ISHPEMING - When you lose eight seniors to graduation, including one of the best players in the Upper Peninsula, you'd likely be in a rebuilding mode.
That's exactly what the Westwood High School boys varsity basketball team will be doing this season, second-year Patriots' head coach Ryan Reichel said.
"Being a new program (under my coaching) every year is a rebuilding year," he said. "We have two seniors, seven juniors and a freshman.
"We'll be young, but this group of kids has more of my coaching philosophy ingrained in them."
Among the players Reichel - a 2003 WHS grad - will have to replace from a 4-17 team of a year ago is guard Zach French, an All-Upper Peninsula Class ABC First Team pick in 2011-12 who averaged 18.2 points a game.
"It's always tough to replace a player of his caliber," Reichel said. "But this year, we'll have a more well-rounded (scoring) roster. I'd rather have that because it makes in tougher to be scouted."
Dec. 3 - at West Iron Co., 8 p.m.
Dec. 7 - Ishpeming, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 10 - at L'Anse, 7:20 p.m.
Dec. 13 - Kingsford, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 20 - Gladstone, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 1 - at Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 11 - at Ishpeming, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 15 - at Escanaba, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Norway, 8 p.m.
Jan. 24 - Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 29 - at Marquette, 7:20 p.m.
Feb. 1 - at MRRanistique, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 6 - Negaunee, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 8 - Manistique, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 12 - at Gwinn, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14 - Norway, 8 p.m.
Feb. 20 - at Negaunee, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 22 - Houghton, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 28 - L'Anse, 7:45 p.m.
2012-13 previews schedule
Nov. 15 - Ishpeming (3B)
Nov. 15 - Republic-Michigamme (2B)
Nov. 16 - Negaunee
Today - Westwood
Nov. 18 - Marquette
Nov. 19 - Gwinn
Nov. 20 - Munising
Nov. 21 - Newberry
Nov. 23 - Superior Central
Nov. 24 - Manistique
Nov. 25 - L'Anse
Nov. 26 - Baraga
Among his core players are senior center T.J. Swanson, senior guard Josh Richards, junior forward Justin Luke and junior power forward Luke Woods.
"T.J. is back after a torn shoulder last season and Richards showed some flashes of good play," Reichel said. "Luke scored 17 points against Marquette and Woods hit a big 3-pointer against Negaunee in the districts.
"We have a good mix in height, with T.J being 6-3 and Woods 6-2."
The coach added he plans to start freshman Luke Gray at the crucial point guard position.
"He has no fear and he's a competitor," Reichel said. "He's not going to back down and he plays both ends of the floor. He's also showing some leadership skills.
"I told him his first 10 games will see a lot of bumps, but after that, he'll be like a junior on the varsity."
The coach said he likes the "team dynamics," with "more team unity" showing every day in practice.
"Everyone is not looking to get one player the ball" Reichel said. "Last year, we relied too much on Zach to score."
Defense will be a priority for the Patriots this season.
"I'm a defensive-minded coach," Reichel said. "You have to be good defensively in the Mid-Peninsula Conference. If you want to win, you have to play good defense."
The coach said he learned a lot about his team in two team camps it attended.
"At (Michigan) Tech, we learned about positioning,"Reichel said. "At our team camp, we learned about character and what we need to work on."
While winning the M-PC title is always a goal, the coach said he'd just like to see his team progress each game this season.
"I want us to get better every game, then peak at games 18, 19 or 20 and be ready for the districts," Reichel said.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is email@example.com.