This time last year, players on the Kentucky Wesleyan College men's basketball team were simply trying to get to know one another.
The Panthers' biggest challenge throughout the season was building continuity, as players worked to get on the same page. Now, with a dozen returners and several newcomers expected to make an immediate impact, KWC second-year coach Drew Cooper is expecting big things in 2019-20.
"It's a completely different mindset than we came in with last year," Cooper said. "Last year, everything was so new. We had 14 new roster members, a new coach and just nobody knew what our priorities were, and the method of our whole operation was in question as we got to know one another.
"With 12 returning players -- 94% of our scoring back -- we're getting to the point now where they know what I'm gonna say before I say it. That's a great thing, and that's a place that we never got to last year."
Having a newfound level of comfort, as well as offseason additions who can challenge for playing time and provide depth, has been a night-and-day difference, senior Adam Goetz said.
"There's a lot of excitement," said Goetz, a 6-1 shooting guard who led KWC with 15.4 points per game last season. "A lot of the alumni or whoever comes in to watch us, they're very excited, which brings a lot of excitement to us.
Seeing the players we brought in, the first few weeks going through practice, you could tell the competition level is there."
The Panthers finished 10-16 last season and missed out on the Great Midwest Athletic Conference postseason tournament, but their first opportunity to improve on those marks begins Oct. 30 with an exhibition at Division I Saint Louis.
Until then, Cooper and his staff will use the next few weeks working to solidify a playing rotation as Wesleyan heads into its regular-season opener Nov. 13 at Bellarmine.
"It's competitive," Cooper said of his team's mentality. "Practices have been extremely competitive. That's the first thing our 12 returners from last year -- I could feel them looking around the first few days of practice, going, 'Hey, this is for real.'
"I think all those jobs for us are gonna shake out here in the next few weeks, and even when the season gets going. Solidifying our rotation should be interesting, but more competition is great for programs. We certainly have that this year."
All of that returning experience and improved depth has KWC coaches feeling confident in the squad they've assembled.
"We're extremely optimistic in comparison to this time last year," Cooper said. "We have a team that has been through some battles. We had some lessons that were learned last season. We've been able to have a lot of retention that can put those lessons into place in game situations this year.
"We have some pieces that we're very, very excited about right now."