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Brussels'  Michael DeFazio shoots a three pointer against Sigonella in the semifinals of last season's DODDS-Europe tournament, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.

Brussels' Michael DeFazio shoots a three pointer against Sigonella in the semifinals of last season's DODDS-Europe tournament, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

On paper, this DODDS-Europe boys basketball season is blank.

All three defending European divisional champions have been rocked by the departures of elite talents. Many of the contenders that ranked right below them last year now find themselves in similar straits, underqualified to take on the mantle of a preseason favorite.

As a result, the 2015-16 DODDS-Europe boys basketball season opens this weekend with few recognizable signposts to mark the way apart from its signature schedule: two weeks of early-season exploratory basketball, a malingering holiday break and an urgent dash to the decisive tournament, set this year for Feb. 24-27 at Wiesbaden.

Division I Roster turnover is the unavoidable cost of doing business in DODDS-Europe sports. But that toll is particularly expensive this fall.

One could assemble a runaway championship team from the departed stars of an unpredictable and competitive 2014-15 large-school season, a year that ended with unbeaten favorite Patch – now Stuttgart – ousted in the semifinals and Ramstein handling archrival Kaiserslautern in an anticlimactic title game.

But that wealth of outgoing talent creates an opportunity for new stars to emerge. The question is from which of the division’s sources that light will emanate brightest. Defending champion Ramstein has just three players back from its championship roster, with sharpshooting senior Mitchell McKinney the only incumbent starter. The rest of the Royals are promoted reserves and called-up junior varsity prospects, a group that could land anywhere between the basement and another banner in the rafters.

“This team is very tight and they seem to be coming together very quickly on the court,” Ramstein coach Andrew O’Connor said. “We want to get better every day and see what happens in the tournament.”

The uncertainty in Ramstein creates a theoretical opening for the likes of Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart and fellow semifinalist Naples. But each is preoccupied with its own team-building exercises.

Kaiserslautern returns Ja’Markus Myles and Robert Brown from last year’s runner-up squad.

“I’m trying to see how we all fit together,” coach Corey Sullivan said.

New Stuttgart coach Bill Lassetter also has just two returnees in what he describes as a “complete rebuilding year.” Naples pins its hopes on dynamic guard Terrell Staten and athletic 6-foot-3 forward K.C. Evans.

“We are working hard to be competitive,” Naples coach Craig Lord said.

That’s the case up and down the division, as perennial contenders Lakenheath, Wiesbaden and Vicenza look to rapidly rebuild their rotations.

SHAPE has a potentially top-flight backcourt in Austin Stephens and new recruit Cameron Little, a clear advantage if other teams struggle to develop playmaking guards.

Vilseck has perhaps the most stability with seven returning players, a core augmented by a promising group of incoming transfers. The filled-out depth chart has head coach John Sabala hoping for big things from his Falcons.

“This does not happen that often,” Sabala said of his team’s enviable positional depth.

Division II The 2014-15 American Overseas School of Rome Falcons were not a one-man team. But without that one man, they might not be a championship team.

Reigning Stars and Stripes boys basketball Athlete of the Year Otis Reale has taken his considerable talents stateside, leaving the defending Division II champs vulnerable to a challenge from one of the many eager contenders in the field.

Count Rota among the most eager, and the most qualified, to launch that challenge.

The Admirals deployed a stirring brand of hot-shooting, crisp-passing basketball in last year’s European tournament and rode it to within one win of a title. Many of the players who made that system hum are back, from guard D’Angelo Gallardo to frontcourt centerpiece Andy Drake.

But Rota isn’t alone in eying AOSR’s tenuous grasp on the Division II crown.

Black Forest Academy joined Rota as a breakout team of last year’s tournament before its run fell short in the semifinals. Brothers Noah and Jonah Greathouse form one of the continent’s most dynamic wing tandems.

Aviano boasts one of DODDS-Europe’s most effective and experienced backcourts with the triumvirate of seniors Brandon Vigil, Jailen Tindal and Aaron Island. The three, each checking in at no taller than 5-10, create a fast-paced tempo that proves problematic for a lot of teams attempting to keep up.

Solid entries from AFNORTH, Bitburg and Hohenfels could also play their way deep into the Division II postseason.

Division III It’s not the paradigm-shifting realignment of a year ago, but this fall’s transfer of Ansbach from Division II to Division III could have major implications on the small-school hierarchy.

Ansbach reached the Division II semifinals a year ago, a status that makes the Cougars an immediate Division III factor. A set of four returning players, including junior forwards Sam Sasser and Joxua Boughman, solidifies Ansbach’s place in the thick of Division III contention.

The Cougars will find plenty of opposition, however.

Reigning champion Sigonella won’t relinquish its title easily, and has star guard Jason Berlin back to spearhead its talented roster. Baumholder is starting over with a largely new group after its championship near-miss, but the intangibles remain for another deep run. Semifinalists Alconbury and Brussels could easily find their way into the title game with a couple of breaks in their favor.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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