ELKHART — For the first time in three years, Elkhart Memorial basketball coach Kyle Sears is looking around his team's practice and not seeing Hank Smith.
Or Trey Gallope.
Or Jai-veon Qaiyim.
All three have moved on after graduation after earning three varsity letters with the Crimson Chargers and leading Memorial to the regional title game two years ago and a share of the Northern Lakes Conference championship last year.
Gallope and Smith were each first-team selection on The Truth's All-Area team last year.
But Sears does have three letterwinners returning – including starting guard D'Arjon Lewis – while also picking up Titus Rodgers, who started as a freshman at Elkhart Central last season.
"We have a lot of new faces this year, but the kids are really getting after it and playing hard in practice every day,'' Sears said. "The guys are doing a good job of picking up the system, but we're going to have to gain experience quickly.''
Lewis ran the point last season and played a key role for the 2018 sectional champions after getting called up late in his freshman year. He averaged 9.5 points and three assists for Memorial last season.
"I think D'Arjon is blossoming into his own and helping others develop at the same time,'' Sears said. "He'll likely be out point guard again, but he'll have to pick up the scoring a little more because there aren't as many guys around him that can score. I believe he'll be better defensively and at distributing the ball. We're looking at him as an all-around player.
"He was a little inconsistent with his shot last year, so he's been working really hard to get better.''
The other returning letterwinners are sophomore Malachi Emmons and senior Brackton Miller. Emmons is a 6-foot-1 swingman, while Miller is a shooting guard. Emmons had the game-winning shot at the buzzer against Penn last December, while Miller had 18 points – hitting all five of his 3-pointers – in a win against Warsaw last season.
"Malachi will step up into a bigger role this season, much like D'Arjon did last season after his freshman year,'' Sears said. "We expect him to be active on the boards and really show his athleticism. He has really played well so far.
"Brackton is our shooter and another guy that will step-up into a leadership role. We'll be looking at him to stretch the defense and he'll play a number of different positions. There are times we'll play a four-guard offense and he'll be a stretch four (forward).''
Rodgers scored 130 points for Elkhart Central last season and gained solid experience playing in a stacked Northern Indiana Conference in 2018-19.
Senior Brandon Brooks returns to the Memorial lineup after not playing last season. Brooks gives Sears something he hasn't had for a few years – a 6-foot-5 big man that will give the Chargers options both offensively and defensively.
Sears is also high on the potential of 6-foot-3 freshman Damarion Anderson, who is expected to play some key minutes this season.
"Damarion is a guy that will give us another great option inside,'' Sears said. "He' playing well so far and learning a lot, even though he's kind of taking a drink from a firehose because we're throwing so much at him in a short amount of time.''
Two other freshmen – Rodney Gates and Erick Nocentelli – are expected to split time between the JV and varsity this season. Nocentelli is Gallope's brother.
Seniors LaShawn Brown and James Peters, along with juniors Colin Baer and Jacob Marley, are expected to add depth for the Chargers this season.
"We have added some size this season, but we're still going to have to get up and down the court,'' Sears said. "The beginning of the year could be rough with our inexperience, so the kids will have to play together and trust the process, while also playing solid defense.''
The Chargers open on Tuesday at Elkhart Christian.
COACH: Kyle Sears, 6th season.