Despite winning 21 games in 2011-12, ND-Fairfield boys basketball coach Vin Laczkoski knows how trying the season was.

In fact, that's why he believes last year was one of his favorites.

The Lancers are hungry to put the roller coaster season of a year ago-- in which they started 5-4 and lost five regulars to combination of injury, expulsion and quitting -- behind them.

"It was one of the most gratifying I've ever had as a coach," Laczkoski said Monday. "It showed the perseverance of the kids. We had a whole bunch of bumps."

Laczkoski is also confident that while success for his club is expected, he doesn't expect the bumps to follow as they did a year ago.

"They've been a joy to coach so far," he said. "They're good kids and they work very, very hard."

Departed to Eastern Connecticut State is four-year starter and all-SWC performer Arkel Miles. The Lancers will strive to replace Miles by committee, spearheading that group will be senior Kevin Laing. The 6-4 forward missed all of last season with an injury, but is healthy and tough.

The defending Class M semifinalist and SWC runners-up return seven rotation players-- including tandem 1,000-point scoring guards Dan Upchurch and Earl Coleman.

"I'd say we have one of the best guards in the state," Laczkoski said of Upchurch. "And a utility man in Coleman ... when you've got experience, it's the key in basketball."

Laing, Upchurch and Coleman are the lone seniors, though. Junior forward Jalen Jennings-- who averaged five points and five rebounds per game last year -- has positively adapted his game, according to Laczkoski.

"He's the second most improved guy on the team," Laczkoski said. "I think he'll be a much bigger threat this year."

ND expects contributions from returning sophomores Jake Heaton, CJ Davison and Donte Peeler.

"They gave us great minutes last year," Laczkoski said. "There were times during the season when they stood out. That's pretty good talent we have coming back."

With freshmen Jesse McIntosh, Jordan Pettway and sophomore Joey Monjiemele joining the fray, too, Laczkoski expects to go eight, or deeper, with his rotation.

"We're going to be fairly deep and still fairly young," he said.

The Lancers have loaded their non-conference schedule with Class M powers Kaynor Tech, of Waterbury, and University, of Hartford. ND then will have to battle Kolbe Cathedral in its SWC opener, then will battle Class LL foes, Warde and either Ludlowe or Prep in the Prep Holiday Classic.

"That's a good non-conference schedule," Laczkoski said.

ND's reached the SWC final three of the last four seasons, having won it in 2010. Whether ND makes that two titles in three years, Laczkoski believes, is premature to gauge.

"For me to tell you that we'll be SWC and state champs right now, I'd be a fool," he said. "But I think we'll be very, very

competitive during the season. When you have kids like Upchurch and Coleman, you can be confident.";

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