QUINCY, IL. (WGEM) -- It's the trick and the treat John Wood men's basketball coach Brad Hoyt gets when practice begins every October.
How to blend his second-year players with the newcomers as quickly as possible to prepare for an always grueling early season schedule.
With five sophomores back in the mix and another pair of sophomores, including Keokuk's Jonny Dahl, who have previous college basketball experience, Hoyt was confident those seven players would provide invaluable leadership, and the freshman class has followed suit despite a significant learning curve going from the high school ranks to a much bigger stage.
"A lot of times their ability to do that is dependent upon the sophomore group and the abilities for the sophomores to lead, communicate the right way, and be inclusive," Hoyt said.
"We got a really good second year group that's been really good at sort of allowing those freshman to figure it out internally. Then at the same time we've got some pretty good freshman, too. We got some guys that can play a little bit, that have a little edge to them, and they're pretty confident. You got to have those things as you step on the college floor for the first time."
Half of the first eight games on the Blazers schedule have come against nationally ranked teams, including perennial powers Moberly, Indian Hills, and Kirkwood, and the slate doesn't let up prior to the Christmas break.
Hoyt frames the schedule this way to challenge his team for all-important conference play after the first of the year.
"I think you do it with the idea that you're trying to prepare yourself. You're trying to find experiences. You're trying to put yourself in situations that you can pull from when you get to January, February, and March, Hoyt added.
"The maturity of your team, the way we frame it, (and) the way that we handle those situations I think will dictate how much we can really pull out of it. Last spring we put this schedule together with the idea, like we always do, that we're going to give ourselves experiences to be able to pull from, and I fully expect us to do the same."
John Wood (5-3) begins a five-game in 15-day stretch Friday at Johnson County in a rematch of a game the Blazers won by 40 points earlier this month at the Student Activity Center.
They will also play Highland in Overland Park, Kansas on Saturday before returning home for three consecutive home games.