With four starters graduating in May, it’s not too difficult to figure out what the Tallmadge boys basketball team is lacking this winter.
"We definitely don’t have the experience at the varsity level," first-year head coach Bill Johnson said.
Fortunately, the current players, who come in a bit green, will quickly get a taste of what life is like on Tuesday and Friday nights in prime time.
It’s a safe bet they will learn very quickly.
The Blue Devils lost four talented seniors from a squad that finished 14-10 overall and 6-6 in the Suburban League American Conference.
Tallmadge’s 2017-18 season ended with an 81-44 loss to eventual state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in a Canton Division II district semifinal game.
The Blue Devils probably aren’t too noticeable on the Northeast Ohio basketball radar this season.
Nonetheless, Johnson has a nice core of players who can, perhaps, surprise some people.
Two returning senior players who earned much varsity time last season are Sam Seeker and Nick Hussing.
Seeker, the quarterback on the football team and an outfielder for the baseball team, is expected to be the team’s starting point guard. Seeker recently signed to continue his academic and baseball careers at the University of Toledo.
"Sam is excited to play with his friends," Johnson said. "The biggest thing is keeping him healthy. He is coming from a football season where he carried the ball 15 to 20 times per game. He is a leader for us."
Hussing, a guard, may be the team’s most versatile player. The standout three-sport athlete, who scored more than 50 career goals for the soccer squad, is the type of player who lets his actions, rather than his words, do the talking for him.
"Nick is super athletic," Johnson said. "He literally can play every position. He can run the point and post up in the paint. He is always around the ball.
"He doesn’t say a lot. When he does say something, you listen. No one plays as hard as Nick does."
Senior Jake Gardella, who Johnson considers a "stretch four," is poised to make his mark on the varsity team after playing for the junior varsity squad the previous season.
"Jake had a great summer," Johnson said. "He has done whatever we asked him to do. He can stroke it. He can create havoc on both sides of the floor."
Johnson’s top offensive player could be 6-foot-4 junior wing Brandon Heigelmann, who showed flashes of being a big-time scorer last season.
"Brandon has really added to his game," Johnson said. "He can do some stuff in the post. Last year, he was more of a shooter. He was a catch-and-shoot type of guy.
"He has expanded his game as a slasher as well as a shooter. That will make him hard to guard. He is the most athletic kid I’ve ever coached. He does things that make me say, ‘Please don’t do it’ and he ends up doing it and I love it."
Seeker, Hussing and Heigelmann are expected to run the show for Tallmadge.
"Where they go offensively is where we go," Johnson said.
Other players who expect to make an impact in the rotation are senior guard Sean Ambrose, juniors Danny Kurko (6-4 post player), Luke Thomas (wing) and Andrew Ayres (guard) and 6-3 sophomore post player Ethan Taylor.
"Luke is an all-around athlete," Johnson said.
The rest of the team features senior guards Nick Joyner, Liam Tokash, Nate Zappola and Steve Zesiger and sophomore point guard Nick Lambacher.
"Those guys come to practice every day and make us better," Johnson said.
The Blue Devils do not have a dominating big man such as Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo on their roster.
Therefore, Tallmadge will try to raise havoc by darting up and down the floor at all times.
"We’re going to try to push the pace," Johnson said. "We can get up and down because of our athleticism. We want to get easy scores and get into transition."
Despite not having too many taller players, the Blue Devils have some athletes with long arms and long wingspans.
"We’re going to trap a little bit here and there," Johnson said. "We’re working hard to be a better man-to-man team. We want to create some turnovers."
Tallmadge is scheduled to make its 2018-19 debut against Woodridge Dec. 1 at Firestone High School in Akron. Play is set to begin at 3 p.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.