A heavy reliance on youth left Augusta with its second consecutive 15-loss season last winter under coach David Stephenson.
But Stephenson couldn't help noticing how well one of his young guys, 6-foot-4 center Travis Erwin, adjusted to the challenges.
"He got some confidence rolling," Stephenson said. "He had some success early on as people tried to figure out who he was."
Opposing coaches in Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division III are bound to remember Erwin, who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore. Erwin and three of his classmates logged valuable varsity minutes that Augusta hopes will pay dividends this season.
"He's kind of the rock we lean on inside," Stephenson said of Erwin, who earned second-team all-league honors. "He loves pounding and being physical, and he's a heck of a competitor."
The Orioles also return senior Shane Smith, who averaged seven points last season. Senior Jacob Furr and junior Connor Carman offer perimeter experience that Stephenson will try to blend into his preferred style of play.
"I want us getting out and running the floor," Stephenson said. "The more you can run the floor, the more easy baskets you can get. But it all boils down to playing good defense and getting rebounds."
Too often, Augusta found itself trying to claw its way back from early deficits last season. The Orioles also ended up on the short end of the majority of their close games.
"Hopefully, we learned some things from some of those," Stephenson said. "We had trouble being strong with the ball, and those turnovers cost us. Plus, there were times we just needed someone to make some clutch shots."
Stephenson is 13-30 in two seasons at Augusta. This year, coach and team have a greater sense of familiarity.
"As the kids kind of figure me out and I figure out the kids as well, it's getting a little bit more comfortable," Stephenson said. "My head was just spinning at times those first couple years, and I'm sure it was for them, too."