With less than a week before the official tipoff of the Blackhawk boys basketball team's season, Andy Hedrick had yet to narrow down a projected starting five.
"I honestly don't know," the eighth-year coach of the Cougars said early last week. "We have 11 guys with experience and they're all likely to start or play. Some guys may start depending on that night's opponent or a certain situation.
"The big challenge is going to be whether or not everyone is able to accept their role, especially if that means starting one night and then maybe seeing their time cut the next night."
Hedrick, however, has embraced the depth factor entering the season. After two games, he's still feeling his way. The Cougars lost a tough 48-45 decision to Gateway, the defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion, Saturday at home, then dropped another against a Quad-A opponent Tuesday, 57-45, at Pine-Richland.
"We definitely have a lot of depth," Hedrick said. "That's going to be a good thing. It's going to allow for competition between the guys and make them work hard throughout the season."
Besides returning a core of veteran lettermen, Hedrick also welcomed back four upperclassmen who did not play last season.
Junior guard/forward Chandler Kincade, the football team's starting quarterback as well as a Pitt football recruit, saw considerable playing time during his freshman year and has returned after sitting out his sophomore year.
Two seniors, forward Alex Caratelli and guard Cole Chiappialle, also were standouts on the football team as a receiver and running back, respectivvely, and they have decided to play basketball again this season after sitting out as juniors.
Also, senior Brendan Barnett, a 6-foot-8 center who also sat out his junior season, returns to the court this winter to supply some much needed size to the lineup.
According to Hedrick, those four players simply decided not to come out for the team last year.
"This actually presents a unique situation," Hedrick said. "We have guys who weren't here last year but still return with experience. Those guys kind of opened the door for the other guys who played last year and gained experience, so we have a decent amount of guys with experience and they've all played together, too."
Alex Cooke, a 6-2 senior center, and 5-8 junior guard Chase Migliore are Hedrick's two returning starters from last season. Junior guard/forward Chris Cassidy, 6-0, and 5-8 senior guard Logan Frye also saw quality minutes last year, while 5-8 guard Tyler Engle, 5-10 guard Tyler Nicholson and 5-10 forward Tyler Shroads, all juniors, are expected to add additional depth.
"Everyone who didn't play last year and the guys who did have meshed well at this point," Hedrick said. "Sometimes when kids come back to a team after missing a year there could be an issue, but everyone's attitude has been great. We have a great group and everyone is cooperating from the top down to the bottom."
Hedrick, however, did lose his top scorers from last season, Cory Ostach and Nick Martin. The pair of graduated seniors led the Cougars, both averaging 16 points a game.
Blackhawk went 8-4 in Section 2-AAA last season and tied Central Valley for second place behind section-winner New Castle. The Cougars beat both South Park and Uniontown during the WPIAL playoffs before losing to Montour in the quarterfinals to finish the year with a 14-10 overall record.
"We battled through a lot of injuries and we were missing those guys who didn't play," Hedrick said. "But we were still able to overcome all of that and ended up having a pretty good season."
Realignment within the WPIAL this season, however, will change Section 2-AAA a bit. New Castle, the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion, has moved up in classification to Class AAAA, while Ellwood City, which played in Section 2-AA the past few years, makes the move to Triple-A and will fill the spot vacated by the Red Hurricane.
"The big thing at this point is we really don't know where we stand," Hedrick said. "Our schedule is pretty tough."
The Cougars jump into section play against Ellwood City on Friday.