Butler boys basketball coach Rob Johnson knew this problem was on the horizon.
Five starters last season were seniors, and he knew this season's squad would feel the tremendous void.
The seniors would take their 24-6 record and their Sweet 16 appearance with them. They'd leave almost no experience behind.
But when Johnson talked about his team at Tuesday's practice, he was cautiously optimistic. He's been prepared for this day since the start of last season.
"Marcus (Walker) is really the only one to have any varsity experience," Johnson said. "And the JV team went 16-1 last year. But no matter how successful you were in JV, it's a completely different story on varsity. So, we played 16 games this summer, and we went 13-3."
The Bulldogs are still adjusting.
Last season's starting five - including Willie Green, a first-team selection on The Augusta Chronicle All-Area team who is on a full track scholarship at Memphis - averaged a height of more than 6-feet. Butler's tallest starter was 6-2, and most of the rest were pushing 5-11.
Johnson essentially started five guards.
"It's been my experience that you have to have guards to win," Johnson said. "We proved that last year."
Now the Bulldogs will try to prove they can win with height.
With 6-6 power forward Scott Edwards and 6-4 center Lavert Carter expected to start, Butler will use at least four players 6-4 or taller. Even Walker, the team's point guard, is 6-3.
So, the Bulldogs can expect some growing pains.
"It's a big difference from last year, because you have bigger guys on the floor," said Edwards, who is averaging 20 points per game in Butler's first four contests. "It's hard, because we still have to guard the smaller players, and we still have to run the floor."
Butler (3-1) also will have to find new senior leadership.
"That's the main thing we're lacking," Johnson said. "That's the main thing we need."
Said Walker, one of four seniors : "I have to handle the ball, so I'll have to be the leader. But I feel like I can do it, because I've played basketball all my life.
"The team wants the challenges."
The Bulldogs will get them when they begin Region 3-AAAA play against squads such as Greenbrier, Glenn Hills, Hephzibah, Jones County, Baldwin, Statesboro and Thomson - all solid if not spectacular teams.
"We'll be getting better as the season goes along," Johnson said. "We're rebuilding, but we're still looking for big things."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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