MATTOON — Lake Land men's basketball coach Brandon Colvin had a simple goal in his first season at the helm last year. He wanted to see the team improve on its eight wins from the 2015-16 season.
Lake Land accomplished that goal last season by finishing 14-18 and the Lakers took a big jump up in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference with a 9-9 record. Lake Land went 3-10 in 2015-16.
So even though Colvin added some talented freshmen and transfers for the upcoming season, he is still keeping the expectations simple. He wants to see his team simply improve on the 14 wins from last season.
"I think for us, basically show improvement from last year. Our 14-18 record was a good improvement from the year before. With the core and the freshmen, I expect us to be in the upper half of the conference at the minimum," Colvin said. "I think we are talented and deeper. We are 10 deep and have everything you need. Players that can handle it, post players and people that can shoot the three. I think this year's team has a chance to do something special if we can stay healthy and come together."
Lake Land opens the season with a home game at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Laker Fieldhouse against Robert Morris - Peoria.
The Lakers did lose William Tinsley, who is at Illinois State this season, and Nnamdi Van Dulm, who signed with North Dakota State, along with Robert DeVries, but Lake Land has plenty of experience back. Josh Jefferson, who has verbally committed to Cal State Northridge, led the team with 18.7 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from behind the arc. Josh Robinson was third on the team with 13.1 points and 4.6 assists per game.
DeTaveon Day and Sean Kromah also are two key returners from last season.
"It definitely helps having a sophomore group that knows the system," Colvin said. "We can run three to four of the same sets and the same offense and I have guys that have played in it. Josh Robinson has been huge with the freshmen with what we want to run."
The key is how the newcomers mesh with the experienced players since Colvin's roster is full of freshmen and transfers. However, Colvin and his staff - Dave Earp, Julian Larry and Chad Graves - brought in players can adapt to Lake Land's system to make the transition easier.
"Everyone has gotten along well and a lot of the guys we signed, they ran the same system with a lot of movement with our read-and-react offense," Colvin said. "Guys know what they can and can't do."
Lake Land's offense starts with the two Josh's with Robinson at the point and Jefferson at the No. 2.
"When you have two sophomores that are as talented and played that many games as them, no doubt you are going to lean on them big time," Colvin said. "The biggest thing are the freshman guards and can they give us the same output and effort because you can't play both of those two 40 minutes."
Cumberland graduate Trevor Beard and Mattoon graduate Davis Johnson are two guards who could see plenty of time along with Dazon Farris, Allante Harper and Tra Landers.
Inside, the Lakers lost two solid post players with Paulo Camillo and Estiven Estacio. Both players moved on to the next level and both will be tough to replace. Amel Kuljuhovic, a sophomore, transferred in and the Waterloo, Iowa, native is 6-10. Day returns and Colvin brought in Kevin and Kevonte Williams from Rantoul. Kasey Elam sat out last season and is ready to go this year.
"Amel, offensively, he is a good player, especially with the inside-outside game and he rebounds well," Colvin said. "Kasey will help with his athleticism with his rebounding and the chance for a big play. Kevin Williams has been really good and has a good shot at starting. His biggest thing is keeping out of foul trouble. Tromon Weston is coming along and we have some depth inside."
Colvin is hoping to move up the GRAC ladder this season, but know the conference will be difficult once again.
"I think any team any year can win the GRAC," Colvin said. "It's about who avoids the injuries and comes together the most. Do we have the talent to compete for it? Yes, but everyone in the conference can probably say that."