Dillon Wadsack, right, an All-Europe first-teamer last season, returns to help the Royals defend their D-I crown.

Dillon Wadsack, right, an All-Europe first-teamer last season, returns to help the Royals defend their D-I crown. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

There’s enough rebuilding going on to make the boys high school basketball season, which opens Friday, a work in progress. Fifteen of last season’s 20 All-Europe selections have left, and even long-established programs such as Heidelberg, European D-I champion seven times since 2000, are feeling the pinch.

“Before, with (All-Europe first-teamers) Chris (Frazier) and J.C. (Sharer), we were ready to play a game the first day of practice,” said Heidelberg coach Brad Shahan, who guided the Lions to those seven titles. “They already knew my system. This year, we’ve just got two back from last season, and one of them, Chris Cuthbert, is out with a football injury.”

The major exception to the cupboard-is-bare syndrome, at least in Division I, is defending champion Ramstein, which boasts seven returnees, among them All-Europe first-teamer Dillon Wadsack, a big-game point guard who scored 20 and 13 points in last season’s semifinal and championship games; All-Europe second-teamer Michael Wallace, a defensive nightmare for the opposition; and Brandon Oxendine, a key tournament performer who played AAU ball over the summer.

Arthur O’Connor, who coached the Royals to a 17-1 record last season, singled out Heidelberg and Patch, coached by Bill Lassetter, as contenders because of their superior coaching, but lamented that because of regional play, he doesn’t get to see all the D-I teams until tournament time.

Kaiserslautern coach Brant Tryon wasn’t the least bit reticent about sharing his view of the division, regardless of the schedule.

“I think Ramstein should be very tough this year due to the 80 kids (O’Connor) had try out for the team,” e-mailed Tryon, who characterized his team among those rebuilding.

“I think Heidelberg is going to be super-tough because Shahan puts together a fantastic program; I think Patch will be fast, tall and all over the court; I think Lakenheath will be tall and strong; I think that Wiesbaden will be coached by one of the best in DODEA (Carl Johnson); I think Vilseck will be very tough — their numbers grow by the day — and ISB and SHAPE are always strong. . . .”

Division II champ Aviano lost three starters and its sixth man, according to veteran coach Ken McNeely. The Saints did retain All-Europe first-teamer Jamal Tuck, who averaged 15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 steals and 4.6 assists per game last season. Also back are Sean Outing, Alex Gary and Shaheed Seaton.

That’s enough strength to persuade Bamberg coach Tim Smith, who guided Hanau to D-II titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and the D-IV crown in 2008, to cast his preseason vote for Aviano.

He added that his Barons will be solid, behind seniors Danny Kieser, Joshua Fletcher and Cortez Lindsey and all-tourney junior Quadel Webb. He also endorsed the expanded D-II tourney field he’ll be part of at the end of February.

Baumholder, led by senior captain Artrell Davis, an All-Europe first-teamer who averaged 23 points per game last year, figures to contend under new coach Lahoma Hendrix, as will Bitburg, led by 6-foot-7 All-Europe second-teamer Deion Giddens. Last season, Giddens averaged 19.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.

The final All-Europe returnee, sophomore Tre’Von Owens, a Division I college prospect who averaged 24.7 points, 10.7 rebounds per game, installs Rota as the D-III co-favorite along with Sigonella, according to Brussels coach Chris Vahrenhorst. Sigonella, last season’s Small Schools champion, returns D-IV title-game star James Campbell and three other members of the Jaguars’ top six from last season, Vahrenhorst pointed out.

Vahrenhorst said his initial task this season is replacing the “30 points and 18 rebounds per game that went back to the Far East (in the persons of Jason Sumpter and Jeremy Howell, now at Kadena High School on Okinawa).”

Four-year point guard Marco Proietto and center Matiss Suideikis return for Brussels.

Alconbury and Menwith Hill can be expected to parlay their football athletes into effective basketball squads, Vahrenhorst predicted, and Lajes, Ankara and Incirlik, the western and eastern ends of DODDS-Europe, round out the D-III tourney field. The last three will be seen by most of their foes for the first time when they arrive for the DODDS-Europe tournament Feb. 24-27. Unlike the Heidelbergs of the world, those schools are familiar with a work in progress.

2009 boys championsDivision I — RamsteinDivision II — AvianoDivision III — BaumholderDivision IV — SigonellaDivisional alignmentsDivision IHeidelberg, Ramstein, ISB, SHAPE, Kaiserslautern, Vilseck, Lakenheath, Wiesbaden, PatchDivision IIAFNORTH, Bitburg, Ansbach, BFA, AOSR, Hohenfels, Aviano, Marymount, Bamberg, Milan, Baumholder, Naples, Bitburg, VicenzaDivision IIIAlconbury, Lajes, Ankara, Menwith Hill, Brussels, Rota, Florence, Sigonella, IncirlikRegional alignmentsRegion IAFNORTH, Lakenheath, Alconbury, Menwith Hill, Brussels, Rota, ISB, SHAPERegion IIBaumholder, Mannheim, Bitburg, Ramstein, Kaiserslautern, WiesbadenRegion IIIAnsbach, Hohenfels, Bamberg, Patch, BFA, Vilseck, HeidelbergRegion IVAOSR, Milan, Aviano, Naples, Florence, Sigonella, Marymount, Vicenza

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