In the midst of his second recruiting cycle at Kentucky Wesleyan College, Drew Cooper has noticed a night-and-day difference compared to last year.
Twelve months ago, the Wesleyan men's basketball coach was simply trying to fill out a roster. Now, with a full year under his belt, the next step of building the Panthers' program is underway.
"This time last year, I was scared," Cooper admitted Tuesday. "But right now, I'm excited.
"There are certain things you can't teach, and experience is one of them. ... There wasn't a person on that bench last year that had gone through our league and had any type of experience in comparison to what we have coming in next year."
KWC, as it worked to build chemistry throughout an up-and-down campaign, finished 10-16 and narrowly missed the Great Midwest Athletic Conference postseason tournament.
Despite the inconsistency, Cooper started to notice his team coming together late in the season. He's now added four newcomers to keep that momentum rolling into 2019-2020.
Guards Jo Griffin and Wyatt Battaile have transferred in from the University of Louisville, while Ben Sisson and former Daviess County High School standout Stewart Currie will contribute to the Panthers' frontcourt.
"I'm excited about the way our recruits are going to compliment our players, who are going to be a year better," Cooper said. "I'm foaming at the mouth to get going this year.
"We had a great spring. There's a comfort level that we have with one another right now that we didn't have for most of the season."
The Panthers will return the bulk of their production from a year ago, including All-G-MAC Second Team selection Adam Goetz (15.4 points per game last season).
Rising sophomores Zavon Godwin, Cameron Seaton and Amandas Urkis won't be back, but Wesleyan will get back 7-foot-2 center Nathan Smith, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
In the meantime, Cooper is also counting on improvements from Apollo High School products Nathan Boyle and Zach Hopewell.
Boyle, a 6-5 forward, appeared in 10 games as a freshman last year, while Hopewell, a 6-2 sophomore guard who transferred from Murray State, scored 10.3 points per contest over the final month of the season.
"The most significant development you can have as a player is from your freshman year to your sophomore year," Cooper said. "We were all freshmen last year, in terms of the first year of our program to the second year. I think Nathan and Zach will represent some player development that I've already seen out of them.
"Those two stand out, as far as gaining confidence and getting comfortable."
KWC isn't done recruiting, either. Cooper, who made a point to avoid using every available scholarship last summer, still wants two more players: A low-post big man and what he called a "best available" prospect.
"Right now, we've got two months left to fill out our roster," Cooper said. "The first year is just about trying to keep your head above water, and that was tough. Now, I'm really excited to see what we can put together."