After a near miss at winning a conference championship last season, the Cyclone men’s basketball team is looking to remedy that misstep, earn that crown and compete at the Big Dance this year.

A rough first half in the 2017-18 season led to a run for the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference championship in the second half. That largely freshmen team needed time to put the pieces together, but for the 2018-19 season, a more seasoned crew and talented newcomers should go far.

Although the Cyclones lost sophomore All-Region and All-Conference players DeShawn Wilson and David Gray, they return All-Region and All-Conference forward Cortez King (Homewood-Flossmoor). Nick Holmes (Homewood-Flossmoor) is back and will be the main point guard, not a position to take lightly.

“We have some height and pretty athletic guys we’re counting on to step up and get the ball going. As much as we have these big kids, the point guard is the main player at this level. If they’re going to be a good team, they need a good point guard. Their job is to make sure the guys inside get the touches. We’d be foolish not to use them,” said head Coach Anthony Amarino, who enters his third year leading the Cyclones.

Freshman Jalen Hughes (Hillcrest) is right behind Holmes as the No. 2 point guard, but is still learning the flow of college-level basketball, Amarino said.

The Cyclones’ big guys include returning center Michael Drynan (Evergreen Park), who at 6’10” is the tallest on the team, sophomores Jaylan Catledge (Richards/Millikin University), who tops out at 6’3”, and Elijah Ward (Joliet West/Arapahoe Community College), at 6’5”, and freshman Zion Fortune (St. Laurence), who also is 6’5”. “We have enough rotation in the paint with these guys. We need them to play defense and have some of them score for us,” Amarino said.

With a number of players on the roster, everyone will be fighting for a starting gig. Anyone can step up at any time, and Amarino knows this is a solid group that is capable of many successes.

“We’ve got some good players, and they get along with each other. I’m hoping we come out fast in the beginning to ride it out. If we start right away and win the first two games, it’ll be good, and we’ll feel good about the season,” Amarino said. “We’d like a chance to play in Danville [nationals]. I think we’d be one of the better teams down there.”

The Cyclones officially open their season on Nov. 2. Their home opener is Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m., against Truman College.