The Jaguars’ early season schedule have them tangling with Rockdale County, dynastic Miller Grove and Tucker.
Three games against top-tier — at least projected to be — squads. Three potential trips to the woodshed.
That’s just fine with Jaguars coach Curtis Gilleylen.
“These three games will definitely let me know early on where we’re at,” said Gilleylen. “I kind of like it that way.
His club turned heads last season — advancing to the Sweet 16 despite a 9-20 record — and look to do more of the same in 2012-13.
For starters, continuity will likely be on their side. The Jaguars return four of their five starters from a year ago.
It’s worth noting, though, that the missing man happens to be leading scorer Derrick Harper, whose 20 points per game were virtually automatic.
Still, the Jaguars coach believes he’s got enough pieces to fill that void.
“If I get them to play hard and play as a team, we shouldn’t miss Derrick that much,” said Gilleylen. “He was our heart and soul, though, and he turned up the intensity … so we’ll still be searching for somebody to replace that.”
As it stands, Stephenson’s returning core four — guard Trae Gresham, forward/centers Delmont Walton and Montez Sweat and small forward John Bradley — will be called upon to lead the team’s less experienced contingent.
A clear-cut fifth starter has yet to be determined, but a couple candidates have emerged in out-of-state transfers Jerrod Blount [Florida] and Steven Clark [South Carolina].
“It’s going to be up for grabs,” said Gilleylen of the coveted spot in the starting rotation.
If the Jaguars are to make any noise against top-flight competition this season, they will have to adapt to and master their coach’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink philosophy regarding style of play on both sides of the ball.
“I like to play fast, I like to play slow, I like to be methodic and sometimes chaotic,” said Gilleylen. “I’d like us to be good at a little bit of everything.”
In the meantime, look for Stephenson’s familiar faces to pick up the slack as the team’s statistical pecking order is established early in the season.
Sweat, who came on late last season to average a double-double, will undoubtedly be out to pick up where he left off. Gresham, also a late bloomer in 2011-12, may resume his averages of nine points and a couple rebounds, if not improve on them.