"I've not seen a year where we've lost so much experience," Mason said. "But it's going to be exciting seeing how certain people rise to the occasion. They've got an opportunity, and we'll see how they respond."
Mason will begin to get some answers this weekend, when the Colonels open their season with a pair of games at Sewanee, Tenn.
"It's a challenge," Mason said. "The last couple of years, the guys we had, we knew exactly what they were going to give us.
"This team is going to be completely different, and that's something that for a coach is kind of exciting."
Leading scorer returns
Still, there is some familiarity. Centre returns its leading scorer from last season and two other players who averaged at least 15 minutes.
The Colonels will have a proven point guard in senior Kyle Roby, one of the team's two seniors and one of two returning starters.
"We need Kyle's experience," Mason said. "We're going to have a four-man rotation at the guard spot, and the other three guys have never played before. We need Kyle to be a rock out there."
The other player who returns to the lineup is junior center Reggie Magnusson, who led the Colonels in scoring (13.4 points per game) and field-goal percentage (.524).
Mason said he's pleased to see that the Iceland native has become one of the team's most verbal leaders.
"We're pleased with Reggie's play and his leadership," Mason said.
Junior forward Coy Zerhusen veraged 28 minutes off the bench and was third in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in rebounding last year,
"He's our heart and soul," Mason said. "He means a lot to what we're trying to do. He gives us defense and rebounding, and he's probably our best passer."
Other key returnees include a pair of sophomores, forward Matt Jacobson and center John Patterson, and senior forward Chris Smith.
Smith is recovering from an ankle injury, and sophomore forward Stuart Rutledge has been hampered by a bad hamstring.
"We've got three or four injuries, and they're all in the same position," Mason said.
Only four freshmen
Centre has only four freshmen, but two of them are likely to contribute right away. Guard Matt Nestheide led Covington Catholic to the semifinals of last season's state high school tournament, and Mason said he has been one of the most consistent players in practice so far. Guard Thomas Britt of DeSales, is also being counted on to bolster the Colonels' backcourt right away.
"We've been very pleased with their progress," Mason said. "Both of them have incredibly high basketball IQs.
"They know there's a great opportunity for them, but they've got to be more than freshmen. They're going to play extended minutes."
Centre will kick off its season tonight against Emory & Henry, then play Rust on Saturday in Sewanee's Lon Varnell Classic. The Colonels' home opener is Dec. 3 against Rhodes, when they'll dedicate the court in their refurbished Alumni Gymnasium in honor of former coach Tom Bryant.