CHATHAM, NJ - More times than not, the offensive tone for the 2015-'16 Chatham boys basketball season was set by the inside play of Colin McKenna.
That worked out pretty well as McKenna led the team in scoring and the Cougars rolled to a 28-2 record that included the Morris County Tournament championship and a berth in the state sectional final.
The good news for Chatham opponents is that McKenna was a senior last season. The bad news is that the 2016-'17 Cougars may be even harder to stop with an experienced backcourt trio of Jack Rooney, Mac Bredahl and Johnny Maurer taking more shots.
Chatham coach Todd Ervin, entering his 26th season as the head coach, isn't one for hyperbole. His teams will play hard-nosed man-to-man defense and come ready to play. So far, he likes what he sees.
"We have good players coming back," Ervin said. "We're looking forward to the season. It's going to be a good year. With Maurer, Rooney and Bredahl all back, that's where our experience is. It's a little different dynamic. We don't know what it's going to look like until we play some games."
The new offense revolves around the guards, with senior forwards, 6-6 Graham LeMon and 6-5 John Burkard, setting screens. Burkard is a fierce rebounder and LeMon is likely to cause a lot of headaches for opposing defenses with his screens.
"We're learning a totally new offense," Rooney said. "It couldn't be going better. We're getting everybody involved, we're all making shots and the bigs are setting up the screens."
Rooney led the Cougars in 3-point shooting and averaged about 14 points per game as the second-leading scorer. In the state tournament against Iselin Kennedy, he set a school record by draining eight 3-pointers and finished with 26 points. Rooney will benefit from more ball handling by the fluid Bredahl, who could take over at point guard and allow Rooney to find an open spot behind the three-point arc.
"We had an awesome year last year, but we have to put that behind us and use that for motivation and confidence," Bredahl said. "This is a new year and a new script. There is going to be non-stop movement from the guards running off the bigs. We're trying to get not only the guards involved, but create good spots for the big men to post up in the blocks for easy baskets and easy post reads."
The 6-1 Maurer was stuck behind senior guard Tristan LeMon last season, limiting his minutes. But this could be the junior's breakout season.
"We're hoping (Maurer) doesn't get hurt," Rooney said. "He looks great in practice. He's attacking the basket well. He's going to have to take on the role of Tristan and guard the other team's best player."
Chatham's front court is bolstered by the return of 6-5 senior lacrosse standout Kyle Kology, who did not come out for the team last season. Kology could be another surprise weapon for Ervin.
"He looks great, it doesn't look like he took a year off from basketball," Rooney said.
Ervin's stable of guards includes juniors Kurt Sacco and Ryan Decker, and senior Donnie McAuliffe. The nucleus of the varsity squad is a strong junior class, which includes forwards Chris Conlin and Dan Baker. The lone sophomore is guard Ryan Doherty.
"Ryan Doherty will be a good player for us," Ervin said.
Chatham opens the season with a 7 p.m. tipoff at home on Friday, Dec. 16 against Delbarton.