The Seneca Valley basketball team had four senior starters last season, but it was missing a point guard following the graduation of Christian Durbin, a standout during the 2010-11 season.
So early in the season, Raiders coach Victor Giannotta moved Easton Bazzoli, who was a 6-foot-5 junior at that time, to the point guard spot. It wasn't Bazzoli's natural position, but the Raiders started to heat up after the move.
From Jan. 7-27, the Raiders won eight of 10 games. That run eventually helped them qualify for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs, where they lost in the quarterfinals to Gateway. The Raiders went on to win a preliminary-round state playoff game before losing to the Gators again to end the season.
The four seniors are gone, but Bazzoli returns to lead the team this season after a spring and summer playing against some of the best players in the country.
In the offseason, Bazzoli played AAU basketball for the Basketball Stars of America. He got to play against some of the top high school players in the country, including the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, from Texas.
The Harrisons are both ranked among the top five players in the country in the class of 2013 by ESPN.com and Rivals.com and both signed letters of intent with the University of Kentucky earlier this month.
Bazzoli said the experience of playing against that caliber of opponent was beneficial.
"They're so much faster and stronger," Bazzoli said. "It was a good learning experience to play against them. It's good to play against that level of talent."
Bazzoli will use that experience as he prepares for his senior season with the Raiders. Although playing point guard last season helped him a lot with his ball-handling and decision-making, he said he is glad that he will move back to the wing this season with junior Matt Darby taking over the Raiders' point guard duties.
"It's better for me," he said. "I prefer playing on the wing."
He will also move into more of a leadership role this season, although Giannotta said it shouldn't be much of a transition.
"He played a big role for us last year and a lot of times he had the ball in his hands in end-of-game situations," Giannotta said. "As good as he can be, the team has always come first. He always does what he can to help the team win. He's not selfish."
But while trying to help his team reach its goals, Bazzoli will also have to decide where he wants to play next season.
A senior, he is currently ranked as the No. 7 player for the class of 2013 in the area by pittsburghbasketballreport.com. He already turned down an offer from The Citadel and now has offers from the Naval Academy, and two strong Division II programs, Seton Hill and Wheeling Jesuit, among others. But he said he is going to let the season play out a bit to see what happens.
"It's tough, but I'm trying to make the situation as fun an experience as I can," Bazzoli said.
"I'm just focused on the season and helping this team be as good as we can be and I hope everything else will just fall into place."
Although the Raiders did lose four starters, they do return their top four bench players from last season. R.J. McCauley, a 6-foot-3 forward who is also a standout football player, was the team's sixth man last season and will be one of the team's captains this season.
Alex Snyder also played a key role off the bench and at 6 feet 7 will provide good size for the Raiders, as will 6-foot-4 senior Zach Spangler.
The Raiders will have their work cut out for them in Section 3-AAAA this season. While the section no longer has last season's WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up Central Catholic, it added the two WPIAL Class AAA finalists from last season, New Castle and Hampton.
The section also still has North Allegheny and two WPIAL semifinalists from last season, Butler Area and Shaler Area.
The Titans have the consensus best player in the district in Geno Thorpe, a Penn State commit.
"There is going to be a team that doesn't make the playoffs that could win [titles in] other sections," Giannotta said.
Which makes the goals of the Raiders even loftier.
"It's not going to be easy, but the sentiment in the locker room is that we want to win the section and WPIAL championships and then go as far in states as we can," Bazzoli said.hsbasketball