Century boys basketball coach Darin Mattern isn't a scoreboard watcher as much as he is a graph watcher.
He's not one to worry about his team's win-loss record as long as the Patriots are improving week by week.
That approach paid off in a state championship last winter, Mattern's second season at the helm of the Patriots.
Mattern can't guarantee another state championship this season, but he can promise the Patriots will be a much
better team in March than they are now.
"Teams that improve throughout the course of the season are going to be in the hunt at the end of the season," Mattern said, reiterating his coaching philosophy.
Therefore, his focus is ahead, not to the rear.
"I told the players at the first practice that we're not defending a championship, we're
pursuing one. I want a team that's hungry at the end of the season," Mattern said.
Century's championship team, its first since 1984, took some nasty hits at graduation time. Graduates included
all-stater Justin Ledger and
all-region player Carson Wentz.
Two other starters, Chris
Rivinius and Devin Melvie, also graduated, leaving Mattern with a small core around which to build.
"We're not the same team. We lost six players who had a great impact on our state championship," Mattern emphasized. "We have new chemistry, new faces and new leadership."
All-region selection Tom Fraase, a 6-2 guard, and part-time starter Andre Maund, a
5-10 guard, are all that remain of last year's starting lineup.
Alex Bray, a 6-2 senior guard, played extensively off the bench, but he's the only other returnee with more than a smidgen of varsity experience.
Zach Rhone, a 6-3 senior; Shane Wolf, a 5-10 senior; Marcus Thune, a 5-11 senior; and Erik Morrell, a 5-10 senior, all appeared with the varsity last season, but none played more than 36 minutes.
Fraase averaged 11 points, 1.7 rebounds and doled out a team-high 4.0 assists as a junior. He also swished a team-high
41 3-pointers while shooting
40 percent from outside the
Maund averaged 6.1 points, and Bray registered scoring and rebounding averages of 1.9 and 1.2, respectively.
Obviously, the Patriots are not going to push anyone around with size alone.
"We're going to have to rely on team quickness, and if there was ever a definition of playing together as a unit, it's something we're going to have to rely on this year," Mattern said.
"We have absolutely no size," he continued. "Rhone is 6-3, and if you take him out of the picture we don't have anyone over 6-2. So we're really emphasizing doing things together."
From the look of things in preseason workouts, that seems to be the case.
"I really love this team's attitude, and I love this team's work ethic," Mattern said. "It seems to me these guys are willing to sacrifice individual goals for the success of the team."
While the Patriots are short on traditional inside players, they have an abundance of interchangeable athletes in the 6-1 to 6-2 range.
"We don't have a lot of post players, but we have a lot of guards and forwards who play with more versatility than a traditional post-type player," Mattern said.
The coach is optimistic that Century can piece together an offense. Defense and rebounding are the facets that give him pause.
"When we're playing well, we'll be a team that has great balance," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be a team with three or four guys in double figures. ... Defensively the biggest concern I have is rebounding on the defensive glass. If we can become a good rebounding team, we can be a pretty good team in this conference."
The Patriots will have to take a completely different defensive approach this season, however. "Last year with Wentz and Rivinius we had the luxury of playing one-on-one in the post. (Now) we'll have to double down in the post and play a lot more zone this year."
Century opens the season Dec. 13 at St. Mary's. The Patriots host Mandan on Dec. 15 and visit Williston on Dec. 17. That's three regional games, right out of the chute.
"In a perfect world you'd play some nonconference games early in the season and try to find your rotation," Mattern said. " ... We're going to have to be ready to go, but I don't want to make it sound like the first week of the season is the Super Bowl."