isn't a lot he knows about the team because he hasn't had a chance to see them play.
Among the top teams in the NFL this year will be Niagara Falls and Kenmore West, said Gilson, who will be assisted by Matt Stedman and Andrew Granchelli on the bench, along with manager Rob Johnston. The returning LHS JV coach is Dick Russell.
Lockport opens its league season a week from Friday, hosting Niagara-Wheatfield at 6:30 p.m.