East Peoria is taking the necessary steps to turn around the boys basketball program.
"I'm pleased and impressed with the guys I'm around here," first-year EPCHS head coach Matt Wright said. "I'm proud of the work we've put in so far. We'll see how ready we are to compete."
The Raiders were scheduled to open their season Tuesday in a Mid-Illini Conference game at Limestone as part of the Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament.
"They've picked up the system we're trying to put in place and are learning to communicate with one another," said Wright of the players.
East Peoria had a difficult 2011-12 season. It went 1-24 overall and placed eighth in the Mid-Illini Conference at 0-14.
Only three current players — senior forward/center Adam Sommer and juniors guard Sean Mulhern and Ryan Slusher — logged varsity minutes for that squad.
Mulhern was the No. 3 scorer at 3.5 points per game. Sommer was fifth at 3.0 ppg.
Sommer was the blocks leader and Mulhern ranked second in assists.
Sommer has been a vocal leader in the preseason, Wright said.
Junior guard/forward Michael Thompson, an 1,800-yard rusher on the football field, also has brought leadership among his attributes.
The Raiders need contributions from everybody.
"We're not going to put one guy on the floor who can dominate a basketball game," Wright said.
Junior guard/forwards Karson Buckley and Kieran Buckley provide athleticism.
Benett Crim, a junior guard, and Mulhern, can beat defenders off the dribble.
Slusher supplies a physical nature. Aaron Scully, another junior guard, is dedicated to what East Peoria is trying to accomplish.
"Everyone's got their own slice of the pie," said Wright. "I expect eight-nine guys to contribute as the season goes on."
Others on the '12-13 roster include: juniors Mitch Gnehm and Reid Meeks and sophomores Hayden Burtis and Jakob Burtis.
Washington seeks its seventh conference crown in the last nine years.
The Panthers have many pursuers, including Class 4A sectional finalist Pekin.
"The conference will be a dog fight like it is any other year," said Wright, who added winning the league title means something. "I expect we will compete well and do well."
Besides the strength at the top, the bottom of the M-I appears improved.
Canton returns a first-team all-conference guard, Hunter Rhodes, and Dunlap seems to have its best group in the last few years.
Corey Crotz was the main loss from last year's senior class. He was a first-team all-conference honoree after leading the Raiders in nearly every category and winning the M-I scoring title at 22.0 ppg.
The East Peoria schedule this season features a Jan. 5 road game at Midwest Central, from where Wright graduated in 1999.
Page 2 of 2 - The tournament in Galesburg replaces the State Farm Tournament of Champions in the season-opening slot.
The Raiders remain part of the Carbondale Holiday Tournament field and also face Notre Dame again at Renaissance Coliseum in the River City Shootout.
East Peoria resumes play in the five-game Galesburg tournament Wednesday vs. the host Silver Streaks.