SENECA — With a varsity team coming off an 18-12 season and a 9-2 conference showing that lost one graduate, there is optimism around the Seneca boys basketball program.
Yet coach Russell Witte says the Fighting Irish probably should not be considered the favorite in even their own Turkey Tournament, which starts Monday, let alone beyond it.
"It's going to be a real good tournament. It's the strongest field we've had in a while," Witte said. "Hinckley (Big Rock) has a regional championship-type of team, and they're bringing everybody back as well. ... In talking with the St. Anne coach (Richard Schoon), it sounds like they should be much improved. On the other side (Pool B), Illiana Christian won it last year. Braidwood (Reed-Custer) should be much improved. Hall should be much improved. ... There are about four or five teams capable of getting to that last game."
The Irish will face the other teams at the tournament, and the opponents beyond it, with a 17-player team that includes the players that scored 1,403 of their 1,495 points in 2011-12. Leading scorer (10.2 points per game) and Morris Daily Herald All-Area second-teamer Jimmy David, a 5-9 senior guard, leads a list of five returning players who scored 190 or more points last season. Also in that group are 5-10 senior guard Peyton Schrag (9.6 PPG), 6-2 junior guard Conlan Callahan (9.0 PPG), 6-3 senior forward Brian Bergeson (6.5 PPG) and 6-5 senior forward Chris Lee (6.4 PPG).
Other returning varsity players are senior guard Loren Fisk, junior guard Alex Bott and junior forward Brad Wyss. The rest of the roster consists of juniors who were part of a 25-3 sophomore season in 2011-12, including guards Scott Anderson, Ben Barnett, Carter Gallick, T.J. Draine, James Miller and forwards Austin Applebee, Clayton Cole, Devin Leo and Brandan Pasdertz.
"One of our strengths is that a lot of us have played together for a few years now," Schrag said. "We have a lot of seniors, and some juniors are here to help out."
Schrag says the Irish have some "unfinished business" in the Interstate Eight Conference, where Herscher owns two straight regular-season titles and Westmont is the defending tournament champion. The Irish open I-8 play Nov. 30 at Dwight.
"Herscher has got the tradition. I think coach (Todd) Schwarzkopf is continuing what they started under coach (Ron) Ollefson," Witte said. "Manteno should be very good again. ... Lisle is going to be the biggest team in the conference. ... Plano's sophomores beat our sophomores twice last year. They're an up-and-comer."
Seneca, which lost 55-47 to Herscher in the championship game at its own 2A regional in February, will be looking to win a regional for the first time since 2007. Lee indicated that the Irish are not looking that far ahead.
"Our goals are to continue to grow as a team and to continue to become leaders," Lee said. "I just want us to become closer as a team, to develop leaders and to follow them, and trust that will take us where we want to be."