The Washington boys basketball team is in transition.



But area fans should not expect a drop off just because there are a lot of unfamiliar faces in orange and black.



The Panthers were 19-8 last season and saw their Mid-Illini Conference title streak end at five seasons with a second-place record of 10-4.


The Washington boys basketball team is in transition.

But area fans should not expect a drop off just because there are a lot of unfamiliar faces in orange and black.

The Panthers were 19-8 last season and saw their Mid-Illini Conference title streak end at five seasons with a second-place record of 10-4.

Four players from the 2009-10 squad graduated and five more with eligibility left did not return.

Seventh-year head coach Kevin Brown said he likes what the young team has done thus far.

“I’m pleased with their work ethic and the things they’re doing right now,” he said. “This is a team that is going to continue to get better all year long.”

One of the players back is senior guard Mark Roth, who will compete in his third full varsity season. He was a first-team all-Mid-Illini Conference selection a year ago.

Roth led Washington with 12.5 points per game and, with 81 three-pointers, accounted for more than half of the team’s long-distance makes. He also was a 77 percent free-throw shooter.

“We’re looking for a big season out of Mark,” Brown said.

Opponents could be extended defensively since sophomore guard Alec Peters gives the Panthers a sharpshooter on the other side.

In addition to Roth, Brown said he is looking for the other main returnees to step up and be leaders on the floor.

Senior guard Ben Weston, senior post Dalton Wagler and junior guard/post Ben Ryan received varying levels of playing time last winter.

Ryan provided 7.3 ppg, fourth on the team, 3.7 rebounds per contest and shot .469 from the field. He canned 73 percent of his free throws.

There are seven other sophomores on the roster who Brown said will help the team. They are accustomed to winning, coming off a 24-0 season as freshmen.

Tucker Harlan, Bryce Wright, Grant Johnson, Mason McCoy, Riley Woodward and Cade Jackson are guards, while Troy Adams is a post.

“They were going to compete for positions regardless of who is here,” Brown said.

Johnson made a push for the point-guard spot. McCoy has been a pleasant surprise as a starting contender by playing with passion.

Junior Josh Hack has emerged as a post who will compete for playing time.

Harlan, Jackson and senior post Nick Finney will miss the first eight games with athletic-code violations.

While Washington will not be a polished product right away, Brown does not want to delay getting good results.

“We have to find a way to compete right now and get better throughout the season,” he said.

Brown applauded the time commitment the players have invested.

He added players like Roth and Ryan have done a great job as leaders and others have joined them.

The Panthers began the ’10-11 campaign Wednesday with a Mid-Illini game vs. East Peoria in the State Farm Tournament of Champions.

They also play the next three nights in the fifth-annual event that has been ranked as the top Thanksgiving tournament in the country.

With players like Anthony Davis, Branden Dawson and Nick Johnson and teams such as Henderson (Nev.) Findlay College Prep and Bryn Athn (Penn.) Academy of the New Church recognized on a national level, there will be a lot of talent in Torry Gymnasium.

“Without a doubt, this year is the best we’ve had with the people we’ve got coming in,” said Brown, who reported media requests jumped considerably.

Brown called the Mid-Illini the most balanced its been since his arrival.

Returning champion Morton, with its top three players back, is the favorite. The Potters, under first-year head coach Jarrett Brown, are covered well with their collection of shooters, a point guard and interior players.

East Peoria, Metamora and Limestone are three others Brown cited that are going to be very good.

Pekin, Canton and Dunlap each are going to be compete, Brown added.

There are a series of schedule changes this year for Washington.

Normal West, Woodruff (which closed) and St. Louis Lift for Life Academy all were dropped.

Bloomington (Dec. 4) and Central (Feb. 12) were added to the non-conference slate, as was a Martin Luther King tournament hosted by Moline at Wharton Field House Jan. 15 and 17.

“It’s by far the toughest schedule we’ve had,” said Brown, who mentioned people might have to go back to the days of the Panthers’ membership in the Mid-State 10 Conference to find one of comparable difficulty.

Dan Garske returned to the staff this year as the freshman coach.

Robert Izaguirre, a 2010 grad, and Ryan Grebner and Connor Underwood, current seniors who did not go out for basketball, were second-team all-conference honorees.

Izaguirre and Grebner were the Nos. 2 and 3 scorers, respectively, while Underwood was the top rebounder and shooter.

Colton Underwood was another player who brought inside toughness before moving on to Illinois State University to play football.

Although Washington is in a different position than it has been recently, it would come as no surprise if the team blossomed.