Expecting to feature a balanced scoring attack and utilize consistent outside shooting threats this season, the Fort Hays State men's basketball team will open its 2019-20 campaign this weekend with a pair of games against Great American Conference opponents in Russellville, Ark.
The Tigers will face Arkansas Tech at 5:30 p.m. Friday before taking on Southwestern Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Eight of the Tigers' 14 players are new to the program, but FHSU returns four players who played key roles last year in Aaron Nicholson, Devin Davis, Jared Vitztum and Nyjee Wright.
"We have more scoring options than we did before, I just don't know if we have that one guy like Brady (Werth)," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. "But we've got guys that can spread the floor, shoot the ball and drive it and be able to put some points on the board.
"I think we might be doing it more as a group than maybe one individual," Johnson added. "Our biggest question right now is when we're not making shots, are we going to be able to still score? And defensively and rebounding — how well are we going to be able to guard, how well are we going to be able to rebound against certain athletics teams with size?"
The Tigers added five transfers — senior forward Jake Hutchings (Chaminade), junior guard Perry Carroll (Allen County), junior guard Alvin Thompson (Cloud County), junior forward Jackson Miller (Coffeyville Community) and sophomore guard Gabe Pieschl (Cloud County).
"I feel like we're probably more talented than we were last year," Nicholson said. "We've just got to be tougher on defense and be able to be rebound and finish out defensive possessions."
Johnson said it will take time for the newcomers to get their feet under them in a new program.
"With new guys, it takes a special, special person to be good right away," Johnson said. "The only guys I can remember who were able to do that were Rob Davis, who ended up being an All-American, and Dwayne Brunson, who was a great player. Most of your new guys, whether they're coming from another four-year school, a junior college or right out of high school, there's an adjustment period. I think they're all going through that.
"Hopefully by the second semester you'll see them getting better and better."
Nicholson is the Tigers' leading returning scorer after averaging nine points per game last year as a junior. Nicholson said he will to continue to be a leader by example in the program.
"I'm not much of a talker, but if I do have to start talking and get on some people, I'll do that for sure," he said. "We're big on toughness, and so I just have to lead by example and show people how to play defense and stuff like that."
Johnson said forward Calvin Harrington, who redshirted last year, will be a game-time decision for the Tigers while battling a foot injury.
"With him, we're just athletic enough," Johnson said. "Without him, that takes away an athlete.
"It's amazing how just taking away one person can change some things. If we can get full strength, I think our depth will be a positive for us."
Both teams the Tigers face this weekend had losing seasons last year, but Johnson expects to get tough tests.
"(Arkansas Tech) has 11 newcomers so you can get a lot better in a hurry," Johnson said. "Both these teams we're facing didn't have great records last year, but they have whole new rosters. I don't know how prepared we'll be from a scouting report because we have no idea about their personnel, except for looking at their players and where their previous stops were and what they did.
"We're just going to have to go out there and do what we do and hopefully do it at a high level."