Rebuilding after a one-win season is never easy. But it's the task that this year's Northwestern boys basketball team faces.
"From day one of open gyms and through now the kids have been working extremely hard," said first-year head coach Dan Eddinger. "We're pleasantly surprised and at the same time we're really happy with where we are at this point. There's still a long way to go, but we're excited with the progress so far. We know that it's going to be small steps at a time."
The Tigers graduated some key players from last year's team, including their top two scorers in Andrew Rivera (9 points per game) and Dylan Roth (5.4 ppg).
They return several varsity players from last season, including four seniors in guards Payton Bachman and Matthew Rivera and forwards Matt Maher (6-foot-2) and David Dorney. Juniors Tyler Richardson (guard) and 6-foot-6 center Jarred Binder also return and will be key players this season.
The Tigers have size this year. Maher was a regular starter last season and Binder got some varsity experience. Junior Richard Perry (6-3) will also see time at forward.
"I think our big guys are improving each day," said Eddinger. "By the end of the year I think our big men are going to be a big strength. All three are really learning the position."
Bachman is the leading returning scorer. He was fourth on the team last year at 4.6 points per game.
In addition to the returning guards, Eddinger has sophomore Naveed Hadian, junior Mason Schuler, as well as guard/forward David Wagner. Junior forward JP Bittenbender rounds out the varsity roster.
Among the guards, only Hadian and Schuler are true point guards and its possible the sophomore could earn the starting job.
Eddinger expects a lot of players to see playing time with different players leading the scoring on different nights.
"I think it's going to be pretty balanced," he said. "We're probably going to have an 8- or 9-man rotation."
Eddinger put in a screen-heavy offense and wants his team to work the ball from inside to outside. On defense he's installed a man-to-man system that the team will be in "90 percent of the time," he said.
After stints as an assistant coach at Central Catholic and Bethlehem Catholic, Eddinger is happy to gake over a team of his own. He was overjoyed when he learned over the summer that the school board approved him as head coach.
"I was so excited I almost had to leave work," he said.
A 1995 Central Catholic graduate, Eddinger is an accountant in the treasury department for the city of Allentown. He believes Northwestern can establish a winning basketball tradition that would mirror the school's success in other varsity sports.
"I think we're going to be good for years to come," he said. "I think we're going to build this up and I think we're going to build this up quickly. There are some good athletes here."
After last year's 1-21 campaign, which included an 0-16 Colonial League record and a 20-game losing streak after a tip-off tournament win in early December, outside expectations won't be very high for Northwestern this season. However, the team plans to make great strides this season.
"Last year's over and it's behind us," Eddinger said. "A goal we should always have is to make districts. If we state we only want to win six games, then that's the basketball team we're going to be."