Maybe it's a good thing that not many people expect Gibsonburg's boys’ basketball team to do much this season.
With just two returning lettermen - 6-5 senior post Tony Egbert and 5-9 senior point guard T.J. Bowen - returning from last year's 13-9 squad, Coach Brent Liskai's Golden Bears were picked to finish fourth in the Suburban Lakes League.
The Bears, who had to replace eight seniors including SLL Player of the Year Matt Kreglow, have already shown that they're not about to listen to what other people think.
The Bears are off to a 2-1 start, including a big win over defending SLL champion Genoa on Dec. 12.
"So far we're just playing as a team," said Egbert, a three-year starter who is averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds a game. "We are playing good team defense so far, and that's kind of the key to being where we are."
Egbert said he and his teammates already have good team chemistry.
"I've been playing with most of the guys since elementary school," Egbert said, "so it hasn't been too tough. We're playing as a team and everyone is playing their role. We are moving the ball nice and everyone isn't trying to do too much."
Gibsonburg opened the season with a 56-48 win at Danbury and then lost 68-57 to a Phillip Beans-led Ottawa Hills team that was 4-0 through Wednesday. Beans, a 6-7 senior, will play at Holy Cross next season.
"We were down three points with 1:30 to go," Liskai said. "But Ottawa Hills hit their free throws and we couldn't knock down a shot."
The Bears bounced back with a 58-50 home win over Genoa on Dec. 12. The Comets were picked to finish second in the league.
"Genoa's an extremely athletic team with a lot of athletes back," Liskai said. "After the Ottawa Hills loss, I was proud of how the kids came together. There were different points in the (Genoa) game where we had different kids step up. We had four in double figures.
"If we can get that kind of production, I think we can have a nice season."
Junior wing Lee Renner scored a team-high 16 points against Genoa, while Bowen had 15, Egbert had 13 and junior wing Zac Smith added 10.
"That was the first league game for them to play in," Liskai said, "and to step up and do the job, I was proud of them. That shows we have some players who can play. My concern coming in was our depth, and we're working on that. I believe in our players; they are good players. A lot of them are not returning lettermen because they had some awfully good players ahead of them last year."
The Golden Bears' other starter is 5-9 senior guard Carmen Sanson.
"He's our hustle player, our good ballhawk defender," Liskai said. "He's just a scrappy kid. So far it's been enjoyable early that everyone's bought into the team concept and spread the shots around. I don't think anyone is concerned about their individual numbers."
Bowen is complementing Egbert's inside play by averaging 14 points and seven assists a game.
unior guard Tyler Stahl is also in the mix for playing time.
"Bowen has played outstanding and he's done a good job of keeping us in control," Liskai said. "We've only turned it over about 11 times a game, and for not being very experienced, he's done an awesome job of running the show and putting us in good position. That's probably been the key to our success right now. We've taken care of the ball and played good defense."
This season marks the fewest number of returning lettermen Liskai has had in his seven seasons with the Golden Bears. Liskai's first Gibsonburg team finished 2-19.
"We've had to tinker and figure some things out, but things are coming together for us," the coach said. "We're bringing in two freshmen off the bench, but a tribute to the older kids is that they have accepted them and instead of getting on them, they work with them. They say, 'Coach is hard on you, but he's hard on us, too.' We don't have big, huge players at Gibsonburg so we have to spread the ball around and play the game right, and the kids have bought into it."
The Bears traveled to Woodmore on Friday and then travel to Lakota on Tuesday.