There is a College Basketball Invitational banner hanging on the wall of the Old Swinney gym where the UMKC men’s basketball team practices.
It is one of few tangible remainders of a 2016-17 season that saw the Kangaroos reach a postseason tournament for the first time in their 30-year Division I history and finish with an 18-17 record.
Now in his fifth season, coach Kareem Richardson will have a nearly blank slate to work with — again.
All five of his regular starters graduated, leaving behind only three players who rotated into the lineup for 580 or more minutes last season. The Roos have nine newcomers on their roster, including freshmen guards DeMarco Smith of Washington High, Marvin Nesbitt Jr. of Chicago and Brandon McKissic of St. Louis University High.
So although the banner holds significance to sophomore Isaiah Ross and senior Broderick Robinson, it means little to most of their teammates.
“We kind of set the bar last year. We want to set a higher bar,” sophomore guard Xavier Bishop said. “There’s definitely some pressure where we want to do something bigger. … But we put those expectations upon ourselves to come in, work hard and know what end result we want.”
Replicating one of the program’s most successful seasons — the Roos recorded their second-most victories and set program highs with 2,691 points, 1,213 rebounds and 315 three-pointers, among other statistical categories — with a young squad won’t come easy. It could take significant time before Richardson can even set a consistent starting lineup.
And when that’s done, Richardson expects the Western Athletic Conference, with champion New Mexico State, runner-up Bakersfield and sleeper Utah Valley, will be a tougher challenge for young players than it has been in the past.
“It’s going to take us a while, especially with the experience factor,” Richardson said. “Taking care of the ball, not allowing certain runs to affect us. It’s going to be a work in progress. … But, man, when you’ve got a team that’s a good group and competitive like they are, that gives you an opportunity.”
But what they lack in experience, the Roos say they make up for in chemistry. In a closed scrimmage against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Saturday, both staff members and players were impressed by the group’s ability to play together seamlessly.
“We didn’t expect that. The coaches didn’t expect that,” Smith said. “But when it all fell, we all did good. I think we’re going to be all right.”
Added Bishop, “I was a little surprised too. We went there and played really good, really shared the ball. There’s little things we gotta work on. But we’re a young team. That’s going to happen, even (with) older teams, mistakes are gonna happen. But the great thing about it was we played through them and we were able to adjust on the fly. And we won by a nice amount.”
The Roos will get to test that bond once more when they play host to Sterling College in an exhibition at 6 p.m. Friday in Municipal Auditorium.
It’s their final chance to work on the “little things” before they open the season Nov. 10 at Wichita State, which is ranked seventh in the preseason AP poll.
“Last year was last year,” Richardson said. “Hopefully these new guys can put their imprint on the program.”