Ramstein's Naser Eaves, left, goes up for a shot over Wiesbaden's Joshua Osakwe during the DODEA-Europe Division I championship in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Ramstein defeated Wiesbaden 48-46 to win the title.

Ramstein's Naser Eaves, left, goes up for a shot over Wiesbaden's Joshua Osakwe during the DODEA-Europe Division I championship in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Ramstein defeated Wiesbaden 48-46 to win the title. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Why wait?

The 2016-17 DODEA-Europe boys basketball season ended in February with a thrilling Division I boys championship game, a dramatic 48-46 win for the Ramstein Royals over the homestanding Wiesbaden Warriors.

The teams stage their rematch Friday, the first day of the 2017-18 campaign.

The matchup of the Warriors and the three-time defending champion Royals is the centerpiece of a busy opening weekend featuring 21 teams in action as teams begin the chase for one of three divisional titles, to be determined at the European championships Feb. 21-24 at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Division I Ramstein extended its streak to three seasons with its narrow defeat of Wiesbaden last season, and the Royals have a good chance of extending it again come February.

Four players return from last year’s starting five, giving the Royals the kind of experience and established chemistry that is invaluable in a fast-moving three-month season that includes a month-long hiatus for the holidays.

But stability succeeds only when paired with talent, and Ramstein has that too. The Royals boast size and skill up front in 6-foot-4 junior Naser Eaves and 6-foot-3 senior Sincere Dudley. Jerod Little emerged as one of DODEA-Europe’s best playmakers in guiding Ramstein’s title run as a freshman point guard. And junior Gabe Fraley provides reliable contributions on the wing.

The runners-up over the course of Ramstein’s current title reign figure to present its largest obstacles again this winter.

Wiesbaden returns six players from last year’s finalists. The Warriors deploy a perimeter-focused lineup of versatile scorers and defenders, including point guard Tyrese Harris and wings Donte Hurt and Caleb Brown.

Kaiserslautern, which fell to Ramstein in last year’s semifinals after reaching the 2015 and 2016 championship games, has three starters back and a premier pair of seniors in Isiah Washington and Marlon Robbins.

Naples visits Lakenheath on Friday in a fascinating matchup pitting teams at opposite extremes of the division’s geographic spectrum. Appropriately, then, the game features two historically strong programs at a crossroads.

Naples narrowly missed a title shot last winter with a double-overtime semifinal loss to Wiesbaden, but the exit of stars Terrell Staten and KC Evans means the Wildcats will have to rebuild that momentum with a new group of frontline players. Guards Anthony Newton, Omar Lopez, Tyrone Haynes and Tye Thompson will look to do just that.

Lakenheath, meanwhile, struggled through a winless divisional season last winter and faces a long march back to its former status as a contender. The Lancers will join SHAPE, Stuttgart, Vilseck and Vicenza in trying to crack the division’s upper tier this season.

Division II Black Forest Academy and Rota have faced off in each of the last two championship games in this division, with Rota winning the first meeting and BFA winning last year. Both schools lost a lot of talent since their February meeting and will need to replace that missing production to have a chance to return to another final. Rota will get a sizeable boost from the return of 6-foot-5 big man Andy Drake, who missed the end of the team’s playoff run last February due to injury.

A similar challenge applies to Marymount, which lost the services of do-everything guard Dominic Laffitte over the offseason.

While those teams look to regain their footing, the Aviano Saints are finding theirs. The team made an impressive run to the semifinals last season, and while it has attrition of its own to overcome, the squad also has the pieces to do just that. Sophomore Ben Broome is a 6-foot-4 center quickly emerging as one of the division’s most formidable paint presences, freshman guard Traevian Ware is a promising young playmaker and forward Mason Shine is a capable senior leader for the rising program.

Third-place finisher Bahrain again won’t participate in the regular season, but should be a factor in the tournament again. Spangdahlem, American Overseas School of Rome, Florence and AFNORTH will look to bounce back from losing 2016-17 campaigns.

Division III Sigonella and Brussels have alternated small-school titles over the last four years, with Sigonella winning in 2015 and 2017 and Brussels winning in 2014 and 2016. One of those two is a strong bet to add to that trophy chest this time around.

Sigonella returns four of five starters and seven players overall from the team that edged Ansbach in last year’s title game, including tournament heroes Isaac Griswold and Alex Ogletree. Brussels fields an experienced squad featuring eight seniors and eagerly welcomes the return from injury of star forward Dominick DeFazio.

Standout players are also the key for teams hoping for a championship breakthrough. Junior wing Ogden Andrew leads Ansbach on another title chase after the Cougars fell short in each of the last two championship games, while senior guard Nate Horton is the catalyst for a deep and dynamic Baumholder squad eying an end to its playoff frustrations.

Twitter: @broomestripes

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