For the last three seasons, the Park City High School boys' basketball team was paced by some of the most talented players ever to grace the program, but the 2011-12 crew that featured nine seniors is gone.
Now it's up to a group of very fresh faces to continue moving the program in the right direction. Fourth-year head coach Caleb Fine said this year's eclectic group of sophomores, juniors and seniors is the "most coachable" group he's ever come across, but with inexperience and an entirely new starting five come growing pains.
"They're young, eager to learn and open to learning," he said. "They want to win. I believe full-heartedly that this group wants to win. They know the best way to do that is to listen. The downside to that is we don't have a lot of experience returning."
In fact, of all the players on this year's Park City squad, only two players, seniors Ryan Sherman and Hayden Daily, played roles in 2011-12. Everyone else is new to the varsity level, according to Fine.
"They haven't had any opportunity to contribute a lot, but they're not feeling sorry for themselves," he said. "This is their chance to contribute and they get to create their own legacy. This is their program now."
If this year's team wants to improve on last year's disappointing 11-11 finish, it will start with the four seniors on the team Sherman, Daily, Brandon Olsen and guard JT Mellecker along with sophomores Sam Kingdon and Bosten VanDerVeur and junior Konnor Andersen.
Fine said this year's team has four players with size who can play significant roles in the post -- Sherman, Daily, Kingdon and Olsen -- which is something he's never had during his tenure as Park City head coach. Fine also said all four post players are capable of stretching the floor and knocking down shots from the perimeter.
"I think we could be a better set-shooting team from the perimeter (than last year)," he said. "I got four kids who will be in the game at once who I'll be very comfortable with wide-open 3's. We'll knock down shots if we're open. The biggest question is: Who will be able to handle the ball for this team?"
Enter VanDerVeur, a 6-foot-1 guard who Fine says is "the most special kid I've ever coached on a basketball floor." The sophomore will be the primary ball-handler for the Miners this year, and according to Fine, can do it all. The main issue will be keeping the youngster healthy and out of foul trouble because the backcourt depth is, as Fine says, "scary thin."
"We have no other options," Fine said. "When Bosten's in the game, we're going to be OK. When Bosten's not going to be in the game, it's going to be survival mode."
While Park City's front line features significant size with no player shorter than 6-foot-3, the young Miners must learn to carve out a style that best suits their strengths. Fine said he expects the team to implement a half-court zone defense as opposed to last year's full-court, ball-pressure defense that helped the Miners become a top-tier defensive team.
But with such little experience coming back, Park City will be challenged in the preseason from the get go. The Miners are scheduled to start their 2012-13 campaign at home against the Payson Lions on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and will face Springville, Morgan, South Summit, Taylorsville, Ben Lomond and Bear River in the first three weeks of the season.
"It can go both ways with a young team," Fine said. "It's going to be tough to win a game this year. That being said, this team could have the best record I've ever had. Every game in high school is tough to win, and when you have a tough preseason, it will be hard to win."
Asked to assess the competition in the perennially-strong Region 10 this season, Fine said Wasatch, Judge Memorial and Juan Diego are all contenders for the region crown. He said the Miners must claw their way back into the playoff picture and that starts with developing a tough-as-nails mentality, something Fine and his staff have been working on leading up to the preseason opener.
"Unless John Wooden comes through that door with a better way, we're going to continue to try and make these kids mentally tough and put them in adverse situations that aren't always fun," he said.
While lacking varsity experience and big-game familiarity, this Park City team has the potential to turn some heads in Region 10 play. But with the time to mesh and hammer out details dwindling, Fine and co. face an early-season gauntlet that could determine how good this group of fresh faces could be in 2012-13.
"This group has never won in their life -- ever," he said. "They're open to whatever we have to do to win, and that is great."