When Bryson Flax took over the Southeast of Saline boys program three years ago, he knew he would have solid contributors all around beginning with his first freshmen class.
Of those freshmen, now seniors, the three that were still playing basketball decided to pursue other opportunities.
But, isn't affecting the Trojans heading into the 2021-22 season. Even without a single senior on their roster, the Trojans have a core group returning with the junior and sophomore classes.
"These guys have been with me ever since they've been in the program (and) I've been coaching them," said Flax, who enters his fourth season at Southeast. "I think it really helps us out that a lot of them have been playing since they were freshmen."
Southeast, which opens the season at Class 3A No. 1-ranked Hesston on Friday, returns two starters in 6-foot-5 forward Eli Sawyers and Nakari Morrical-Palmer, a 6-3 guard. Sawyers, an All-North Central Activities Association first-team selection and an All-Saline County pick averaged 14 points and eight rebounds during his sophomore year.
"He's just physically bigger," Flax said of Sawyers. "He's physically stronger. He grew a little bit. He's dedicated himself to basketball and he's in the gym all the time.
"He's playing above the rim more often. Defensively, I think he's gotten a better understanding of what we're trying to do defensively."
Morrical-Palmer was an honorable mention All-County selection after averaging 9.6 points per game.
"He's bouncier than what he was," Flax said. "We're going to be able to play him above the rim a little bit. Nakari's shooting has really progressed in a year and I think that's partly (because) he had a really busy summer with basketball.
"Nakari is one of the smartest basketball players that I've had a chance to coach."
Also back are Luke Gebhardt, Drew Richardson, Drake Augustine, Caden Isaacson, Michael Murray and Kayson Lilley. The Trojans lost Jake Gebhardt for the season due to an injury he suffered in football against Cheney.
"We lost some depth there with (Jake Gebhardt)," Flax said. "I've been extremely impressed with Luke. He's much more improved."
Daniel Kejr (5-foot-10) will also be added to the mix and have some time at point guard.
"He had a great summer," Flax said. "Danny's shooting is coming around a little bit. He's a really good passer. He's really learned how to play team defense which is encouraging to see."
After Friday's game against Hesston, Southeast will travel to Smoky Valley (Dec. 7) and Abilene (Dec. 14) while also hosting Beloit (Dec. 10), Hillsboro (Dec. 17) and Sacred Heart (Dec. 20) to round out the pre-Christmas schedule.
Flax said the Trojans' schedule is perfect before Christmas.
"I would rather find out our weaknesses and be able to work on them early than winning by 30 and having those weaknesses until after Christmas," Flax said. "I'm in favor of our schedule and it's brutal. With limited practices for some of these guys, the goal is to compete and survive before Christmas and then can hopefully really make some strides after Christmas.
"We're gonna compete. I've got a group full of competitors that love to compete. They get after it and it's a great group to go to battle with."
SE SALINE BOYS
Head coach: Bryson Flax (4th year, 33-30).
Last year's record: 14-8.
Returning starters (2): Eli Sawyers, 6-5, jr., F; Nakari Morrical-Palmer, 6-3, jr., G.
Other top returning players: Drake Augustine, 5-9, jr., PG.; Michael Murray, 5-10, jr., F; Luke Gebhardt, 6-0, jr., F; Caden Issacson, 5-10, jr., F; Drew Richardson, 5-10, jr., G; Kayson Lilley, 5-9, jr., G; Jake Gebhardt, 6-3, jr, F.
DECEMBER: 3, at Hesston; 7, at Smoky Valley; 10, Beloit; 14, at Abilene; 17, Hillsboro; 20, Sacred Heart.
JANUARY: 7, at Minneapolis; 11, Clay Center; 17-21, Sterling Invitational; 25, Republic Co.; 28, at Ellsworth.
FEBRUARY: 1, at Sacred Heart; 4, Chapman; 8, at Beloit; 11, Minneapolis; 14, at Ellinwood; 15, Ellsworth; 22, at Republic Co.
Dylan Sherwood has been a sports reporter for the Salina Journal since August 2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DSherwoodSJ
This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: How Southeast of Saline boys basketball makes up for lack of seniors